3.17.2011

BOWIE: A BIOGRAPHY - Marc Spitz

David Bowie is much more than a famous musician – he is a cultural icon. His approach to showmanship, song writing, performance – even fashion – have inspired his own and every subsequent generation. Not only that, but he is an articulate, intelligent man whose appeal and charisma extend well beyond his musical talent, which in itself is unparalleled. It is impossible to listen to his music or watch him perform without being utterly captivated.
Though he has become one of the most recognizable musical personas of the 20th century (and now 21st), he endured a rocky early career while his peers - many of whom are generally considered to possess much less talent, and some of whom I’ve never heard of - hurtled to the top of the charts. Even once he had “made it,” so to speak, his constant search for inspiration, new experiences (both in life and artistically) and innovation led to endeavours that were widely criticized and less than successful in commercial terms at the time – though many of these went on to be greatly appreciated in later years.
His rise to fame and critical and artistic success did not bring an easy or simple life, but Bowie is one of those rare artists whose every experience has somehow been channelled into his work, making it all the more powerful and lasting. Despite pressure from managers, record companies and fans, he followed his own creative path (which led him to make some decisions which, according to Spitz, were misguided, but even these were carried out with a panache only Bowie is capable of), wherever it led him.
The author of the book, Marc Spitz, is a well-known music journalist who has worked at Spin and Rolling Stone. His experience and passion for music show through in this detailed, thorough biography. Though he is obviously a fan of Bowie, this unauthorized biography does not pander to tabloid speculation, as many do. Instead, Spitz drew on what he does know: the music. It doesn’t matter which rumours are true. The music speaks for itself. Though the book is loaded with factual information about Bowie’s life, as I progressed through the book what set it apart from other biographies is that it is not a biography of Bowie the man; it is a biography of Bowie’s music. Every new era of Bowie’s life that Spitz includes in the book is intricately tied into the impact it had on Bowie’s work. His song writing technique, the instruments he composed on, the feel of each song, the order in which they appear on the album... all of this is covered in minute detail.
Reading Bowie is like standing at a distance, watching the legend’s life through a window. You’re not drawn into his world intimately, but you still get a damn good view. Of course, for a driven, dedicated artist like Bowie, in many ways this is a truer portrayal of who he is than any other form of biographical account could possibly be – as far as his audience is concerned, the man is his music. And no one makes that more clear than Spitz.

3.02.2011

THE WAYFINDERS: WHY ANCIENT WISDOM MATTERS IN THE MODERN WORLD - Wade Davis


“...[R]emember the central revelation of anthropology: the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.”
A friend of mine introduced me to Wade Davis’ writing with the excellent recommendation that Davis' book, One River, was the reason he decided on an academic pursuit of anthropology in the first place. For anyone considering anthropology as an educational/career path, or anyone who simply wants to know what it’s all about, this book is a great place to start.
As with most Massey Lectures publications, The Wayfinders is incredibly well presented, taking some of the most interesting and important information from the discipline of anthropology and putting it forth in a format that is both readable and comprehensive. The first chapter is an overview of the history of human culture, from the agricultural revolution right through to the present day. In subsequent chapters, Davis introduces the cultures, accomplishments and belief systems of Polynesia, the Amazon, the First Nations of British Columbia (Canada), and the Sahara, among others.
One of the attractions of anthropology is the way in which examining cultures that exist at an extreme remove from one’s own often becomes a way of looking at your own through the lens of that culture. It’s easy, particularly in the pervasiveness of western society, to feel as if our own way of life is somehow “normal” and others exist on some spectrum of strangeness stretching away from our own.
Though these overviews serve as fascinating windows into the cultural beliefs and practices underpinning a handful of cultures around the world, the book has a larger message. Taken in context, the overall message is that no matter how different a culture is from our own or from any other in the world, each and every one will have points that you can relate to – and something to teach you.
Davis is a gifted storyteller, one who has the rare ability to take nearly any topic and find a way to draw the reader into it, as with the finest novel. His obvious passion for the subject matter is apparent, as is his lifelong pursuit of cultural knowledge. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about anthropology, but also to anyone who finds themselves wondering, from time to time, what it would be like to live without the trappings of modern life. The Wayfinders will leave you in awe of the accomplishments the human species is capable of, even without any “modern” gadgets and expertise.

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