Paul Morley: The Age of Bowie

Nenad Georgievski By

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In those pre-Ziggy days he was a penniless star that was waiting to be born, but then came the first of many changes, sparked as much by his restless, active mind as by the need of a commercial success. After years of flops and dead end streets in the music business, Bowie finally scored his first hit with "Space Oddity" in 1969 but he still wasn't satisfied. It was around that time that he embraced the underground rock sounds that came from New York and Detroit. Under the influence of Lou Reed's Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop and the Stooges, he blasted through the '70s with a series of innovative albums full of great concepts personified through intriguing characters.

No matter how absorbing a lot of Bowie's later output was the '70s were his signature decade. That is why an enormous amount of this book is centered on this decade only. These were his golden years and success did not stop coming even when he deliberately killed his most famous character Ziggy Stardust. But Bowie went into more drastic changes in the years ahead and he constantly strained the patience and the loyalty of fans and music critics. His music found itself in the furor of controversy about his glittering image and androgynous looks.The critic's wrath was aroused by his inconsistencies and contradictions. He shamelessly switched opinions and attitudes towards sex, politics, background, influences, people. Later he would admit that he said these things in the interest of publicity and promotion. Bowie's life was full of ironies and contradictories.

Morley's approach is personal in every sense but it is inconsistent. By his own admission, he wrote this book in a matter of 3 months. While some parts are highly enjoyable when he acts as a museum curator and leads people interested in Bowie's life from a gallery to gallery, from song to song, or character to character, the book suffers from unusual u-turns, inconsistent chapters. The book does a great job of throwing light on Bowie's career in the '70s, but it seems that his interest in other chapters of his illustrious career did not receive the same treatment. When approaching as a fan, Morley overlooks Bowie's most critically slammed period of his career—the '80s. Even though the first half of the '80s remains the creatively insatiable and wandering artist's commercial high point it received enormous and intense amount of criticism. But Morley is a fan and finds good in the bad.

Bowie's changes and contradictions continued onward in the two decades to come. He would form and then quit bands, he changed record labels and he picked up the pace with the experimentation in the '90s when he soaked up the electronic dance scenes and industrial music.

Morley's book gets close and personal with Bowie. The book is an attempt for him as any other fan to marshal his disbelief and sadness. Bowie and his ideas, thoughts, and emotions are central to this story no matter how contradictory all they may seem. But what hinders this book from being the best book about Bowie are the various inconsistencies. The lack of an editor is evident or someone who could have tamed the wild prose at certain places or someone who could have helped Morley achieve a sense of direction and purpose at other points. Some chapters about the David Bowie Is could have been arrived at with the use of a different strategy. Bowie's final chapter with Blackstar could have received more attention. In the forthcoming months after his passing, Bowie left enough signposts and puzzles in his lyrics, videos, even the album cover to keep fans investigating and searching without end. It was only in the aftermath of the event that the people understood the enormity of the parting gift that Blackstar is and its impact on the year to come. This is the final chapter that people like Morley should provide clues and directions for.

Nevertheless, The Age of Bowie is a tour through the life of a brilliant magician whose idiosyncratic career, creative output and public life have morphed into of the magical moments in pop music both in the XX and XXI century.


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