David Bowie Low, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


"One day I blew my nose and half my brains came out." Los Angeles, 1976.

David Bowie is holed up in his Bel-Air mansion, drifting into drug-induced paranoia and confusion.

Obsessed with black magic and the Holy Grail, he's built an altar in the living room and keeps his fingernail clippings in the fridge.

There are occasional trips out to visit his friend Iggy Pop in a mental institution.

His latest album is the cocaine-fuelled "Station To Station" (Bowie: "I know it was recorded in LA because I read it was"), which welds R&B rhythms to lyrics that mix the occult with a yearning for Europe, after three mad years in the New World.

Bowie has long been haunted by the angst-ridden, emotional work of the Die Brucke movement and the Expressionists.

Berlin is their spiritual home, and after a chaotic world tour, Bowie adopts this city as his new sanctuary.

Immediately he sets to work on "Low", his own expressionist mood-piece.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Rock & Pop music
  • ISBN: 9780826416841

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

You'd think a book that is basically just an extended review of one record would be short and sweet, but at 138 pages, this is something else."Low" remains one of David Bowie's most remarkable albums, and definitely merits inclusion in Continuum's 33-1/3 series. Wilcken does an excellent job both of dissecting it, taking tracks apart and exploring the nitty gritty, and of expanding upon it, circling around, weaving together discussion of related albums with biographical details. He has a clear appreciation for the sound texture of "Low", it's standout quality, and I certainly finished the book knowing far more than when I started.

Review by

I'm feeling it here, as Wilcken examines the first in Bowie's mythical "Berlin trilogy" of albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger). Stepping back he sets the scene by showing us a coked-out Bowie in LA working his Station To Station mojo and running down the significance of that particular time in Bowie's life. It's here that he hooks up with his buddy Jim Osterberg (Iggy Pop to the rest of us) and they dash off to tour the world before hunkering down in France to begin work almost simultaneously on Bowie's Low and Iggy's solo album The Idiot.Yes, France. At the same Château d'Hérouville the the rockin' Elton John called home in the 70's was where the first moody Bowie album was birthed. Wilcken opens the doors and lets us watch as Bowie makes his break from reworked American funk and pop and begins to embrace his inner European. Producer Tony Visconti is on hand, Brian Eno is called forth, and musicians are called in randomly as Bowie attempts to construct the soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth. His ideas for a soundtrack, ambient and avant garde, were eschewed before he even got started but as Wilcken points out Bowie sends the final product along to the film's director to let him know what he missed.By the time it comes to mixing the album Bowie's moved to Berlin where the divided city's vibe seems to be feeding his soul. His fairly open marriage is in ruins and he's hanging out with folks like Kraftwerk and noted transsexual Romy Haag. He's about as out there as he can get and still be mainstream enough to get some radio play out of the barest snippets of songs. This was the overture of this particular suite of albums, a bold career-bending move that forced the pop arena to join him in exile rather than feel alienated.It's taken me most of these last 30 years to come around to Low (I was on board with Heroes from the start) and I think it might have taken a trip to Berlin and a personal career shift to get there. The aural landscapes and the disjointed lyrical imagery aren't of time or place but of mindset; it's not enough to hear or feel these songs, you have to be able to live them is some way to make them truly relevant. At least I did, and understanding what went on behind the scenes only confirms that Bowie's mind was in transit to someplace else. This album, then, became his interior monologue.Another fascinating element is how Bowie is working these two projects at the same time -- Iggy's and his -- and in the end realizes he needs to release his first so as not to sound derivative. The irony is that by producing and writing much of Iggy's album he's worried about being perceived as borrowing from himself, but no matter. Image is kind and Bowie did his fair share of muddling his image up to that point. Wilcken's book is well-informed and well-rounded in its interpretaions and readings. He places Bowie in context of Bowie, pop music of the time, various cultural influences, with just enough personal drama to give it flair without seeming gossipy. Writing about music should make you want to dig out that music and listen along; good writing about music will make you appreciate the music in ways that compliment and improve both the music and the listener. Wilcken succeeds.

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