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Falling Starman

The hero worship of David Bowie has obscured the graft behind his song-writing, says John Harris

David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones (Preface Publishing, £20)

“He was a shit to his mother, he was a shit to his manager who supported him through thick and thin, and he was a shit to numerous partners, including his first wife, whose contribution he meanly refused to acknowledge even unto death.”

This is the writer Paul Gorman trying to explode the myths around David Bowie, on page 469 of Dylan Jones’s exhaustive new oral history of the musician. Not only that, says Gorman, Bowie “didn’t pay UK taxes for 40 years. He made execrable records during the period from 1984 to 1995, often wore terrible clothes [and] stupid makeup and had rotten haircuts, definitely flirted with rightwing politics, and made silly statements on the subject.”

Pointing this out, Gorman insists, is not to question Bowie’s achievements. Instead, it is to rescue him from a posthumous airbrushing that removes all depth and substance from an artist. When Bowie died from cancer on 10th January 2016, aged 69, the banal praise that followed was best summed up by a tweet from that well-known font of impartial truth, Boris Johnson: “No one in our age has better deserved to be called a genius.” Much the same syndrome was evident in popular beliefs that took root even while Bowie was alive, and then went nuclear after his death: the idea, for example, that the 1977 classic “‘Heroes’” is a hymn to heroism, rather than—as pointed out here by its producer, Tony Visconti—“a song about alcoholics.” The inverted commas around the title were put there for a reason.

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In Prospect’s December issue: Adam Posen, Diane Coyle and Nicolas Véron examine the state of Britain’s economy with Brexit looming and suggest that with a large part of the City looking to move and with productivity remaining low the outlook is firmly negative. Posen suggests that the only thing capable of disciplining the Brexit economy is the reality that things are going to be worse. Coyle suggest that although Brexit will hamper Britain’s productivity, the problem is long-term. Véron argues that more than a tenth of the City’s business will disappear due to Brexit—a significant slice that will be difficult to cover off. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield uncovers what is going on at Dfid, the struggling government department that recently lost its Secretary of State. Nick Cohen looks at the rise of the Strong Man is Eastern Europe as Viktor Orbán clamps down on society and Lizzie Porter reports from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region plagued by war and political instability.