Rebel Rebel: A Book


A man who publishes his Works in a Volume, has an infinite Advantage over one who communicates his Writings to the World in loose Tracts and single pieces.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, No. 124.

Today’s the day: Rebel Rebel is available everywhere (well, in theory). You can buy it via on-line vendors, including Amazon and Book Depository. The e-book should be up in a day or so. There will be some promotions in the next few months: Books Etc. is currently running a discount until May. For UK readers: this £16 sale price is about as low as I’ve seen, promo-wise.

And as a fan of bookstores, I’d love it if you asked your local shop to get a few copies. Above is my local bookstore, White Square Books. In the UK, Foyles and Waterstones should carry it, but it would be great to have it in smaller shops as well.

I’ve been hyping the book for some time now: see the book page for updates, the talks page for extensive radio/podcast interviews and the press page for just shameless self-promotion. Thanks for your patience. The “regular” blog will resume next week, with a fun set of entries, featuring Scarlett Johansson, Arcade Fire and little fat men with pug-nosed faces.

Those who have bought the book, or who are considering doing so, thank you for your support. It means more than you can imagine. Some people have even taken shots of their copies and put them on various social media. The idea that someone thinks enough of your writing that they took a photo of the thing is beyond humbling.

I’ve little left to say about the book, which took three-plus years to write, except that I hope you enjoy it.

The Addison quote above is a feint, as in the following sentence he moves to ridicule “bulky Volumes” for which “the most severe Reader makes Allowances for many Rests and Nodding-places…a great Book is a great Evil.” Writing his triweekly newspaper essays, Addison was essentially an 18th Century blogger. For his ilk, there was no room for padding or preambles. “We must immediately fall into our Subject and treat every Part of it in a lively Manner, or our Papers are thrown by as dull and insipid.” I hear you, Addison.

Here was my challenge—how to take the little essays that I put up on the Internet and turn them into something that would justify people paying for a collection of them? Besides it being a vanity project, a tip-jar sort of thing? It helped that the first few months of the blog, esp. the pre-“Space Oddity” essays, were dashed out quickly, with little care. So my revision at first centered on improving those entries, shoring them up, adding more context: that sort of thing.

There were other choices. I needed a more uniform writing style for the entries, which meant I had to gut and rewrite the weird one-offs like the personal narrative in “Changes” and the cut-up aesthetic disaster of the “Sweet Thing” entry. I looked for fresher, more varied quotes. I reduced the level of snark and glibness (fans of “Time” will rejoice), though you still get the occasional nose-tweak—the book’s far from reverent towards its subject. I tried to confine the music theory to a paragraph per entry and exile much of it to the end notes, as I know some people glaze over when they read that stuff.

I think it turned out all right. Hope you do as well.

All best,


46 Responses to Rebel Rebel: A Book

  1. dmac says:

    I’ve just gotten up to Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and am enjoying the book immensely. I’ve followed Pushing Ahead Of The Dame for the last year so I’m already looking forward to Vol 2. The only things I miss in the book are the immediate links to the songs! Keep up the great work and THANK YOU!

    • col1234 says:

      dmac, i’ve put up all the song links on the book page; hope that offers some sort of equivalent to the blog

      • dmac says:

        partially kidding about the links but thank you for the tip! but again, what a great book and resource!

  2. TE says:

    I’ve had a copy for about 10 days now. Although I enjoy and look forward to the blog posts – I wasn’t sure if the book wasn’t going to really be more than a reference volume.
    Well – I’ve been reading it through (am at Aladdin Sane) and am truly enjoying it as a Bowie biography structured around his songs.
    Really insightful and thoroughly readable.
    I’ll be first in line for vol. 2.

  3. Have it right here and have been reading it steadily. It really is an amazing, thorough look at Bowie’s career. Absolutely worth buying!

  4. MC says:

    Congrats, Chris! Can’t wait to get my copy!

  5. Christopher Williams says:

    Finding it Un-Put-Downable! And I am returning again to the music; “Width of a Circle” as I type. Um – do you need alerting to possible typos? Don’t mean to be rude but I’ve just proof read my brother in law’s book and it seems to come naturally . . .

  6. ric says:

    agree with you on the bookstroes; I’ll be off to Waterstones in Sheffield tomorrow; looking forward to the read

  7. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations Chris! I love the blog so I’m sure to love the book. I’m hoping to get a copy soon.

  8. SoooTrypticon says:

    Already bought two for friends. They got the early release on Amazon, and love it. Mine should be coming soon, and I can’t wait (:

    The blog has been so much fun to read- but I’m looking forward to curling up with a good book and a cup of tea.

  9. Bought it with 1-click (well 2)

    Mark A Silva AIA Silva Studios Architecture 858.735.2375

  10. fantailfan says:

    Poking around the blog I found the post that started the book:

  11. MrBelm says:

    I’m up to Diamond Dogs, the editing has improved the book.

    I’ve been returning to the blog to listen to the non-album material and finding lots of dead links. I know playing YouTube whack-a-mole is a fruitless task, but I was able to find alternate sources for almost all of the dead links.

    • col1234 says:

      as of now, the links in the book section are all live. they won’t be for long, i’m sure.

  12. Starperson says:

    How many more volumes are you planning, Chris?

    • col1234 says:

      I’d like to do just one more, but if shoving all the rest of the entries into another book would result in some gargantuan thing, it might make more logistical sense to break it into 2. But I’d rather not: it’s already asking a lot for someone to buy 2 vols.

      • Anonymous says:

        I would buy 2 more, 3, 4, hopefully DB keeps releasing material for years to come!

