Ultimately it is Bowie that makes this an enjoyable read, his life and art speak so loudly and profoundly that if you capture just a piece, as Morley has, you have something worth reading.
In “The Age of Bowie” Paul Morley writes as a devotee of, and guide to, moving through the transformations of Bowie and the resonance of his cultural impact.
Morley sets up where and who he was when he had his “first contact” with Bowie, via John Peel, inviting the reader to do the same. Most readers may be remembering the same time of their lives but which iteration of Bowie is anyone’s guess.
The Age of Bowie begins as an exploration of Bowie’s initial veracious consumption of all manner of culture; insight is given into how Bowie plucked ideas from fashion, music, expressive dance, the artistic temperament itself and how the people and places he moved through shaped him and them. Morley writes of how this absorption of the world around him allowed Bowie to paint the future for the rest of us. It is here that Morley’s knowledge of Bowie’s music and his life shines most as he reflects the notions and interpretations that drove Bowie’s talent into the spotlight.
Walking you through the strange kaleidoscope worlds that Bowie created for all versions of himself
As a reader you expect to be taken start to finish but Morley contends that Bowie’s life cannot be examined in traditional chronology the way the life of a mere human might be. Instead The Age of Bowie unfolds in slightly meandering way which does allows you to avoid some of the drudgery of reading a biography that is akin to a diary of events. Rather Morley’s style reads as a continuous stream of thought caught by paper. His passion is undoubted and knowledge of Bowie vast but the ‘thought to page’ style does mean certain ‘peripheral characters’ are underwritten and events are omitted. It is evidence of the entire book being written in only 10 weeks, but that same process also delivers energy to the page.
Depending on taste you could find this refreshing, jarring or a combination of both. You might delight in detail as you’re swept away in mutual fawning over a mysterious and significant icon, but then find yourself agitated by putting the book down, coming back to it after lunch, and finding yourself second guessing the effectiveness of your bookmark.
“He is landing amongst us like a missile”
All this of course leads to the 1970s, obviously important to any form of Bowie Biography. Here Bowie has finished “missing various points but hinting at genius” and its Morley’s job to detail the explosive rise in stardom and musical experimentation replete with an aura of alien mystery.
Disappointingly at this point Morley breaks with the format. He still writes in the present tense but the thought to page zeal and passion is lost as he instead switches to what are essentially bullet points, varying in depth, with minimal surface analysis. This fails to capture the amazing oddity of Bowie in the 70’s, whereas the guided meander of the previous chapters did capture the idea of using “ingredients out of which I make a montage” but the “140 scenes featuring certain deletions, omissions and oversights” falls flat. This is however, due to its structure, the easiest section to pick up and put down which you may well find yourself doing after reading “He is” for the umpteenth time.
The Age of Bowie is more an analysis of a piece of art rather than of a man
When the 140 scenes end and close out the 1970s Morley returns to his initial style but with enhanced focus as Blackstar looms larger and larger. His continuous stream of thought turns to more of an outpouring. Morley’s reverence is felt and is easily echoed by the reader, and while not entirely solemn it has the air of a eulogy.
“He kept listening, looking, absorbing, stealing, adapting right to the very end”
Morley utilises his voice well, his fanaticism of Bowie resonates with your own and he becomes easier to follow if you’re willing. The 10 week writing time effects content and structure, so it would be a benefit to know at least the timeline of Bowies defining moments. But in spite of criticism what is on the page is illuminating, an examination of the underlying philosophies of an icon. You may or may not recognise this Bowie because as Morley put it “everyone has their own Bowie”.
Gaining insight into Bowie through Morley is where the enjoyment lies, the structure is interesting at times and flat in others, the indulgence of the author vacillates between insightful and sycophantism. Ultimately it is Bowie that makes this an enjoyable read, his life and art speak so loudly and profoundly that if you capture just a piece, as Morley has, you have something worth reading.