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How a talented boy from Bromley became a rock'n'roll superstar
on 2 June 2012
I enjoyed Paul Trynka's warts and all bio of Iggy Pop and this is an equally worthy assessment of his mentor, peer, friend and inspiration, the uniquely talented boy wonder from Bromley. David Bowie's rise from the Mod psychedelic blues rock scene of late 1960s London to "voice of a generation" is already the stuff of legend. Trynka tracks the various phases of Bowie's chameleon-like career with some impeccable research.
I was particularly interested in his 70s period where he rose from a young hustler pushing songs down Tin Pan Alley, thirsting after fame at any cost and competing with his peers like Marc Bolan for pop success, to eventually eclipsing the latter with three of the greatest rock records of all time "Hunky Dory", "Ziggy Stardust" and "Aladdin Sane", thereby not only launching androgynous 70s glam rock but also inspiring genres to come later like punk, new wave, the 80s new romantics and even Brit Pop.
The book is particularly good on the mid 70s phase of Bowie's career when, after killing off Ziggy Stardust and the glam catsuits, he flirted with American soul and collaborated with art rockers like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Trynka offers a lot of interesting anecdotal details about the darkest period of Bowie's life, his heavy cocaine use, flirtation with fascist imagery, periodic dabblings in black magic and corporate management bust ups, including with his svengali like manager Tony Defries. All this shaped his highly experimental Berlin albums like "Station to Station" and concided with highly acclaimed forays into acting e.g in Nick Roeg's cult sci fi classic "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and "The Elephant Man" on stage, generally regarded at the time as a revelation of another side to the man's talents.
From there on Bowie entered the realms of rock royalty and became a stalwart of the MTV age with "Lets Dance", over the top (and occasionally parodied) world tours, Live Aid and various ventures into film, drama, art and ambient music, all of which are vividly and sympathetically chronicled by Trynka. From the 90s on he settled into the role of rock elder-statesman, launched the Tin Machine project to mixed reviews, settled down to marital bliss with Iman, put out more experimental albums to mixed acclaim and made shed loads of money through clever business management and smart marketing of his back catalogue.
Trynka also covers Bowie the man in x-ray detail. He was undoubtedly ambitious and self-absorbed to the point of ruthlessness, though at the same time he was capable of tremendous gestures of unselfish loyalty and generosity (not least to Iggy Pop who was a real burnout when Bowie helped him to relaunch his career). But like many of his peers he was undoubtedly shaped by his modest post-war upbringing which prompted a burning desire to be someone instead of staying a suburban nobody at the edge of the music business. One of Trynka's chapters is cleverly entitled "Numero uno mate!" which was the young Bowie's frequent exclamation to his pals about his personal priorities.
All in all I learned a lot from this book about a man who must surely be the most versatile, commercially successful and individually talented British rock star and solo artist of the 20th century.