JONES ON JONES
Before becoming a brilliant journalist and contributor to some of the most important magazines and newspapers in the UK, as well as a best-selling author and a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sir Dylan Jones was a teenager living in a coastal town in Kent. One evening in July 1972, twelve-year old Dylan watched Top of the Pops and a rock alien changed his world forever.
In this interview GQ editor talks at length about his personal hero and his new brand biography dedicated to him.
Sir Jones, you have already written a book on David Bowie (When Ziggy Played Guitar, 2012), focusing on his most famous alter-ego, Ziggy, and his 4-minute performance on TOTP in 1972, writing about what great significance this character had had in the Seventies. I still wonder how many artists and ordinary people were shocked and influenced by David’s performance. You too, from a black and white television in Kent to those colourful stars…
DJ: Yes, my first book on Bowie was based around this one performance and the way that performance influenced an entire generation of young men and women. My new book not only focuses on his whole life, but it also includes 180 other voices, so it is the sum of its parts.
Can you imagine a man, or a woman, coming into the star system right now with a similar impact? Is it still possible?
DJ: It would be impossible for someone like David Bowie to appear now and to be so influential. There will only ever be one David Bowie.
During the ‘70s people wanted something that broke the rules. The ‘80s were for status symbol, and from the ‘90s people seem to be looking for something new with their ways and fashion. Where are we now?
DJ: I fear the narrative arc of pop is drawing to a close, and the golden age of the rock star might be on the wane.
In an article you wrote for The Independent, after David’s death, you explained that he preferred to present the myth, instead of revealing what happened for real. Why, in your opinion?
DJ: Because it made for interesting copy.
The first time you met David you were an extra in the movie The Hunger, by Tony Scott… could you please share some of your memories of David?
DJ: As with any film set, it was actually quite boring, as there is always lots of hanging around. Everyone was mesmerised by the fact that he was there, and by the fact that he looked so good. He was also incredibly nice to everyone. That might not be especially interesting, but it is telling.
Now DAVID BOWIE: A LIFE, your biography on him, is going to be published by Penguin Random House. You portrayed the man drawing from several interviews, with David himself and with many of his collaborators and friends. What is the point of view through which you have approached this artist?
DJ: This is a comprehensive narrative told through the voices of musicians, friends, collaborators, lovers, artists, many people who knew him, and it is as accurate portrait as I can paint.
You have already published other music biographies, on Jim Morrison and John Paul Jones. When did you think about David’s for the first time? Probably embarking on a biography on him is one of the most fascinating but also difficult things to do…
DJ: I think I have probably always wanted to write this book, ever since I was a teenager.
Could we perhaps consider yours one of the closest versions to be an official biography?
DJ: That is not for me to say, I simply hope I have contributed to the discussion.
His life was so incredible: a fearless explorer who travelled and lived all around the world, who experimented with a lot of different types existence, a man who seemed to defy time and the foolishness and mediocrity of reality. What was your first reaction when you heard the news on 11th January 2016?
DJ: Disbelief, heartache, and a huge sense of loss. I also felt incredibly sad for his family.
You enjoyed several meetings with the man who fell to earth… Which was the best thing about being in his company?
DJ: He had an ability to make you feel as though everything you said was incredibly smart and important, even when you knew it wasn’t!
In the past you defined Bowie with adjectives like “charming” and “intriguing”, but… who was David Robert Jones for real?
DJ: He was the most charming person I ever met, and he was a great seducer in that respect.
Were you involved into the ISelect compilation that was given away for free with the Mail on Sunday in 2008?
DJ: Yes! And he gave a small interview for me, to coincide with it.
I have a soft spot for books on David. After his records, honestly I think that the best thing is a good book on him. Which are your favourites?
DJ: Most of his biographies have many things to recommend them.
I interviewed some collaborators of Bowie, especially photographers… they all agree he was not only a great artist, but also a remarkable human being. I’m a fan and I enjoy hearing all these compliments but sometimes I think that they sound rather hagiographic. It seems that in your new book not everybody had good words for David. Isn’t it?
DJ: It is not a hagiography, but I did not deliberately look for negative opinions. I just wanted to speak to people who knew him well.
David disappeared for almost a decade. No interviews or stuff like that… nothing! Then, with The Next Day and Blackstar, he just let his music and his art speak for him. His health problems aside, I still find it hard to understand why this big change. What do you think?
DJ: He was ill, he wanted to spend time with his family, and then he wanted to make music again. No drama.
If David were still here, would you prefer to interview him or to have a private conversation?
Recently your biography has been previewed in a distorted light by some articles that focused only on some the more scandalous details of Bowie’s life. But David was much more, and I really liked your reaction and your words. Why, in your opinion, this kind of press still thinks people are attracted to gossip and lies?
DJ: Tabloids always try and distort things for their own advantage. It is best to ignore all this bilge.
Do you know if your biography will be translated and published into Italian?
DJ: Soon, I hope!
Interview conceived and conducted by Matteo Tonolli
(A deep thank to Monica Colussi, Alessio and Sara!)
DAVID BOWIE: A LIFE was officially presented in a private event with Dylan Jones on 28th September 2017 as a part of David Bowie Tribute, an exhibition curated and organized by Monica Colussi at the Fiat Chrysler Village in Wigmore Street, London.
Here our review of David Bowie: A Life.