Book Reviews

Rebel Rebel (Zero Books)

rebel rebel
Rebel Rebel
Chris O’Leary
Zero Books
576 pages

David Bowie is an artist who has and will continue to inspire musicians of all stripes and genres. It’s not hard to understand why; he’s a creative chameleon who can flirt with and travel between many musical styles. Even though he’s not the active presence that he was in previous decades, he’s still well-regarded, and can still make headlines with his innovative, interesting releases. To that end, it’s not surprising that many of his fans are devoted–almost to the point of obsession.

Case in point: Chris O’Leary. He’s a fan with a great passion and a wealth of knowledge about all things Bowie. Rebel Rebel is the first volume of a set that intricately and painstakingly details everything Bowie has recorded. Everything. Not just the albums you know and love, but all of the outtakes, all of the prerecorded live-for-broadcast TV performances, and many, many of his collaborations, especially in his early, go-nowhere, failure-at-every-turn salad days. If you think you know everything Bowie recorded, expect to be surprised. Furthermore, he cross-references each song, so that the reader can reference and best find the material.

Thankfully, it’s not all nerdy, technical details. There are stories to be told here–amusing stories, interesting stories, and frustrating stories. Though O’Leary’s documentational style isn’t well-suited for a narrative-style read, he does a damn good job of bringing the stories to life, One can sense the frustrations when you read of his early, hardscrabble years–where he’s recording with bands and people who don’t have his vision and don’t appreciate his obvious talents.

Rebel Rebel isn’t a book to be read; it’s a book to be consulted. Sure, you could read it as a narrative, but it can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re not a major fan. I’ve had a review copy of it for a while, and I’m still nowhere near finished with it. But that’s okay; there’s so much information in here, it’s almost more enjoyable to pick it up and look at it piecemeal, to savor the tales. Considering this is merely the first volume–covering everything up to 1976–it’s almost reassuring to know that by the time you finally finish and digest Rebel Rebel, the new volume will most likely be here, so you’ll have more to savor. The only place you’ll get more in-depth details about Bowie’s life is in his Heavenly Book of Life. Unless you have access to God’s archives, you’ll find Rebel Rebel to be an essential book for Bowie enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike.

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