Sunday, October 20, 2019

On Bowie (2016)

I enjoyed Rob Sheffield's long eulogy to David Bowie, or short biography, or letter to the world. It made me think a lot about how much Bowie meant to me and it made me sad again when it came to the part where he dies. Although the book is poetically riddled with lines from Bowie songs in practically every paragraph, Sheffield still manages enough critical distance to judge him on the fine points. I didn't always agree—Sheffield has little use for the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, or more generally for director Nicolas Roeg, whereas that picture ranks high among the more important inflection points for me, and Roeg has his place too. Sheffield thinks Labyrinth is Bowie's most enduring and significant movie—no. I appreciate that Sheffield acknowledges the long-term enduring Bowie haters as it's such a common experience, for example turning up a quote by Keith Richards from about 2009 ridiculing even the idea of taking Bowie seriously, as a musician or anything. That's a common view I've encountered all my life, from oldest friends to major rock critics. They're wrong, that's all. Sheffield stakes out some bold stances here, such as arguing for the album run from Station to Station to Scary Monsters as one of the all-time greatest. Maybe—it is really great. But so is The Man Who Sold the World to Aladdin Sane, and has the advantage of not including Station to Station. Sheffield's passionate case for the Thin White Duke phase did send me back to Station to Station, where the only song I connect with there remains "Golden Years" (admittedly, I love it) and it reminded me again the thing has only six tracks (a sure sign of bloat). (In fairness, I may be in the minority on the album, as Scott Miller was another vocal champion of it.) Mostly I liked On Bowie because there was something cathartic about reading it. It made me wish there were something like it on Prince—2016 was a tough year for losses of all kinds. Sheffield is just plain a Bowie fan and that's what does the trick. He loved Bowie for all the right reasons. He knows an amazing amount about him, not just the glory years 1970 to 1980 (he pushes that out to 1983 and Let's Dance but I can't agree), but also the fallow time, which he separates into a dreck phase (1984-1995) and a revival from the mid-'90s on. He's harder on the later '80s stuff than me and easier on the 21st-century stuff (except the last two, in a class by themselves as everyone seems to agree). He knows all those albums with one-word titles, like Hours, Heathen, and Reality. So I learned a lot reading On Bowie too, found plenty of tracks and YouTube clips well worth chasing down. Sheffield always feels fair to him—he's well aware, for example, of Bowie's lifelong "laughing gnome" problem (which is exactly where I put Labyrinth, by the way)—and he's fair to David Bowie fans too. In a way, On Bowie feels like a gift, a rare quality.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment