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David Bowie: Behind the Curtain

Nenad Georgievski By

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David Bowie: Behind the Curtain
Andrew Kent
160 Pages
ISBN: 0996058753
Press Syndication Group
2017

Very few musicians have been as documented, analyzed or scrutinized as singer David Bowie. Ever since the 60s, Bowie has spent his entire life in the spotlight and really very few musicians can match or parallel his imaginative and aesthetic influence he has had during his lifetime. An ever evolving and transformative person, he was a master of storytelling and re-invention where the only constant was his dedication to exploring and finding new means of expression. Over the past five decades, the characters he has invented and the constructions of his imaginations have transcended the ordinary boundaries of popular music. His creative vision has been a singular, explosive catalyst for artists in various fields and musicians worldwide. He was like an actor and a conceptualist who like all great actors was managing to disappear into the characters he had invented without losing his creative presence and drama. As such, any period of his life and illustrious career have always been interesting for exploring and researching as his theatricality and visual intuition were key to his appeal on a par with the music from any given era.

Bowie: Behind the Curtain by renowned photographer Andrew Kent is a photo book chronicling one of Bowie's most creative and most daunting periods of his life, the tour Isolar in the support of the iconic Station to Station album presented by the elusive character of the Thin White Duke. Kent was hired by Bowie in 1975 to document Bowie's life in the next two years and much like photographer Mick Rock previously during the days of Ziggy Stardust, he was granted an unfettered access to Bowie's life both on stage and off. Now, four decades after these photographs were made, Kent has finally published his extensive collection of images he has captured of this enigmatic and much-beloved figure. Even though Kent had first taken photographs of Bowie performing at the Soul Train TV program earlier, he was introduced to him by journalist and friend Cameron Crow while recording the Station to Station album, and who also provides the introductory text to this lavishly designed photo book.

During this period fame had brought mixed blessings for him as he was waging battles on several fronts while he was slowly beginning to decline into rock'n'roll hell. The battles on the managerial and matrimonial fronts had taken their tolls on his health and mental well-being. It's the period when he took over the cold and almost lifeless figure of the leering Aryan dilettante, Thin White Duke." As for the most part of 1975 he had worked on director Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth," and he took many of the characteristics of the character he portrayed in the film —Thomas Jerome and it seems as if he had adopted the alien's attitudes himself. In many interviews, he has referred to this period as a daunting one when he was psychologically and emotionally washed up. His head was filled with pseudo-religious, magical and half-baked political ideas and was hallucinating. There was an incident that Crow had reported about during the interviews he ran with Bowie for Rolling Stone magazine around this time (not reported in the introductory text of this book) during which Bowie had interrupted the interview to pull down a window shade which had a star and the word "Aum" drawn on it, and light a black candle, claiming that he had just seen a body fall from the sky. The Duke was meant to represent the man inside, the strange inner being who looks both coldly and disdainfully upon the warmth of natural human relationships. In public, he began depicting himself as the lonely expatriate, the ducal Englishman yearning to return home to rediscover his roots.

Even though the photographs aren't set in a chronological order the book starts with Bowie's arrival at the Victoria Railway Station in London on 2nd of May 1976 for the performances in the days to follow. As it can be seen from Kent's lenses as he takes photographs from various angles, the station is crowded by fans and photographers that are desperate to get a glimpse of Bowie as he disembarks from the Orient Express train. What follows is a portrayal of moments in Bowie's career immortalized by Kent's watchful eye and lenses in all sorts of settings and situations-as a public persona that meets and greets his fans, meetings with members of the media, and as a mesmerizing performer during the Isolar tour. The performance photographs are simply mesmerizing. Kent has taken photographs from different angles and allows the viewer to witness and feel Bowie's performances as if on stage with him or as seen by fans from the fan pit. Some of these black and white or in color photographs are well known and have already adorned a myriad of biography books and magazine articles.

Also, these photographs give a pertinent insight into the open-ended nature of Bowie's creative process on stage and off. These are fleeting moments when the mask is dropped and there are photographs that highlight the moments when he works with the band or is working on the set design, the costumes and make up. But the photographs also record quiet moments in various hotels and travels to cities such as Berlin, Paris, New York, London, Helsinki, Moscow. There are photographs of him traveling on a boat from NY to London or by a train. Some of the photographs capture a quiet man enjoying a brief respite during the tour and there are intimate photographs of private parties, dressing rooms, limos or moments such as his birthday party at L'Ange Bleu in Paris when he is joined by a close circle of friends and trusted assistants such as Iggy Pop, Romy Haag, Coco Schwab and acting manager Pat Gibbons. It's the backstage setting and the behind the scenes that provide with a canvas to capture the artist in revealing moments of jovial mood or even boredom.

But as a treat there are photographs of Bowie's trip to traveling to Moscow from Basel, Switzerland during a break in the tour along with Iggy Pop, Schwab, Gibbons and the book also features a close account by Kent of how this trip happened including the close encounters with Soviet authorities and border control and the sightseeing in Moscow. The entourage had spent seven hours in Moscow before embarking towards Helsinki and the pictures depict as they are having fun around the Red Square, the Lenin's Mausoleum, the city market or dining at a restaurant. Due to a mistake in the schedule the entourage missed the train to Helsinki and the Western media ran articles with titles such as "Bowie Lost in the Soviet Union"! This trip is one of the three that Bowie will take to this far land in his lifetime.

Apart from occasion quote by Bowie, the forwards by Crow and the legendary photographer Neil Preston, and the closing thoughts by Kent, there aren't any essays in this book that would shed more light on this period. It's as if he has felt that these photos should speak for themselves. They do actually, loud and clear. The photographs here are extremely well-reproduced, mostly in black and white, and are printed on luscious, high-quality stock. Assembled together, they all feel like these are carefully crafted series of observations of someone's life aka behind the curtain. The grit of these photographs is a virtual transportation to a time and places of the past when giants roamed the earth. The photographs themselves shed a new light on music's greatest chameleon, a man for whom iconic images are the norm. However, the final word must remain with Kent himself, whose incredible works grace the pages of this book. These photographs are affirming that behind every great rock star are some mythmaking photographers.
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