Book Reviews

Book Review: David Bowie & Philosophy edited by Theodore Ammon


This book was reviewed for the San Francisco and Seattle Book Reviews

Rebel, Rebel is another great addition to the pop culture and philosophy series, this time focusing on music legend David Bowie. I grew up listening to Bowie’s music of the 70s, which my parents enjoyed. Then, of course, there was Labyrinth, which ranks third among my most favourite childhood movies. Just recently, my family and I saw Labyrinth in the theatre for its 30th year anniversary, introducing it to a whole new generation.

There are four sections, looking at different aspects of Bowie, his life, and his career. I enjoyed all of these essays. I love that the pop culture and philosophy books get you to really think, posing interesting questions, and fascinating perceptions centred around the subject at hand. I really like that they are from all different authors, so you get a wide array of perceptions on any given topic. One person might see something one way, and the very next essay will present the idea from a complete 180° angle. Just as a warning for the more casual reader, these are indeed textbook quality essays of a philosophical nature, with some of them delving into matters pretty deep.

Among my favourites were:

‘The Actor Tells the Truth’, which takes a look at Bowie’s authenticity, both to himself, and to the personas he cloaked himself in. He saw himself as a producer, and wanted to change the way rock was viewed. He wanted to make musicals, and brought that pageantry to his songs.

‘Bowie the Buddhist’ looks at how Buddhism shaped Bowie’s beliefs and music. This essay also introduced me to the notion of viewing Buddhism not as a philosophy, but rather as a skill. After reading this, I went back to listen to ‘Quicksand’ with a new appreciation.

‘The Babe with the Power’- well how could I not like an essay on Labyrinth? This essay, commenting on questions of perceived reality had me stopping and comparing Labyrinth to Inception, another movie that plays with perceived reality. In Labyrinth, Bowie’s Jareth is a bridging between one reality and the other. Besides Sarah and Toby, who are from our reality, Jareth is the only other ‘human’, Goblin King or no. Jareth always recalled to me the sidhe of Celtic legend. This work exemplifies the notion that perception shapes reality, so we all actually live in separate realities.

‘David Bowie and Death’ focuses on the many different ways Bowie viewed death, as seen through his songwork, from something to be feared, to the acceptance of the inevitable, to the knowledge that death is merely a transformation from one state of being to another. It got me to listen to certain songs again with a different, more thoughtful, perception.

🎻🎻🎻🎻🎻 Highly recommended if you love David Bowie and his works, and/or enjoy philosophy.

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