In July 2005 I interviewed Phil Palmer, guitarist on The Idiot, the wonderful, ground-breaking album that David Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded in 1976. 


The circumstances in which this album was made were a mystery. No-one knew who played on it; even the events surrounding it were mysterious. A few weeks before they started work, David and Iggy had famously been hassled by the KGB during a train trip to Moscow; all the available books were vague on when, where and how this happened, as for most events over this period. So powerful, it seemed, was the Bowie mystique, that few had questioned the original participants to see what really had happened.


I believe that, ultimately, I uncovered the full story of The Idiot. For the first time, in any book, I detailed how the songs arrived, who played on what, as well as the genesis and inspiration of songs like ‘China Girl.’ Once the Iggy book was published, I couldn’t wait to go through the same process for Bowie. I’d not been a traditional Bowie fan and thought his music and personality had been well-covered, but interviews with people like Phil Palmer and Laurent Thibault showed me I was wrong.


It’s been a fascinating journey; like Iggy, Bowie had a knack of attracting the most amazing people. For Iggy, I traveled to Michigan and Los Angeles; for Bowie, the horizons widened to Hull, Wiltshire and the Kent coast. I’ve tracked down everyone from friends at infant school to his most recent collaborators.


As with Open Up and Bleed, I’ve based this book on primary sources: new interviews, over 200 of them. Base a book on cuttings or existing interviews, you can re-interpret history - but only by speaking to people directly can you have your preconceptions challenged, and re-write it.


The Bowie story, with its fascinating cast, evocative settings, its many episodes of excess and  the central character’s winning combination of ruthlessness and charisma, has many echoes of Iggy’s picaresque saga. Yet its central theme is very different. At its core, it concerns one of the fundamental questions of humanity; whether our destiny is fixed, or whether we can change it.


Some key breakthroughs:


Born, or made?

The best available Bowie biography, David Buckley’s Strange Fascination, offers many insights. But, like many other biographies, it avoids his unsuccessful, earlier music. To me, a key question in David’s life is how he moved from being a mediocre songwriter, to an inspired one. This story is at the heart of Starman: how an ambitious teen of limited talents  transformed himself into a genius . Many books tell you how Bowie transformed his personae; Starman tells you how he transformed himself.


The building blocks

This book goes to the heart of David’s music. There are, I believe, huge numbers of insights into how his songs were created. In these pages you will meet Uncle Arthur, the Little Bombardier, the Pretty Things, the China Girls (both of them), and many more inspirations. You will learn where the chorus to Can’t Help Thinking About Me, the riff of Fame, and the horn stabs of Let’s Dance come from. In the case of nearly every major song or album, there are new insights from those who are there. It’s via the music that we learn the most about David Bowie; for as one of his collaborators, Nile Rodgers, explains, the music gives “a snapshot of his brain.”


The people

David Bowie always surrounded himself with the most fascinating characters. Here you will meet every one of them, from teenage bandmates to his most recent collaborators. There are friends, like school-chum George Underwood (an unwitting architect of Bowie’s image, as well as his music) – and lovers, and the lovers’ lovers. Certain breakthroughs are shocking – for instance, how early his marriage to Angie was doomed, or the trivial disagreement that so upset Marc Bolan  on the last day he spent with Bowie. Some breakthroughs rewrite conventional history, such as the identity of the girlfriend with whom he searched for UFOs and discovered the music of Jaques Brel, or the famed Mod band which he briefly joined, only to be rejected for his Bob DYlan fixation. Other breakthroughs are simply touching. No other biographer has ever interviewed Iggy about his friendship with Bowie – a friendship that shows Bowie at his best, both as a human being and an artist. But this book is not a hagiography; there are plenty of accounts that illuminate every aspect of this often contradictory man.

I will update this site with more random discoveries and insights, in the near future. In the meantime, please enjoy some images captured along the way.

 

David with his first manager, Les Conn. Click on the image for some more interviewees.

Why Bowie?