There have been a metric shit-ton of books written about David Bowie, and a cursory Amazon search reveals that there will be a metric shit-ton more. And this is as it should be—Bowie was a singular figure on the pop cultural scene for over five decades: rock star, art weirdo par excellence, taboo-smasher, quintessential English gentleman, and probable extraterrestrial. He deserves our obsession. Sadly, the vast bulk of Bowie scholarship is pretty uninspiring, content to rehash the same old rumors and lies and stories they made up… one book, however, stands apart.
Full Disclosure: I have bought Titan Books’ The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg six times already, dutifully updating to each new edition since the turn of the millennium, and have spent many happy hours lost in its pages. If the Gideons really knew what was what, they’d be slipping copies of The Complete DB into motel rooms across America… which is to say, this is it: the essential Bowie book.
The Complete David Bowie (Titan Books)
Pegg, a world class Bowieologist and also, apparently, a Dalek (seriously, Google it), eschews biography to create a full-on reference work focused squarely on the art. Bio sneaks in, anyway—Bowie’s art was his life, and vice versa, if never quite straightforwardly so. The Complete David Bowie breaks down into sections focusing on the songs, the albums, and the tours. Also covered are the side trips Bowie, ever the restless seeker, took into cinema, theater, painting, video games, and yes, SpongeBob.
Much has transpired since the book’s last edition in 2011—Bowie’s shock return from a decade of radio silence with 2013’s The Next Day, and then the more profound shocks surrounding this year’s Blackstar. These two last albums, as well as Lazarus, Bowie’s career retrospective/art installation/jukebox musical/theatrical sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth(!) were crafted in secret. Pegg has compiled the first detailed accounts of the creation of Bowie’s final transmissions to blue planet Earth, unearthing intriguing new details.
It’s all exhaustively researched and insightfully written. Pegg’s an ideal guide through the Glass Spiderwebs of reference and allusion that comprise the Bowie songbook. A fan, certainly, but the tone never gets too reverent—he’s not afraid to call a Tin Machine a Tin Machine, if you will.
So then: protein pills and God’s love are all well and good, but the properly equipped Bowienaut wouldn’t dream of leaving his capsule without a copy of The Complete David Bowie tucked into his spacesuit.