Review: On Bowie by Simon Critchley

Let me begin with a rather embarrassing confession: no person has given me greater pleasure throughout my life than David Bowie. Of course, maybe this says a lot about the quality of my life. Don’t get me wrong. There have been nice moments, some even involving other people. But in terms of constant, sustained joy over the decades, nothing comes close to the pleasure Bowie has given me.


How could I resist this opening paragraph? Here was someone who understood me perfectly, who felt the same way I did. This slim volume of essays (although that seems too pretentious a word, perhaps ‘meditations’, as they call them on the blurb, or ‘riffs’ would be more suitable) is perfect for Bowie fans to dip in and out of.

Each chapter is quick and easy to read, but provokes you to think deeper, with references to Roland Barthes (bane of my student days), Nietzche, Georg Buchner, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett. This is a philosophy professor with a passion for music, after all. Yet he keeps it all very down-to-earth and accessible, simply talking about his own personal emotions and thoughts while listening to and watching Bowie. In describing these, however, he touches upon the universal:

What’s striking is that I don’t think I am alone in this view. There is a world of people for whom Bowie was the being who permitted a powerful emotional connection and freed them to become some other kind of self… Bowie was not some rock star or a series of flat media cliches about bisexuality and bars in Berlin. He was someone who made life a little less ordinary for an awfully long time.

This was a library loan, but I think I will buy a copy for myself.

18 thoughts on “Review: On Bowie by Simon Critchley”

  1. Sounds wonderful, Marina. It would make the perfect Christmas present for a couple of friends of mine. The first record I ever bought was a Bowie single: John, I’m Only Dancing. I still love it to this day..

    1. Ha, my first record was Scary Monsters! At the time, it was all about the Serious Moonlight tour and the pastel-suited Bowie, but I was a contrary child and preferred his earlier stuff.

  2. So glad you enjoyed this, Marina Sofia. It certainly seems to have been written by a truly dedicated fan, and that’s a fascinating perspective. And of course, it’s about David Bowie…

    1. You’ve raised your children well, if they have such impeccable taste in books (Virago etc.) and music! I really like the huge book from the ‘Bowie Is…’ exhibition (which I was lucky enough to see in London).

  3. Oooh, thanks for reviewing and sharing this one Marina, I’m off to order my copy now. Like you, I’m mega-impressed, and totally agree with, that first paragraph.

  4. So here’s my embarrassing revelation to match yours. I was so enamoured with Bowie that for a year in my teens I dressed in the all-in-one kind of suits he wore for Aladdin Sane. Always in white or black.

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