Ziggy Stardust and the Life of a Starman
reviews by Michael DeVault
The world awoke January 11 to news that David Bowie had died after a long, undisclosed battle with cancer. It was a tragic, though fitting end to the life and career of a multi-talented artist whose life, at times, seemed to be a performance arts piece about nihilism. Yet, as Twitter, Facebook, and CNN’s trending stories indicated–in each case, five of the top ten spots on each were Bowie-connected–the powerful reach of Bowie’s works traveled as far as some of the heroes of his songs.
Still, as news broadcasts filled hours with talk of the rocker’s exploits, from the famed alter ego Ziggy Stardust to his turns as an actor, the world couldn’t help but wonder. Who was the real David Bowie? Glam rocker, the Goblin King or family man, it seemed Bowie could move effortlessly between them all. Here are three books we think will help you remember the best and most outlandish personalities of David Bowie.
David Bowie: A Life in Pictures
By Chris Welch
When it comes to the life, career and artistry of David Bowie, it’s nearly impossible to separate the man from the work–and from the loud, sometimes garish image he created. Enter David Bowie: A Life in Pictures, a collection of images of some of Bowie’s most iconic and memorable creations. A known quantity to the world of curated rock photography collections, Welch separates Bowie into a series of interconnected periods as he traces the artist’s development from the 1960s. By connecting each period of Bowie’s career with a series of portraits and images by some of the world’s most famous photographers, Welch charts the expansive career of a singer, actor, and personality while underscoring Bowie’s immense contribution to pop culture and the arts.
Of special note are dozens of rare, early photos of Bowie as well as images from some of his more memorable moments. Included are his Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke period and his turn as the Goblin King. An ever present spectre, hanging over the images, are Bowie’s fans, highlighted in their fervor in more than one candid performance photograph.
The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s
By Peter Doggett
Among artists and performers to emerge from the 1960s, few held as much attention as did David Bowie, who some critics argue carried as much cultural significance as Andy Warhol and Timothy Leary. For lovers of Bowie’s haunting lyrics and musical innovations, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s provides a song-by-song chronicle of the evolution of this artist. With an acute awareness of the troubled times of 1970s music, Doggett shines a light on the artistic development, cultural influences and life events that are ever-present in Bowie’s greatest works.
Doggett’s previous works saw him take a similar tack with a popular biography of the Beatles, and through this unique approach, Doggett crafts a portrait of Bowie that is at once the man and the artist, singer and song inseparably fused. For music buffs with a love of pop music, Doggett’s work is a must-read, especially given Bowie’s influence on today’s popular pop and rock scene.
Bowie: The Biography
By Wendy Leigh
A decidedly de-musiced book, Wendy Leigh plots the course that was David Bowie’s personal life, sharing intimate details gleaned from myriad sources over the musician’s life. From early childhood, when Bowie first began experimenting with makeup, through adulthood, Leigh’s biography takes a somewhat voyeuristic approach to Bowie’s exploits. With the near-breathless tone of a tabloid exposè, Leigh recounts Bowie’s affairs, marriages, divorces and relationships. And yet, through the muck and scandal, she manages to find a sense of Bowie’s humanity.
Far from a definitive biography, Leigh’s book is more of a popular biography, a borrowed page from the works of Kitty Kelly. There’s substance here, and substance worth reading, but Leigh’s book isn’t for the Bowie fan. It’s instead aimed at those who might want a cautionary tale to scare the kids.