This is not a biography. This is not simply a summary of Bowie’s ground-breaking artistic achievements, nor is it a comprehensive discussion of his stage characters or musical adaptations through the years. Simon Critchley’s Bowie is a love song written about Bowie the artist’s impact on Critchely the author’s personal and creative life. It is a blend of personal reflection and philosophical discourse with an examination on the culture of Bowie’s time, that is the culture of our times. This is a slim and concise read, a collection of 23 short essays that average only 4-5 pages each focused on a different facet of Bowie’s career, his innovativeness, his relationship to the cultural milieu and impact upon it.
From his first encounter with Bowie in 1972 on Britain’s Top of the Pops when Bowie performed “Starman” dressed in other-worldly catsuit and totally unique orange hair captivated the twelve year old Critchley who was drawn to this odd-creature performing a song because “he seemed so sexual, so knowing, so sly and so strange. At once cocky and vulnerable.” (10). From this moment to the current, Critchley has followed Bowie’s career and the essays in this book are an homage to the many changes and faces expressed through Bowie’s performances that challenged the listener and viewer since “alienation was confronted through a confrontation with the alien” (60).
As is apparent in Crithcley’s obsessive love for Bowie he is able to reveal common themes of dystopia, yearning, love, spiritual longing, and dissatisfaction with cultural norms that span decades of the artist’s work. And yet, Critchley manages to express the allure of Bowie’s obsession with dystopia and decadence through his charasmatic charm of performance, his refusal to accept norms, his ability to use his voice as a multi-tonal instrument, and ability to adapt his sound one step ahead of the cultural norms. For such a slim an quick reading little book, no other book best expresses my own personal obsession with David Bowie the artist, the alien who became a man.
“Bowie was able to mobilize an artistic discipline that is terrifying in its intensity, daring, and risk. It is the very opposite of rock star complacency. It is as if Bowie, almost ascetically, almost eremitically, disciplined himself into becoming nothing, a mobile and massively creative nothing that could assume new faces, generate new illusions, and create new forms. This is weird and rare. Perhaps it is unique in the history of popular music.” (116)