A Crash Course for the Ravers


Posted by in February's Magazine

It’s two years since David Bowie left us but his presence is still felt. Duncan Jones is channelling his loss creatively by starting his own Bowie Book Club in memory of his father: “My dad was a beast of a reader and I’ve been feeling a building sense of duty to go on the same literary marathon in tribute to him… Time allowing.” Now that’s not an easy task but at least Bowie posted his 100 favourite books on his website in 2013. One hundred. If it’s the usual book club ‘one a month’, that’s over 8 years of commitment. Time allowing indeed!

The first book, Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, has already run its allotted time. In his introduction to the book Jones wrote that; ‘Ackroyd’s sojourns into the history of Britain and its cities is one of his true loves’ the book was chosen as ‘an amuse cerveau before we get into the heavy stuff’. Daunting – especially as we are playing catch up!

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Cheats can read a synopsis on the David Bowie website but that would defeat the aim of the exercise, the fun of reading. When Bowie was with us he deliberately dropped reading references into interviews and I will not have been alone in reading Burroughs, Burgess, Tevis or (rereading) Orwell simply because he mentioned them. Burroughs and Tevis don’t actually make the list but there are some surprises.

That ‘heavy stuff’ could allude to the likes of Earthly Powers, Transcendental Magic: It’s Doctrine and Ritual and Le Chants de Maldoror – in French? The last two books on top of a diet of cocaine, milk and red pepper found Bowie on the end of a phone line to his estranged wife Angie claiming that witches were trying to steal his semen. Mind you, if the witches had just had a peek in his fridge they’d have found the bottles of his urine he was hiding from the wizards. Not altogether surprisingly, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is another of the 100.

Bowie’s sense of humour bypasses most folk, which is a pity as it is the key to understanding him. Tony Visconti tells the story of Bowie and Eno adopting Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Derek and Clive voices in the studio while working on the Berlin trilogy – “We are the Goon squad and we’re coming to town. Beep. Beep.”

Indeed we know humour was an important factor; The Beano (1950s), Raw (1980s) Viz (early 80s), Private Eye (1960-1980s) and Spike Milligan’s Puckoon all appear on the reading list. Levity is not a quality associated with Bowie but it was an integral part of Mr Jones. The real value of the list lies in allowing us to better understand the man.

The fiction ranges from Lawrence to Isherwood, Dos Passos, Angela Carter and Sarah Waters. Novelists in translation include Giuseppe De Lampedusa, Alighieri, Bulgakov and Camus. Art, Pop and Cultural criticism are represented too, so this is going to be a rollercoaster of a book club ride. (Edinburgh makes an appearance in the guise of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.)

But what kind of reader was Bowie? According to one of his best guitarists, Carlos Alomar, “He is undoubtedly well read but he’s more of an expounder of information.” He was that for all of us, constantly urging. “Check this out.” Make your mind up about this. It was through Bowie that we first heard about Lou and Iggy. He was a fellow enthusiast and all of it was used and synthesised to produce his work.

A good example of this absorption and assimilation comes from a colleague of a friend, who, whilst in Mexico in 1982 invited “a bored teenager in my hotel to join me for an afternoon walk, resulting in a phone call to my hotel room which went like this…”

Caller: Is that Bernard?

Me: Yes.

Caller: It’s Davy Jones here, would you like to have dinner with me tonight?

Me: Who?

Caller: Davy Jones.

Me: Er…who exactly?

Caller: David Bowie.

Me: Ah…er.

Caller: That was my son Joe you took for a walk along the beach today and he had a fantastic time. I’d like to thank you by buying you dinner tonight.

“I accepted and joined Bowie for dinner where he insisted that I sat next to him. We talked mainly about Conquistadors, Aztecs and Mayans. And both expressed a liking for Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and the film director Luis Bunuel. Davy was such a warm and charming gentleman.”

This anecdote was shared with colleagues on the day of Bowie’s passing to help dilute the sadness of his loss – Joe was formerly Zowie, then Joe and, finally, Duncan. Who, in his turn, has triggered an online literary marathon though the library, and thus head, of the best arts teacher we ever had…“Lend us a book we can read up alone.” ν

Info: Duncan Jones is on
Twitter: @ManMadeMoon

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