Monday, 8 January 2018

DAVID BOWIE IS ... AN OPEN BOOK



'The President of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounds himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound. He is manifestly unfit for the job. Who knew? Everybody did,' writes Masha Gessen in the New Yorker.
Indeed: the whole world knows that America has been had, and that Trump is a cartoon. So is Michael Wolff, author of the best-selling 'Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House'. Yet his latest book has conquered the New York Times best-seller list, and has been flying out of bookshops faster than they can re-stock it. I haven't read it: I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy. Maybe we think that we have read enough reviews to know the content by heart; to know that this overnight sensation is a poorly-written recycling bin of questionable gossip; a cocktail of old news and sloppy reporting padded with superfluous detail. Someone, I forget who, said that the fact that everybody is talking about it is both illogical and degrading to us all.
Wolff has been denounced by Trump for never having entered the Oval Office, and for not ever having spent three hours interviewing him. A number of individuals who grace the pages of the book now claim to have been misquoted. Writers are used to this kind of thing. Presumably, if Mr Wolff is a professional, he will have recorded every conversation, and will be able to produce back-up transcripts of the interviews upon which he based his work. If not, it is his word against theirs. Has anyone filed a lawsuit?
I experienced some of what Mr Wolff is currently going through when my book 'Hero: David Bowie' was published in hardback just over a year ago. The paperback edition, for reference, is out now. This book is by far my best work, and I stand by every word. I knew David as a child. I became a music writer because of him. I went on the road and wrote about him, because it was all that I wanted to do. Meeting him changed my life. He championed the cause of misfits and kooks like me. He validated us. He gave us the confidence to survive. I reflected all of this in my book, which is part-memoir, part-biography. It's very personal, and not at all an encyclopaedia of his life and music. There are far too many of those. It is my own experience of the man who became the greatest rock star who ever lived. I had the right to write it, and I did.
Just before the book was published, the Rights department at my publishers Hodder & Stoughton offered the book to Fleet Street for serialisation. It went to the highest bidder, the Mail on Sunday. To be clear, the author does not receive the money for serialisations: the publisher does. The newspaper in question is then able to deploy the copy and images as it sees fit. We get neither copy nor picture approval. Quite rightly, as to grant it would compromise the fundamental tenet of journalism. We do not get to vet the headline. We have nothing whatsoever to do with the process, and yet ours is the picture byline that is stamped on the piece. We are therefore held responsible, and are 'to blame'.
The Mail on Sunday bannered its extract 'DID DAVID BOWIE KILL HIMSELF?' Yes, way. Nowhere in the book do I claim this. Nowhere in the book do I even suggest such a thing. I did not go there. Please read it for yourself, and see. In the concluding chapter, Andy Peebles makes respectful passing reference to the sweeping rumours surrounding the 'timing' of David's death - a long-awaited record out on his birthday, 8th January, then he died two days later, on the 10th - but not in any callous or sensational way. He merely mentions them. I merely quote him. No conclusion is drawn. That's it, we move on. But thanks to the Mail on Sunday's headline, I was vilified. Thousands of people who had not read the book but had merely seen the piece, either in the newspaper or online, and jumped to conclusions, rushed to abuse me. I was attacked on social media, particularly on Twitter. Fake reviews damning the book, a book they had not even read, were posted widely. Complaints were written to the paper's editor. I received a string of frightening death threats. High-profile 'Bowie people' were moved to express their contempt for me. No, they hadn't read it either. What could we do about it? Nothing.
Time has a habit of shaking things up. Balance shifts. Reality is restored. Some of those die-hard, devoted Bowie fans eventually got around to reading my book, and saw for themselves that they had made a mistake. A few of them wrote to take back what they'd said. This was gratifying. One well-known friend of David's whom I interviewed at length hit out publicly to say that I had misquoted him, and that he had not made certain statements. I had spent two days at this man's kitchen table. I had recorded every word of our interviews on a reliable device. I had transcribed the material personally. I returned to his home and combed through every word of my printed transcript with him. A few words were deleted at his request, and a couple of statements modified. He signed off every page, with his own pen, in his own handwriting. I was of course able to produce this proof when he later questioned what I had written. His response? That he 'didn't want to talk about it ever again.' But he didn't back down and admit that he was wrong, either. People say that there is no smoke without fire. Oh boy, there so is.
There are few on the planet who knew David Bowie better than his record producer Tony Visconti, a man for whom I have gigantic respect. I interviewed him for my biography of Marc Bolan, 'Ride a White Swan'. He even penned a glowing endorsement for the cover. He declined to be interviewed for 'Hero', and was scathing about the book when it was published. He hadn't read it. I'm sure he still hasn't. He also dumped me on Facebook.
My point being, assumptions are the root of all cock-ups. We can assume all we like about Michael Wolff's book on the Trump administration. We should probably read it. I intend to.

Today would have been David Bowie's seventy-first birthday. Wednesday will be his Anniversary. This is a week to reflect, for Bowie aficionados. He is right here, of course. He hasn't gone far. We still have the music.

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