David Bowie is one of the seminal creators of pop culture in the 20th century. As a musician, his songs were never far from the airwaves during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. His song “Space Oddity” was one of the first major rock songs to incorporate science fiction into its lyrics, and his opus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock albums ever published. He has also worked extensively in films; he is perhaps best remembered as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, but he has also turned in memorable roles in The Hunger, The Prestige, and many others. For further documentation of Bowie’s status as a pop culture icon, look no further than the new edition of Nicholas Pegg’s book The Complete David Bowie.
The first thing you notice about this book is its size; at 736 over-sized pages and weighing in at just over 3 pounds, this is not a book for casual bathroom reading. Rather, as the title implies, this is a comprehensive look at the works of David Bowie. The book is divided into 11 sections, each looking at a separate aspect of the man’s career. The first section takes up nearly half of the book, and consists of an alphabetical listing of every song that Bowie has ever recorded, along with relevant details about its releases and performances, and an analysis of the song. Following this, there are sections that detail every album Bowie ever released, each live tour that he embarked on, each of his BBC radio sessions, each music video, all of his acting work, his writings and other art, internet and other interactive media, an “Apocrypha” section that details rumored releases and works that have never been officially confirmed, a dateline of all the major events of his life, and a discography of all the singles that he ever released. Each section is exhaustively researched and incredibly detailed, providing more information about every project that this prolific artist has ever been involved with.
[pullquote]David Bowie is one of the seminal creators of pop culture in the 20th century.[/pullquote]This is not a book for a casual fan; rather, this is an encyclopedic reference for the obsessive collector that must know everything about his subject. The analysis of Bowie’s life and works is academically written, linking the man to his surroundings, place in time, and contemporaries, while trying to interpret the artist’s intent. The alphabetical listing of songs is a marvel of research, listing not only the songs from each album, but also songs from earlier in his career when he was known as Davy Jones, along with cover songs, songs that were only played live, and songs that Bowie produced for other performers. Each song listing details when the song was written, what albums it appeared on, and gives its place within the larger Bowie oeuvre. The other sections are equally as detailed, painting the picture of a multi-faceted genius who moves from style to style as easily as we would change shoes.
The size and scope of this book is daunting; this is not a work that you would read from cover to cover, but rather a reference work that you would use to read up on a particular topic, or to skim through while looking for nuggets you may have missed. I would have liked to see a little more biographical information; many other biographies of David Bowie are available, but to earn the title of “Complete,” a chapter summarizing his life would have been appropriate. There is some data about his life scattered around the book, especially in the Timeline section, but a short narrative would have been helpful. I would also have liked to see a chapter devoted to other artist’s interpretations and covers of Bowie’s work, but this would probably require a separate volume.
All in all, this is an amazing work of scholarship, and is an essential purchase for any David Bowie fan.