Brian Hiatt - A Portrait Of Bowie book review

Bowie remembered, by those who knew him best

David Bowie photograph

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It’s fair to say the majority of Bowie fans are far from ‘over’ the great man’s unexpected demise in January. Most have endeavoured to cope by embarking upon a total immersion in his work, a course which can only intensify feelings of loss. Delving deeper into Bowie’s back catalogue only ever broadens the listener’s appreciation of the breadth of his artistic achievements. So what to do? If no immediate solace can be found in his work, maybe an examination of his life will dull the unanswerable ache triggered by his departure.

Chances are you reached this conclusion some time in February, and having taken sound advice on the best Bowie books on the market your bookshelf is already creaking under the weight of a well-thumbed paperback trinity comprising the invaluable works of Trynka, Doggett and Buckley. But you know they’re not enough.

Under the accusatory gaze of a Dave-free coffee table littered with nothing more edifying than tea cups, you’ve long-since succumbed to a burning desire for something more substantial. Something weighty, preferably with gut-wrenchingly beautiful photographs to pore over while wallowing in the depths of a wine-soaked Wild Is The Wind despondency. There are plenty, and not just post-mortem cash-ins (Kevin Cann’s Any Day Now is a good one, despite grinding to a halt in ’74), but what you want is a well-judged balance between expertly curated shots from Bowie’s entire career and editorial content of such quality that you won’t even notice when your feet go numb. Not so heavy you need actually lose any toes, though. Nodding off while reading some band biogs in bed can pose similar risks to blood circulation as saturated fat, but A Portrait Of Bowie (at an amputation-unfriendly 1.5 kilos) could be just what you’re looking for.

Wrapped around glossy portraits (both photographic and artistic) by Mick Rock, Terry O’Neill, Chalkie Davies, John Bellany, Stephen Finer et al are first-person reminiscences (told to Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt) from such Bowie-associated luminaries as Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Nile Rodgers, Mike Garson, Gail Ann Dorsey and childhood friend George Underwood, the man who not only provided artwork for the Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust albums but also punched Bowie’s eyes iconic in a 1962 schoolyard scrap. Anyway, no more spoilers here. Just grab a copy, if only for your coffee table’s sake.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.