Marketing and PR is often about reinvention. Of brands, of individuals or even, of whole companies. David Bowie was the master of reinvention, and last night at September’s The Media Society event at The Groucho Club, London, we listened to GQ Editor and celebrated ‘man about town’, Dylan Jones, describe how he delved further into Bowie’s life than perhaps any other biographer, with an impressive 180 interviewees for David Bowie A Life.
Two things I didn’t know about Dylan Jones
Fact One: Jones’ first encounter with Bowie was as a film extra on The Hunger movie. He spent the night walking up and down the staircase at Heaven nightclub and, having had an artistic crush on Bowie since the age of 12, was delighted when his idol asked him for a light for his Marlboro.
Fact Two: Dylan Jones’ character shoots down Roger Moore’s plan in Bond movie Octopussy!
So back to David Bowie A Life:
Jones did 180 interviews with 150 people to generate the meaty content of the book. Dubbed ‘an oral biography’, by his New York Editor, Jones’ objective was simple: “There are 50 people you need to speak to to be taken seriously as a Bowie biographer. Then there are the next 50 who normally get interviewed, but don’t get into the books. And then there are the last 50 who don’t ever get interviewed.”
Jones was also determined to: “Get the interviewees to say what they wanted to say rather than what the editors wanted them to say. And as a journalist I could see immediately when I sat down with people, whether it was going to get a 500 or a 5,000 word story.”
It also transpired, that the more people Jones interviewed, the more he liked Bowie. Cultural commentator Peter York, described the book as: “ A cubist biography. Bowie refracted through a lot of different viewpoints. You can compare the views.”
So how did Jones become a Bowie fan? Like many people growing up in the seventies, it was watching Bowie’s performance of ‘Starman’ on BBC’s Top of the Pops. His response was to get his hair cut like Bowie. However, living in Deal in Kent, at the mercy of one of two unisex hairdressers, he reports that he ended up looking like Dave Hill from Slade!
And despite the memory of this intensely, highly-coloured and vibrant performance seared on his brain like a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt, Jones’ dad had to break it to him that: “You do realise we had a black and white television, don’t you, son?”
Jones described how Bowie spent nearly 10 years before he become successful, trying many formats, musical genres and normally mistimed his entry into the marketplace, being behind the curve with a me-too offering and then disappearing. Then he found ‘Ziggy’, which ultimately not only changed Bowie’s life, but also changed the entire culture of the seventies and eighties and millions of people’s lives. Jones was also keen to emphasise how ‘integral’, Bowie’s first wife had been to the formation of Ziggy Stardust.
— MaryleboneMarketing (@MaryleboneM) September 4, 2017
Asked for one new characteristic of Bowie that he’d learnt during the 180 interviews, Jones revealed an aspect of the star’s personality that many people repeated. Bowie’s ability to drop people. But somehow, he did it so that they didn’t feel bad and held no rancour towards him. They understood that they had been part of his life at a certain time. Even his former landlady and lover Mary Finnigan, reported that she had been invited to a concert when Bowie was successful and at the end of the backstage party, he showed her to the door and said: “Bye Mary Finnigan. It’s been great knowing you,” and closed the door on her.
To delve more deeply into Bowie’s life, buy Dylan Jones’ book: David Bowie: A Life.
The Marylebone Marketing team would like to thank the organisers: