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Bowie: A Biography Hardcover – October 27, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Despite the plethora of existing books about the British glam rocker (e.g., David Buckley's Strange Fascination), Spitz, formerly of Spin magazine and the author of a look at the punk band Green Day (Nobody Likes You), concentrates on the complex evolution of Bowie's music to deliver an evenhanded, critically thorough, while still reverential life of the Thin White Duke. Born David Jones in the Brixton suburbs of London in 1947, Bowie treaded the musical edges from blues to mod to rock-and-roll, moving from band to band in his teens and trying out different personas. Assuming the name of an American frontiersman who died at the Alamo, Bowie took his cues from influences as diverse as Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and Marcel Marceau, playing with mime, theater, fashion and sheer showmanship. In the beginning, record companies didn't know how to classify him, with albums like Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory; it was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars, depicting Bowie's red-haired rooster haircut and bisexual persona, that sparked the public's fancy. Phenomenal success ensued, and even in his most cocaine-fueled paranoid period during the mid-1970s, Bowie never stopped changing himself, constantly experimenting with new forms, be they Kabuki, disco, New Wave, punk or Brit pop. Spitz concentrates on the heady years culminating in Scary Monsters and underscores the deafening void that Bowie's recent silence has left in the music world. (Oct.)
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“BOWIE is inspired, edge-worn, loud, quiet, observant, humble, gorgeous, and humane. If the record business loved music as much as Marc Spitz does, there would still be a record business.” —Dan Kennedy, author of Rock On: An Office Power Ballad
“A breezy, well-lit portrait of the ever-enigmatic rocker . . . Spitz’s encyclopedic knowledge and obvious appreciation for Bowie’s work separate this book from countless cookie-cutter rock stories.”
“Spitz concentrates on the complex evolution of Bowie’s music to deliver an evenhanded, critically thorough, while still reverential, life of the Thin White Duke.” —Publishers Weekly
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Top customer reviews
The book succeeds at providing a context and a sense of what it might actually have been like to be Bowie, especially in the 70s. I enjoyed the feeling that the author was contemporary to me and was therefore able to relate Bowie to the wider context of popular and independent music through the last 40 years and more. This means not just referring to T Rex or Gary Numan, but later icons such as Radiohead and The Smiths. The author also supplies a socio-cultural context when appropriate. And he has done his fair share of interviewing and sourcing, as he provides new and insightful inputs from key players in Bowie's life. But what is particularly apparent to me is the sense that I am reading a factual narrative rather than a methodical biography. I don't know if that makes sense - I'm certainly not suggesting it reads like an historical novel, but it seems that the important things here is to get a sense of a life rather than be bogged down by exhaustive detail.
This doesn't mean that it lacks information - there is a whole lot of it. But anyone who has read extensively about Bowie will notice omissions and neglects. Some live LPs get overlooked as does the release of the Ziggy Stardust movie in any great detail. Angie Bowie basically vanishes from thought after a couple of years with no reference to this absence, only to re-appear briefly in reference to child custody. The book misses Bowie's revolutionary use of merchandising and self-promotion as he took on the world with the Serious Moonlight tour in an attempt to recapture the wealth lost/eluded in the Defries years. The rich detail one gets about discrete moments in time, even from Mojo and Uncut magazines, is just too amiss from here. (The bulk of the book is set in the 60s and 70s, and the 80s, 90s and 00s are treated slimly, but this is how almost every Bowie book approaches this, somewhat unfortunately yet unsurprisingly).
And yet, I really enjoyed the book. Because of what it is, a great story that indicates the heart and soul of the Bowie story in a way that more detailed books don't deliver. If you are a passing fan and want to read a thrilling representation of the Bowie psyche and mythos, this might well be the one for you.
If you're an obsessive, you'll want to make sure you read other books about Bowie as well, but definitely give this one a go. As far as the others go, `Alias David Bowie : a biography' by Peter Gillman and Leni Gillman is excellent. I enjoyed George Tremlett's `Living on the Brink', which includes a look into his latter financial success. `David Bowie : Moonage Daydream' by Dave Thompson is a great read with a whole heap of awesome pictures. Finding a copy of `David Bowie: An Illustrated Record' would be suitably rewarding. And for a truly encyclopedic reference, get `The Complete David Bowie' by Nicholas Pegg. You might need to find a used copy and any edition will probably do. `Strange Fascination: David Bowie - The Definitive Story' is meant to be excellent and will probably be in my hands when I want to read about Bowie again.
There are a number of things that prevent Spitz's book from being definitive. His idea to use moments from his youth and the impact that Bowie had on his life is an interesting idea providing those who weren't around at the time that Bowie was still big as an artist how his music and image could influence the average listener. The problem is that brief as these interludes are they get in the way of telling Bowie's story and don't provide any additional insight into either the artist and the author. It could also be seen as a bit egotistic in that the author has inserted himself into the story and the reader is subjected to it without any reward. I understand Spitz wanting to give us a context (and his instincts as a novelist would be to try to personalize the story so readers can relate)BUT usually when an author inserts himself or herself into a story it disrupts the story and that is the case here.
Spitz does give us some insightful, brief analysis of Bowie's songs. I didn't approach this book expecting it to spent most of my time subjected to someone else's overwrought analysis of what inspired Bowie. I wasn't disappointed. I find biographers "evaluation" of the quality of an artist's work often interfers with a biography since the reader often has their own opinion(s)it can distract from the purpose of the book--to tell us about the life of the artist NOT what and why certain work is important. For those seeking an evaluation of Bowie's albums, the reader may want to look elsewhere since Spitz doesn't make that the main focus (thankfully) here.
Spitz's book is well researched and well written. He took the time to interview those who knew Bowie during his most creatively fertile period (1972-1982). He's also not afraid to reference other authors who have tackled written about Bowie. He isn't afraid to cull from those other works to help provide additional insight or contrast to his own interviews.
I also found listening to the various albums and songs mentioned in the book while reading provided a more meaningful, insightful experience. I'd suggest doing the same if you are thinking of picking up this book.
Although flawed Spitz's Bowie: A Biography is a worthwhile read. 3 1/2 stars.
That's okay I am a fan too and was at that concert in Sept of '72 in Cleveland as a friend reminded me. We will all die. Bowie's recent demise reminds me that I too lived through all of the same history. His perspective was interesting at certain points both of what Bowie was living through and what we were all experiencing albeit unknowingly.