David Bowie: Living On The Brink

Review (appeared in Publishler's Weekly) July 21, 1997

The effortlessly eccentric David Bowie has enjoyed a long and prosperous career as a singer, songwriter, actor and painter. Tremlett, formerly a journalist at the influential British pop music rag New Musical Express, knew Bowie in the late 1960s when the Yorkshire native was embarking on a career as a "generalist," already expressing a preference for music hall to rock 'n' roll, boasting that "I shall be a millionaire by the time I'm 30 and I'll spend the rest of my life doing other things."

Tremlett's book is about how prophetic Bowie's statement was. The journalist cites surprisingly precise financial figures, claiming Bowie's former manager, Kenneth Pitt, as the source, even for periods long after Bowie had sacked Pitt but when the kindhearted, old-fashioned Londoner remained in constant contact with Bowie's parents. If the figures are accurate, they paint a revelatory picture of recording industry fame and fortune, for Tremlett reports that during Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era (when the singer was arguably in his influential prime), Bowie was virtually penniless.

According to Tremlett, the booming 1980s made Bowie the mega-millionaire he is today, as a result of Bowie's managing himself and going into tax exile in Switzerland. In this way, Tremlett's unique biography is somewhat of a how-to guide for aspiring rock stars.

Tremlett is not adept at explicating Bowie's songs, tending to fawn in wonderment, but he only rarely attempts such discussions. Otherwise, he has crafted an intelligent look at one of pop music's most important figures.

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