Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Dangerous Glitter

If you're at all interested in music writing, like I am, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, by Dave Thompson, is a must-read. It's a three-way biography; a recounting of the intertwining lives of Bowie, Reed and Pop in the 1970s, discussing their ups and downs, their friendships and fallings out, collaborations, hangers on, and most importantly, their influences on each other as well as the rest of the music world.

The book begins in the prologue with Nico's first meeting with Andy Warhol, but the first chapter begins with Lou Reed's days in Detroit in 1975. It traces the three of them fairly evenly, devoting equal weight to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed's later solo career, to David Bowie's albums and mammoth US tours, and also to Iggy and The Stooges. The whole book is essentially chronological, a deceptively simple re-telling of what happened, who was there, and what the fallout was. I say deceptively, because it's clear that Thompson would have had an enormous amount of material to work with, and the fact that he created a book so measured and concise is impressive.

The whole thing is very well-written, actually, with just the right mix of interesting facts, engaging descriptions of the people involved, and gossipy melodrama. Bowie, Pop and Reed are given equal treatment - roughly the same amount of "screen time" - without any visible bias or preferential treatment of one over the other. There's no sugar-coating of their behaviour, but also no judgement of the things they did or the way they treated themselves and others. There is some discussion of the legendary partying, drug addiction and debauchery that these three are famous for, but it never seems to overshadow the impact and importance of their music and their effect on their fans.

In fact, I found there was less drug talk than I was expecting. Thompson really only talks about the partying when it influenced the music, or when it became a definite problem, like Bowie's slide into cocaine-fuelled crazy, or Iggy and Reed's respective heroin addictions and the effect they had on their ability to produce music.

One criticism of this book might be its brevity. At only 300 pages, it's a swift read, and Thompson certainly packs a lot in. Do three artists of this calibre deserve a longer study? Maybe. However, while more serious and dedicated fans might want more detail, I was pretty happy with the length and depth available in this book. I felt Thompson had encapsulated the up and down relationships between these three men, and the up and down flow of the rock and roll industry of the era, remarkably well, without getting bogged down in the minutiae.

Overall verdict: easy to read, deeply interesting, no sugar-coating or hyperbole. Two thumbs up from me!

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