Picture the longest book you’ve ever read. Now double it in size. And, for good measure, add a couple of hundred pages, each of them filled with small font, in two columns, and each the shape and size of your average encyclopaedia page. Sounding daunting yet? Well, this is very close to the experience of reading Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete David Bowie. Titan Books advertise this new edition with a boast that it features over 35,000 words of new material. Has that ever been an inviting selling point for a book?
Take very good notice of the word ‘Complete.’ Yes, there is quite possibly everything you would ever want to know about David Bowie in this book, but there are probably a few hundred pages worth of information that nobody in any way needs to know. Who benefits from the knowledge of every soundtrack that every song Bowie ever wrote has been on? And who cares how many of his songs the Mike Flowers Pops have covered? If you dug around in the footnotes and appendices to the mountain of text that makes up this edition, you’d probably find out what David likes on his toast, what angle he holds the clippers at when he cuts his toenails, and maybe even an eight-page evaluation of his preference between boxers and briefs.
What most disappoints here is the form. Pegg’s decision to break the book up into sections entitled, The Songs, The Albums, The Tours, The Actor, and Plus, means that material is often repeated. Placing ‘The Songs’ section first, and in alphabetical order rather than chronological, results in a complete absence of flow or narrative, negating any chance the reader had to get involved in the text. When chronological order is later applied to the ‘The Albums,’ much of the information we are reading has already been relayed in the previous section, so again, it is difficult to feel any form of absorption. Pegg writes well in ‘The Albums’ section, and there can be no denying that the material he’s presenting is interesting. But its presentation sucks all the life out of it. As it is, it feels a little like the research someone has done for what could be a great dissertation on Bowie, only for them to be daunted by the amount they’ve uncovered, and decide to hand it in as it is.
Any Cop?: Maybe as a piece of reference, as something you could occasionally dip in and out of if you were just wanting a bit of information about a particular song of Bowie’s, or a period in his life. Maybe as that, and nothing else, The Complete David Bowie would be a success. But is that what a book should be? What’s perplexing is that the material is all here, there’s plenty that could’ve been used to make a really top class autobiography about one of music’s most important figures. Sadly, it’s a huge let down. A fascinating subject, but a massively dull book.