At the end of my last post, I quoted a passage at the end of Spike Island in which Philip Hoare gives credit to Bowie for delivering Hoare’s generation from the conventions of suburban life. This was the shared Bowie experience.
But there is also a personal one. Hoare’s latest book, The Sea Inside —part natural history/part cultural history/part adventure tale/part travelogue — has nothing to do with David Bowie. It begins with the author returning to his childhood home. His parents are dead and surviving siblings scattered. He has returned from places he never dreamed he’d go and finds that the
“lawn where I lay as a teenager, reading King Lear on a hot midsummer’s afternoon, although I’d rather have been listening to Ziggy Stardust on my cassette recorder, has long been overtaken by meadow grass.”
The passages of his life, rendered in such brief but resonant allusions, are about his own Bowie.
Thousands, quite possibly millions, of words have been written about Bowie since his death was announced on January 12, 2016, and nearly always the attempt to accommodate both the public and personal Bowie is obvious.
Hoare’s elegy for Bowie in the New Statesman, which I expect will be just one of many he will pen, begins by acknowledging this:
“the problem with writing about Bowie is that we are all writing about ourselves. That’s how important he was.”
How can a writer distinguish his own Bowie from everyone’s shared Bowie? Is that the question to ask? Or is it why do so, since the two are so entwined.
Can a conventional biography ever be written about Bowie? Those in which the author has tried to keep himself out of the book, that is, all the biographies published, are unsatisfactory (Pegg’s Complete David Bowie is encyclopedic, the essential reference book through 2011, but it is not a biography).
The factual is superficial when the subject is David Jones/David Bowie.
There is a historical David Jones. David Bowie never existed; he is mythic. We make him in our own images; if he had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.
I’ll discuss Hoare’s essays and interviews about setting Jones/Bowie in a historical context, both personal and public, next time.