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Book Review: Bowie: A Biography by Marc Spitz

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Normally, I like to read books front to back much like everyone else, but Marc Spitz's new Bowie: A Biography is something else entirely.

I've found myself going back over it again and again, and placing those kind of little bookmarks all over it for reference the way you normally do with things like Shakespeare, the Bible, or Mad Magazine.

Okay, I was just kidding about the Mad Magazine part…

Like Spitz, I grew up on David Bowie and remain a huge fan to this day. As you might expect, reading and re-reading through Spitz's exhaustively researched book — which is easily the most thorough Bowie bio I have come across to date — has also brought back a ton of memories.

The biggest problem has been absorbing it all.

In his research for the book, Spitz conducted hundreds of interviews with those closest to Bowie — ranging from ex-wife Angie, to one-time sideman Peter Frampton, to Dick Cavett of all people. Spitz doesn't miss a trick here.

In the book, Spitz meticulously traces the history of the ever-mercurial chameleon Bowie through all of his various career phases. We follow the former David Jones from his evolution from young R&B loving mod and later beat-influenced hippie, all the way through his career periods and artistic incarnations as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, to the Plastic Soul Review, the Berlin trilogy, and beyond.

In doing so, Spitz makes the most effective case yet as to just how major an influence Bowie has been over the years. Particularly in the post-modern era which began in the late eighties with bands like Nine Inch Nails — but which can really be traced back further to the kraut-rock of Kraftwerk, and, of course, finally to Bowie himself.

Reading through this amazing book, we also discover just how much Bowie's influence lives on today through bands ranging from Arcade Fire to the Killers (yes, the Killers).

Along the way, we follow Bowie's amazing journey as he moved through labels, managers (Tony DeFries), sidemen (the late, great guitarist Mick Ronson), rivals (most notably Marc Bolan), and addictions and identities (Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke), to become the icon and legend he is recognized as today.

The most fun part about reading this for me was going back to Bowie records I haven't listened to in years, and reliving my own memories as a teenaged fan.

From my earliest exposure to Bowie on the song "Moonage Daydream" (which I first heard on a promotional 4-song E.P. I got as a 16-year old intern at Seattle rock station KOL), to witnessing Bowie's sparsely attended 1972 Ziggy Stardust show in the orchestra pit at Seattle's Paramount with my high school buddy Kim Murrell, the memories came flooding back.

Bowie and Kim had a rather spirited exchange back then, when, in a rare moment of getting up close and personal with his audience, "Ziggy" offered my 15-year old friend the microphone. Remind me to tell you about it one of these days… because it's a great story.

I don't necessarily agree with all of of Spitz's critical assessments of Bowie's work here — I would definitely call comparing latter-day Bowie albums like Outside to the Berlin trilogy (reunion with Eno aside), somewhat misguided. But for the most part Spitz gets it right here like no Bowie biography has to date.

Most importantly, he reveals just how much David Bowie is truly missed. I suspect I'll be re-reading and discovering new things here for weeks and months to come. Come back David. All is forgiven.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.