Friday, 8 October 2010

Bowie In Berlin

I left this book sit on the shelf for almost a year before I picked it up, thinking there was nothing more I could read about David Bowie. But author Thomas Jerome Seabrook's study of Bowie's move to Europe in the final years of the 70's is required reading. Seabrook picks up the story in 1976 around the release of the Station to Station LP and The Man Who Fell To Earth. Inspired by the stories of Christopher Isherwood, a mentally and physically fragile Bowie along with Iggy Pop, both well burned out by the LA drug scene, escape to Europe where Pop makes a Lazarus-like comeback from the dead with The Idiot and Lust For Life, and Bowie records two of his most important works...

The core of the book is devoted to Low and "Heroes", which Seabrook discusses in great detail - the writing and recording, and the involvement of Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. Refreshingly, Seabrook refuses to indulge in the usual myths that accompany Bowie during this period and makes a strong case for the authorship of Low and "Heroes", which are often lazily written off as being heavily affected by Brian Eno's presence at the recordings. In fact, Eno's contribution to Low is not as significant as most would believe, and Bowie was already modulating his interest in German electronic music through his music, as evident by Bowie's influence over the avant-rock of The Idiot, recorded long before Eno showed up for the final sessions of Low.
The book is also strong on incidental detail from this period of Bowie's life - his abandoned soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth (which Seabrook admits probably wasn't up to scratch), life in Berlin (modest by all accounts), his appearance in the ill-fated David Hemmings film Just a Gigolo, the triumphant world tour of 1978, and the undoing of the Bowie-Eno collaboration during the recording of the patchy Lodger album, often erroneously referred to as the 3rd part of the so-called "Berlin Trilogy"

Most of the time, Seabrook gets it right, but there is the occasional slip, like his dismissal of Moss Garden, a strange and exotic fourth world instrumental on "Heroes", surely one of Bowie's most sublime moments on vinyl; and one howling error referring to the Low track Warsawa, as being named after the capital of the Czech Republic (?). Otherwise, Bowie In Berlin is an excellent, engrossing book and one of the more essential additions to the Bowie library.

2 comments:

  1. I'll have to see if my brother has this one - and if there's a Kindle edition I might pick it up for me. Is there an earlier book covering the years prior to this book?

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  2. In fact, there is Craig and it's highly recommended too - Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974). Incidentally, it's dress-down Friday in our office and as I type this I'm sporting a Station To Station t-shirt...

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