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Martin Popoff’s “Bowie @ 75” Reviewed

“Bowie @ 75” is the first in a series of books from Quatro Publishing that looks at iconic pop/rock performers “through the lens of 75 significant career achievements and life events.” (A book on Elton John is slated for releases on 20 September and a tome for Alice Cooper is being prepared for early 2023). Falling somewhere between biography, photo journal, and coffee table book, “Bowie @ 75” is a visual treat and will be beloved by any hardcore Bowie fan on your X-mas shopping list.

Bowie was one of the most interesting performers in pop music history. He appealed to hipsters and housewives; he was at home on “The Tonight Show” and at Max’s Kansas City. He challenged his audiences in a way that brought the concept of alternative rock to mainstream America. The beginning of his stardom was fueled by creating outrage and by the end of his life he was everybody’s favorite charming visionary. His was a life and career that deserves celebration.

It the context of this book, it helps immensely that David Bowie was one of the most visually interesting performers in pop music history. There are photos from all phases of his life. We get Bowie looking positively reptilian contrasted by photos with feminine long flowing locks. There is “Ziggy Stardust” garb, suits, flannel, movie costumes, and live performances throughout his career. This 8.5 by 11 hardbound book has slightly over 200 pages and includes well over a hundred photos on glossy print paper. The photos, including a separate insert 8 x 10 publicity pic, concert posters, etc., make up the lion’s share of this volume.

Martin Popoff, well known as a heavy metal historian/critic, provided the text. The book begins with brief biographical chapters to include his homelife, private school tutoring, his teenage eye injury and then quickly moves to his first recording (“Li’l Liza Jane” by Davie Jones with the King Bees in 1964). Popoff’s writing is crisp, analytical, and has no whiff of hagiography. In fact, Popoff keeps a refreshing sense of humor throughout the proceedings. You may not agree with all of Popoff’s critical assessments (he’s no fan of the Stooge’s “Raw Power” album), but he doesn’t shy away from making them.

As you would expect, Popoff covers Bowie’s myriad collaborations to include Mick Ronson, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Bing Crosby, Freddie Mercury, and Mick Jagger. There are references to his “bisexuality,” cocaine addiction, financial issues (primarily stemming from his relationship with manager Tony Defries), and his acting career. There is plenty of information on Bowie’s life and career for the less than hardcore fan/admirer like me. While fitting with the theme of the book, I did find the individual chapters on Tin Machine and Bowie’s album output after 1990 a bit tiresome. That however reveals more about my lack of interest in Bowie’s career at that point than the quality of the writing. Thankfully, Popoff never falls into the trap of treating Bowie’s lyrics as though they were grand philosophical statements.

Obviously, a great deal of care was taken in the packaging and art design of this wham bam, thank you ma’am project. It has a hefty price tag, currently $67.99 on Amazon, but the result is a product that you would happily show off to your rock ‘n’ roll loving friends.

Grade: A

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