David Bowie: The Golden Years by Roger Griffin is a sensualist’s delight and a scholar’s treasure. Chronologically encyclopedic, it is the only book that covers each year of the 1970s in equal depth. At 12.5” by 10” and 464 pages, I’d estimate it weighs at least 5 pounds. You can see a video that shows you better than I can describe you the appearance of the book here.
I appreciate that the book is documented. You can easily confirm what Griffin writes because there are sources (!) and they are logically arranged. The photographers whose images are used with the permission of the copyright holder are all acknowledged.
I have read every page, although this is not like reading a narrative biography. There are a lot of lists: every song, every album, all personnel. Griffin’s interest in the narrative is not about probing the psyche of David Jones. It is recording what is known about the days and night of David Bowie.
Opening the book at random, to the spread on pages 208-209, I find I am in mid-March of 1974. There is a cinema poster of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and a color picture of The Hunger City set design model. Jules Fisher, a Broadway designer for the Diamond Dogs tour, looks back on the project from the perspectives of 1985 and 1995 . In a bridge we learn that Angie told Bowie about Toni Basil; Basil talks in 2002 and 1985 about what it was like during those days, with remarks from Visconti in 2000. Corinne Schwab (Coco) recalls in 2001 how she met Bowie.
There are many anecdotes recounted that leave much to the imagination. One of my favorites is the time Patti Smith spilled beer on Angie’s full length fur.
But best of all is this simple entry for December 31, 1974, following a week when Bowie had been making tabletop models of the set for Diamond Dogs. In 1980 he recalls how he wanted to make a film of that “so passionately, so badly” (248). The cyborg people he describes reminds me of Duncan Jones’ Mute.
Tuesday 31 December: “Bowie spent New Year’s Eve at home with Zowie. He intended to take Zowie to see the fireworks in Central Park but the weather kept them indoors, where they continued to play with the video equipment instead.” (248)
How lovely is that?
The photographs in Griffin’s book are both the iconic ones and ones I’ve never seen. Those in black and white are stupendous on the book’s palette of black and gold with the occasional creamy white pages. There are quite a few black and whites, but remember, in the 1970s, color photography in newspapers was a rarity. The color photographs are deeply saturated. The book is, in a word, luscious.
For many of the entries in this blog, I used Roger Griffin’s Golden Years website as a very valuable source of reliable information.
I am so pleased for all of us that this blog is now a book. David Bowie: The Golden Years is the gold standard for what a usefully delightful and delightfully useful book should be.