Jasper Rees

Paean to the Starman

Paul Morley — though convinced he’s the pop Boswell for the job — has produced a rushed, repetitive, shambolic biography of his hero

On 11 January 2016 Paul Morley was awoken by an urgent voicemail from the Today Programme. Could he talk about the life and — news just in — the death of David Bowie? (The researcher apologised if this was how he’d heard.) Resistant to gnashing his teeth for a few minutes of radio rent-a-commentary, Morley uncharacteristically ignored this and sundry other requests. Instead he wrote these 500 pages in ten weeks. The same time, he says, that Bowie needed to cut albums at his cocaine-powered peak.

The Age of Bowie is not strictly a biography, with such things as dates and sources and supporting quotations. Want to know about the day Rick Wakeman laid down the piano track for ‘Life on Mars’, or when Robert Fripp blew into Berlin to supply the howling guitar line for ‘Heroes’, or about Tilda Swinton shooting the video to ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’? These and a thousand other nuggets are not here. Between Angie and Iman, no women are mentioned in dispatches apart from one formative lover and Bowie’s mother, who introduces him to Ernest Lough (like Bowie, Morley misnames him Luft). It’s good to know that Bowie had his feather cut dyed at his mum’s favourite salon. But there isn’t much of this pop magazine gossip, nor eyewitness accounts or much sign of original research.

So what is there? Haste — demanded by the type of instant deadline nowadays on-trend in publishing — has encouraged Morley to submit an impressionistic critique of the life as seen through the work. He accepts that his Bowie, the one he first caught live at 15 in Manchester, is his alone, not yours and mine. The collapsible structure he opts for nods to the Dadaist cut-up technique Bowie applied to songwriting.

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