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Who Is David Bowie?

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 11:34 AM

Being a David Bowie fan in the 70s meant being fairly flexible in your expectations.  Every album was a surprise, and seemed to be by a different person.  Every concert was a new look.  He was a failed folk singer, then the epitome of glam-rock androgyny, a blue-eyed (well, one blue and the other green) soul singer, a refugee from a Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht play, a globetrotting experimentalist, and finally a successful pop singer. 

By the time he turned 50 he was improbably cool again, having returned to more art-rock projects like Outside and being hailed as a beacon by a new generation of rockers. 

All of which made – and still makes – Bowie one of music’s most appealingly mysterious characters.  Is there a David Bowie?  Or is there just a man born David Jones who has put on a series of musical/artistic suits as the mood dictates?  And if that’s the case, who is the person behind these characters? 

This is the reason Bowie fans will read one bio after another – and why we will almost always be disappointed.  Only one person can really write the true story of David Bowie, and that’s the man behind all those curtains.  But Bowie has not cooperated with any of his would-be “definitive” biographers, including Paul Trynka, whose book David Bowie: Starman is a fun read.  It is ultimately, though, unable to penetrate behind the multiple musical personalities and reveal who or what the essential David Bowie is. 

That sounds like a criticism, or a complaint.  It is neither.  By trying, and perhaps failing, to present a convincing portrait of his subject, to let us see what it means to be David Bowie, Trynka’s book is absolutely true to the experience of being a David Bowie fan. 

What do you think of the repeated attempts to pin down David Bowie in bio form?  Leave a comment.

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