Book Review: Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography

By Kerri Jackson

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Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography by Paul Trynka>
Sphere, $39.99

Cover of Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography by David Trynka. Photo / Supplied
Cover of Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography by David Trynka. Photo / Supplied

It always seems a little risky to label any non-fiction book as the "definitive" work on anything, particularly in the case of music biographies, with online trainspotters flocking to messageboards ready to pinpoint every gap or inaccuracy.

But Paul Trynka, a former editor of Mojo magazine, does a pretty good job of filling the "definitive" description when it comes to documenting the epic, mercurial career of David Bowie.

He begins with Bowie's childhood in a bombed-out post-war Brixton through his early misfires at starting a music career, then on through the Ziggy Stardust years to superstardom and Bowie's now secure place as an icon of 20th-century pop culture. Based on interviews with Bowie's ever-evolving team of collaborators, musical rivals, former girlfriends and managers, Trynka gives the reader a detailed insight into key songs and albums, against a pieced-together backdrop of Bowie's drug use, insecurities and personal relationships, particularly the volatile mix of generosity and competitiveness he felt towards almost every other musician around him.

However, the consistent fact of Trynka's Bowie portrait is also the book's weakness. Throughout Starman Trynka points to Bowie's continued reluctance to be pinned down on anything - whether it's his opinions, his appearance, or a Bowie "style". Even his closest friends and collaborators confess to rarely knowing what he really thought or felt about anything.

From overstated stories of his difficult family relationships, to promoting rumours of homosexuality, everything public about him resembled a performance. Although his musical talents grew exponentially over the early years, Bowie's true talent has always been living that performance. He is arguably an actor as much as a musician. That means, at times, he becomes a side character in his own story.

And that means you finish Starman fairly satisfied but still desperately hoping Bowie will one day grace us with an autobiography.

Given that reluctance to essentially show himself, and given he's been retired for nearly 10 years, apart from the occasional benefit concert or TV appearance, that seems unlikely. In lieu of that, Starman is a sound place to start any Bowie education.

- NZ Herald

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