For 60 years, the composer Geoff MacCormack was David Jones’s shadow. They toured the planet together, got into all kinds of trouble, and watched Jones turn into Bowie. Seven years after the artist’s death, MacCormack is now releasing what many consider the definitive visual biography of the star who died of cancer at age 69 on January 10, 2016.
MacCormack always took his camera everywhere he went. In the pages of David Bowie: Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me, he opens his archive for the first time to share more than 150 images of the legendary musician. The project has been in the works for a long time: “David collaborated with me to create an expensive, luxury, limited edition book [2,000 copies] 16 years ago. I wanted to expand the book. I wanted to make it available to all at an affordable price. When [Bowie] left us, it didn’t feel right to publish along with the huge volume of stuff that came out. Not until now,” he says.
The two met at the Burnt Ash Primary School in Bromley in the mid-1950s. They quickly became friends, thanks to their love for music and their fondness for artists like Mose Allison and Georgie Fame, who they chased through the alleys of Soho and Eel Pie Island. In the 1970s, MacCormack became one more member of Bowie’s band. He played percussion in the 1973 world tour and shut himself in the studio with the artist to record classics like Aladdin Sane and Station to Station.
When asked what comes to mind when he hears the word “Bowie,” MacCormack never knows what to say: “Many years have passed. The truth is that I don’t have a concrete image that comes to mind beyond that of my old friend David Jones, more a collage of images than a single one.”
David Bowie: Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me begins with a foreword by George Underwood, another dear friend of Bowie and the designer of most of his album covers. Underwood recalls the trio’s eclectic tastes. “I must admit, David’s musical choices were the most ‘unusual’ out of the three of us. Geoff was into James Brown and Otis Redding, I was into Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan, and David was into the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and The Fugs. Okay, so I have exaggerated somewhat, but you get the idea,” he writes, recalling the music that shaped the multifaceted artist.
The book explores the legendary musician’s childhood and adolescent. It includes photos from his school yearbook and an avalanche of memories of the boy to whom everything seemed new. From there, it moves into the seventies, when Jimi Hendrix reigned the stage and the collective imagination. MacCormack confessed that the project’s challenges lay in reconstructing the past: “It’s been a long time. More than six decades, so the biggest challenge was trying to be as accurate as possible with dates going back, although the memories were still there sometimes it’s difficult to arrange them.”
MacCormack brings a friend’s gaze to the Bowie of Ziggy Stardust, now a global star. “For me, he was always David Jones, even though he was Bowie for the whole world,” he says. An avalanche of photos illustrates the times when the British singer lit up the planet with his looks, his lack of inhibition and unusual charisma. “I remember my first trip to New York. David was there a year before and because of his description of its streets, and the energy, in my mind, it was sort of a legendary land. We stayed at the Gramercy. Then we went to LA and since David knew people there, we could get in their cars and went to their homes and met a lot of singular people. There were wonderful times,” MacCormack recalls.
Bowie fans will enjoy seeing the Londoner in his day-to-day, at times posing with a Kansai Yamamoto model, at times with a terrified face in the Soviet Union, when MacCormack, Bowie and a few other friends got on the wrong train and ended up in the middle of nowhere. “I still remember the horror, remembering myself lost in there, with no ID, in 1973,” jokes the author, who narrates in detail the trips, concerts, parties and misunderstandings the friends got into. But, above all, he surprises the reader with an infinite memory, full of nuance, that examines Bowie as if under a microscope.
The book’s afterword is a text in Bowie’s own handwriting, signed as David Jones, in 2007: “Oh Geoff, what a terrifically clever idea this. I am all kinds of shades of green as I didn’t think of it first. Take the two of us and pretend that we went to America, Japan and, wait for it, fucking Russia of all places, me as a rock star and you as cheerful backing singer and sidekick and then write a book about it. Brilliant!”
The artist’s friend now manages Bowie’s immense archive and organizes exhibitions about his life and legacy all over the world. The latest took place in the Brighton Museum, in the town of the same name in southeast England. It stayed there for almost two years, until September 2022. But despite sixty years alongside the legend, for MacCormack, it is almost impossible to define his friend. He opts for an extraterrestrial solution: “If a martian landed on Earth with its spaceship and asked me to define David, I would say: ‘Where have you been? My friend was looking for you!’” he says with a smile.
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