Rob Sheffield’s little book, On Bowie, is short as far as books go, but long as far as eulogies read...and this feels a lot like a long, winding eulogy. If you like Rob Sheffield, you’ll like this book a lot. It’s very personal. In fact, I feel like I now know as much about him as I do about Bowie. It’s a distant and fan’s view of Bowie’s career as charted through his recordings, littered with continual droppings of Bowie lyrics throughout the text. It’s clear that Sheffield loved the guy and spent much of his life obsessively analyzing his lyrics.
There are no interviews with Bowie’s friends or conversations with Bowie himself. It is solely a view of the man as seen through his public record – his public appearances and performances, and Sheffield’s interpretation of Bowie’s album history, and what the images and lyrics from those records uncovered about Bowie. On Bowie’s chapters relate to an album title or song – and it is through this vehicle that each chapter of Bowie’s life is chronicled. Given that Bowie “faced his mortality by turning his death (in January 2016) into a work of art,” and subsequently shocked us all with the news and how it was presented, perhaps this is the perfect vehicle for the biography of a man that we all knew but never really knew.