      • Starperson says:

        I would buy 3 if necessary 🙂 It would be great to read a book from 1993 onwards. Musically interesting and your essays on esp. Heathen are the best on the blog. However, then we would miss all the Berlin albums… Right. Here’s my plan: a smaller volume of 1977 – 1980 and then 1993 – 2015. 🙂

      • Mike says:

        Looks like with today’s news about Lazarus, you’re going to be pushed into a number of volumes. That slavedriver is giving you no rest!

      • col1234 says:

        hey, it’s not a new album!

  13. Joe The Lion says:

    I gave you a 5 star review on Love your blog; love your book.

  14. philT says:

    yeah, great stuff. thanks.

  15. Vinnie says:


    .. But really though. I look forward to buying it! Thanks for this whole project.

  16. Deanna says:

    I’m still waiting for my copy to come in the mail, but I’m sure I’ll finish it in no time once it arrives. Thanks so much for all your hard work, Chris. You’ve really done something amazing for the Bowie fandom that all of us appreciate. I’m sure Bowie knows and probably likes what you’re doing.

    I wouldn’t think twice about buying two more volumes. I can’t imagine how goddamn big it would be if you tried to shove that many years into a single book… If it were up to me, I’d try and give Bowie’s later work a chance to stand on its own–too many Bowie books gloss through his “later” output as if it was an afterthought. Your blog certainly doesn’t do that and so it deserves the same treatment in print.


  17. Ididtheziggy says:

    Official congrats, Chris. And another thank you for everything you do here. At least now I can give you some money for it. It’s well deserved. Gonna get a few and hand them out as gifts.

  18. deleted says:

    I’m getting mine this week! Not going to get much sleep over the next few days I’m afraid…putting everything aside to focus on it. The blog is amazing and I go back to it every day and discover new things. I did have some trouble finding the chapter links you posted, are they on the right nav on the book page? Thanks again for your work!

    • col1234 says:

      if you click on book page, scroll down–you’ll see all the chapter links fairly soon

  19. Vin says:

    Now just an austerity-bustin’ £14.64 with FREE DELIVERY from Books Etc! Ordered my copy. Well done, Chris!

  20. Bruised Passivity says:

    Whoo hoo! My copy of Rebel Rebel was delivered today, I’m sooo excited! 🙂

  21. spanghew says:

    I’m almost finished with it (I pre-ordered) – congratulations, sir. You did a fine job retrofitting a series of scattered entries into a coherent book – and while the structure is slightly confusing, with the end notes *there* but, I don’t recall, not actually mentioned anywhere, plus all the other end matter – that’s a minor complaint. (And as with nearly any first edition book, I spotted two-three typos…)

    Looking forward to volume 2 (and 3, perhaps)… If it’s 3, the logical breakpoint would probably be through Tin Machine…from what most critics consider one of his major peaks, through the near-consensus of his depth (I disagree – that would be Never Let Me Down – but whatever). Vol. 3 would then take up his comeback (as I hear it, anyway) up to whatever the present day is should that come to pass!

  22. princeasbo says:

    Well done, Chris. The book has been getting great press in the UK (Mojo, et al); hope everyone gets a copy who wants one!

    • col1234 says:

      is the review in the May Mojo? The mag takes a while to come out over here in the US.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        4-star review in Q magazine this month. Describes it as a Bowie equivalent of “Revolution in the Head”. And has extremely high praise for the website too.

        I’ve yet to find it in a bookshop in Dublin.

  23. princeasbo says:

    That’s right, May 2015, Blur cover (at least in the UK). A very positive, four-star review, notes your “breathtaking” detail (natch) and posits that the gist of your take identify continuity in the DB oeuvre rather than, as per usual, re-invention.

  24. Sykirobme says:

    Came home to find the book on my doorstep. Started reading today during my lunch. Great stuff; I love how you expanded the early entries.

  25. sidthecat says:

    Griel Marcus wrote “Every great artist creates for a great audience”; affectionate, critical and well-informed. This is the work of a great audience. Looking forward to the next three.

  26. fantailfan says:

    I know you tweeted this link, but let me put it on the semi-permanent record rather than leave it to evanescent chance:

    “Chris O’Leary’s Rebel Rebel [is], without a doubt the best, most informed and most trenchant book about Bowie that you will ever read, [but] is not reviewed in broadsheets or magazines, [and] cannot be found in bookshops.”

    • col1234 says:

      to be fair, it has been reviewed in some magazines & can be found in the very occasional bookshop (Foyle’s in the UK)

  27. Jasmine says:

    I spent this weekend reading Rebel Rebel, it’s a great book and I realise I’m a year behind the curve but in many ways it’s been a real help to read it now after this sad year. You really capture the essence of London and Britain in the 60’s and 70’s, are you sure you didn’t live here then?! Parts of it made me feel tearful, it brought out many emotions, really well written. Thank you!
    I have a question – is there a reason why Sister Midnight isn’t in this volume, as Bowie did perform it in 76? I think this is one of the great mysteries of 1975-76 Bowie and possibly could be from Cherokee with Iggy, TMWFTE OST or even just from a rehearsal for Isolar 76. Many thanks.

    • col1234 says:

      Thanks for getting it and glad you liked it. “Sister Midnight” was a tough call, but it makes more sense (IMO) as the first song of the next book, as it serves as an intro to Iggy Pop, too.

      “Rebel” pretty much had to end with ‘Station to Station,’ once I’d decided on where to split the volumes.

  28. ric says:

    hi Chris, thought you’d like to know I passed on your book to Robert Forster last night; he’s probably reading it now on the train to London.

    • col1234 says:

      wow, well thanks. I think he’s quoted somewhere in it–the Pin Ups chapter.

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