Friday, September 28, 2012
"The Man Who Sold The World," by Peter Doggett
Peter Doggett's, "The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s,"takes a song-by-song approach in considering what it contends was a decade of groundbreaking, culture-shaping musical creation by its famous subject.
This work truly offers everything you ever wanted to know about David Bowie, but were afraid to ask.
Doggett is the possessor of much information that will be of interest to fans of the Thin Gray Duke, bytes of data that fill in spaces and explain the unexplained.
He knows the time-periods he's covering, especially late '60s London, with which he seems particularly fascinated. A great byproduct of his exhaustive presentation is the uncovering and remembering of seminal works now forgotten.
The author's essays are multi-pronged, filled with theories and suppositions and associations that may or may not be fact, but which make for good reading and represent an engaging valuation of the man, his times, and his music.
Ah, the music. In his effort to place it front and center, and perhaps to simplify his task via simple chronology, Doggett's structure follows the decade's thread, album-to-album, song-to-song.
Succeeding albums are introduced with an essay discussing Bowie's professional and personal place in the moment of their inception. Then he analyzes each song in detail, the key and any switches in same, the instruments of choice, who did the arrangement, Bowie's surreptitious turn on the sax, Mick Ronson's ukulele etc.
Finally, the album/chapter is closed with an analysis of the disc's commercial, personal, and cultural impact. Even if you know the songs, Doggett’s intense musical criticism will create a desire (need?) to hear them again.
So you need all the songs to truly enjoy this book. highwayscribery didn’t have them all and tended to feel like being outside a party he was not invited to. The biographer does not commit the crime of falling in love with his subject, in "The Man Who Sold The World."
Yes, when it comes to the big picture, Bowie gets his fair share of plaudits. Doggett closes the book noting:
“...and the wider world is still assimilating the bewildering twists and curves of his trajectory through that decade. So pervasive was the influence of Bowie’s seventies work, in fact, like the Beatles before him, that it has become part of the fabric of contemporary music, just has his unique sense of style, and the sexual playfulness at its heart, have helped to form our contemporary notions of fashion, art, and design.”
But to reach these heights in the Doggett‘s estimation, Bowie’s and his work are run through the author’s demanding critiques. This reviewer got the impression that only on a few tracks did Bowie ever achieve the sublime state attributed to him by the author, as the rest are subject to a critique so rigorous that some of the assessments are downright unflattering.
If you came to a Bowie album, say, “Ziggy Stardust,” in years after its consecration as an egg laid by a True Rock God, it may come as something of a surprise that his vocal on the titanic and bluesy “It An Easy” was all wrong, a blown call, in Doggett’s estimation. Or that “Hunky Dory” is an okay album reflecting an artist yet to be fully defined.
As for Bowie himself, it might be said the man is not quite so extraordinary as his art. We’ve read about this person before. The needy entertainer casting about for an identity to replace the missing organic one. The desperation, the self-involvement, the heartlessness when it came to colleagues.
It was all about Bowie, and so is this book.