Tuesday, 8 March 2011

John, I'm Only Writing

What have I discovered over the last month? That it's impossible to maintain a blog about one artist (the Beatles) whilst spending seven days a week writing a book about another (David Bowie).

So my excuse is as follows: I'm in the final stages of writing what is, in effect, the Bowie equivalent of Ian MacDonald's highly acclaimed book about the Beatles' music, Revolution In The Head. At the time of his death, Ian was under contract to write a Bowie book, for the editor at Random House in London who commissioned You Never Give Me Your Money. The idea came up in conversation . . . and here I am, not writing MacDonald's book, because obviously his would have been very different from mine, but my own take on the same subject.

The title is The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s. It covers Bowie's music from 1969 to 1980, song-by-song in the MacDonald style, alongside a selection of biographical, historical and critical essays/notes that will, I hope, flesh out the relationship between Bowie and the culture of the 1970s. There will also be an appendix giving Bowie's 1960s catalogue the same treatment. Assuming I finish it in time, the book will be published this autumn in the UK by The Bodley Head, and next spring in the US by HarperCollins.

I realise this has no direct relevance to the Beatles, and promise to get back on track with the Fab Four shortly. But the Beatles' music was such an obvious influence on Bowie, from the mid-60s through to 1980 (where my account ends), that there are plenty of Beatles references along the way. In particular, I was amazed to realise how much inspiration Bowie drew from the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album - not so much when it was released in 1970, but in 1977-1980, when (to judge from his music) he must have played the record incessantly.

One final thought to leave you with: has anyone made a better Beatles album since 1970 than Hunky Dory?


  1. Hunky Dory is one of my favorite albums by anybody, ever. I'm sure you'll find the Neil Young and Nick Drake influences in there. I look forward to this book!

  2. Bowie is so mercurial that he has left me behind many times...people think he's so pretentious...that's not it at all. He moves quickly while at the same time immersing his psyche...what 'alter' ego? The only real problem with Bowie is that complete concepts have gone unnoticed in the wake of individual commercial successes. That is an unfair trade off. All of his albums have much more to offer as a whole than any one song he's ever done.
    So, please pull the Bewlay Brother out of the oxygen tent and tell him the sun machine is goin' down. You've got a lot to tell. Good luck.

  3. Not sure if this will get to you, Peter, but my name is Michael Smith and I am a novice screenwriter living in Hyannis, Massacusetts USA. I'd really like to adapt your book into a screenplay, with your permission of course. I think it's a fascinating story that would make a great movie. My e-mail address is michaelsmith180@comcast.net. I just hope Hollywood hasn't already come knocking!

  4. That's interesting that you mention that Bowie listened a lot to that album! When I heard one of the bonus track from Scary Monsters, I can't remember which song, I have a more recent reissue, it was so obvious that he drew inspiration from Mother.

  5. Good luck with the Bowie Book. Hoople and Bowie were my first loves as a teenager in the Seventies they were Gods.

    Bowie's contradictions and lack of recognition of his collaborators (particularly Mick Ronson) are irritating but the decade you are covering is a period when he outshone everyone.

    Compare Hunky Dory to Scary Monsters and it's like two different worlds.

    He seemed knackered at the end of the decade, the constant expectation of creativeness seemed to have worn him out.