Editor of British GQ finds the man behind the alien in David Bowie: A Life
Dylan Jones interviewed more than 150 people for biography on iconic star David Bowie.
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Early in the morning of January 10, 2016, after news broke that David Bowie had died of cancer, Dylan Jones, the longtime editor of British GQ, started receiving requests to write his obituary.
Jones spent the rest of that terrible day at Men’s Fashion Week where many tears were shed over the loss of the enigmatic rock star, who, just the week prior, had released his final album, Blackstar.
Jones first met Bowie in 1982 on the set of the sexy vampire flick, The Hunger, where he played an extra during the iconic opening nightclub scene. Bowie, one of the film’s stars, asked Jones — already an obsessive fan — for a light for his Marlboro.
“I knew him, not as a friend, but I knew him for a very long time,” says Jones, who would go on to interview Bowie seven times, and write a book about the rise of his Ziggy Stardust persona. But Jones’s most meaningful tribute to his childhood hero came after his death. For a year, “it was a race” to interview more than 150 people around the world for his new book, David Bowie: A Life, a definitive oral biography that focuses on the man behind the alien — his motivations and creative process, alongside plenty of dishy details on Bowie’s relationships and sexual appetite, friendships and drugged-out party days.
He spoke to Bowie collaborators like Brian Eno, celebrity fans like Lady Gaga and Kate Moss, and those who were influenced by his music such as Canadian musician Owen Pallett. To fill in the gaps, Jones drew from archives to include voices like Ziggy Stardust lead guitarist Mick Ronson, who died in 1993, and Bowie’s wife and love, Iman.
Beyond the list of usual A-list suspects are interviews with those who knew Bowie before he was Bowie, including childhood friends and neighbours. “It was really important to me to speak to a lot of the ancillary characters,” Jones says. “It makes it very egalitarian.”
Although Jones has studied Bowie for decades, writing the book provided more insight, sometimes unflattering, into the artist’s single-minded ambition. “He had this amazing ability to dismiss people from his life,” says Jones, who recalls the story of Bowie’s former landlady, Mary Finnigan, who was literally and metaphorically shown the door at a concert after-party.
“Some people feel like they were used, but most don’t. Most people thought, ‘Well, I had my experience and it’s time to move on.’ You could say he was callous, but he was also honest and quite efficient.”
Despite the fact that his sources are exhaustive, Jones still feels there is one omission. He interviewed British artist Clare Shenstone, who was the inspiration behind Heroes, one of Bowie’s most iconic songs.
“I spent a lot of time with her, but in the end she decided she didn’t want her testimony to be used,” says Jones. “I completely respected it because she felt being grouped together with a lot of other people would somehow undermine her own experience. That’s the only real regret.”