On Ashes to Ashes
It makes me miss [Bowie] as burningly as I did that sad January. Did I fret that Ashes to Ashes was maybe too long? Oh no, don’t say it’s true. I never wanted it to end.
Carl Wilson, Bookforum.
Ashes to Ashes is an entertaining read from start to finish, and O’Leary’s energetic song-by-song assessment offers a refreshing way to approach an artist who often resists easy interpretation.
Geeta Dayal, 4Columns.
O’Leary comes not to praise or bury his subject but to get his measure, his forensic musicological parsing interspersed with insightful context and exposition.
David Sheppard, Mojo.
As this rediscovery and consideration of Bowie’s cultural contributions goes on, Ashes to Ashes is a solid complement, both for fans who are learning more about the artist and for those who are recalling their favorite Bowie songs over the last 40 years.
Linda Levitt, Popmatters.
Bowie’s output arguably tells enough of a story on its own, but here the running order has been subtly tweaked to maintain an actual narrative; this isn’t a book you need to dip in and out of to preserve your own sanity, it’s a consistent and coherent read that takes us from one flip of the Oblique Strategies card to the next.
Tim Worthington, We Are Cult.
Few artists have produced a body of work that can withstand this kind of treatment, especially when this book is considered as only half the story. And even though Ashes to Ashes is not a biography, it presents a rich and detailed picture of David Jones. In particular, his penchant for performing his life in addition to living it.
Jon Davis, Expose Online.
This is catnip for Bowie fans, and remarkably well executed—all you need and want to know about the last decades of Bowie’s output is here.
Tony Clayton-Lea, Irish Times.
Chris O’Leary’s “Pushing Ahead of the Dame” contains the best writing on David Bowie bar none.
— Bob Stanley, Yeah Yeah Yeah; Saint Etienne.
Must-have must-read must-devour for any Bowie fan. Or fan of music writing or creative criticism. Or being alive on earth. Really for everyone. Ever.
— Matt Fraction, Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Casanova, Ody-C.
The most useful resource for all things Bowie is a WordPress blog called “Pushing Ahead of the Dame,” written by Chris O’Leary. The project is simple and impossible — “David Bowie, song by song,” as O’Leary subtitled the blog. The level of scholarship, reporting and critique is both extraordinary and depressing. If paid culture journalists took as much care with their work as O’Leary does — insert your stock Death of Journalism oath here.
—Sasha Frere-Jones, Los Angeles Times.
If you’re a David Bowie fan, you’ll love Chris O’Leary’s “Pushing Ahead of the Dame.” Each post is devoted to analyzing a Bowie song, in roughly chronological order: its words, music, history, precursors and influence on other performers…Even if you’re not an admirer of the artist sometimes known as Ziggy Stardust, the site’s a rewarding read. If nothing else, it may leave you wishing that your favorite musician had a fan as perceptive and prolific as O’Leary.
—Harry McCracken, “TIME’s Best Blogs of 2011.”
A brilliant site of critical writing by Chris O’Leary about David Bowie, “Pushing Ahead of the Dame” takes a fine-toothed comb to Bowie’s work, dissecting each song in obsessive detail. It sounds tediously nerdy but doesn’t read that way; O’Leary’s weightless writing inflames rather than kills your interest in the music.
—Ryan Gilbey, The New Statesman.
Marooned in ’70s suburbia, I and countless weirdos like me awaited every new Bowie record as a deep-space ping from a world where weird ruled—proof that there really was life on Mars, if not in tract-home sprawl. To date, what passes for thoughtful inquiry into the polymorphous, polyvalent phenomenon that is David Bowie has consisted almost entirely of potted biographies and coffee-table photo albums. At last, the Homo Superior gets the exegesis he deserves: Rebel Rebel is the Lipstick Traces of Bowie studies, and Chris O’Leary its unchallenged dean.
—Mark Dery, All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters.
Reviews (Rebel Rebel)
Digital Spy, Mayer Nissim. “This book isn’t the blog splurged on the page. Each entry has been rebuilt from the ground up. Expanded, edited, revised, reworked, remixed. For any self-respecting Bowie fan, it’s essential.”
Mojo, May 2015, David Buckley. 4 stars. “The detail is, at times, breathtaking, the cultural contextualizing mostly secure, and the analysis quirky and honest.”
Q, May 2015, Dorian Lynskey. 4 stars. “O’Leary is interested in anything the magpie genius squeezed into his songs…and he can nail a song’s mysterious power in a line…This essential handbook makes old songs feel new again.”
The Recoup, Joseph Kyle. “The only place you’ll get more in-depth details about Bowie’s life is in his Heavenly Book of Life. Unless you have access to God’s archives, you’ll find Rebel Rebel to be an essential book for Bowie enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike.”
Classic Rock, Chris Roberts. “The writing is both meticulous and colourful. At times O’Leary is almost too intense…but he does it through love. He’s written a poem in a letter.”
Bostonia, Joel Brown. “Rebel Rebel catalogs every song David Bowie recorded up to January 1976 in all his personae, with details on the recording sessions, personnel, release schedules, chart peaks, and live performances…But it’s O’Leary’s essays on each song that make the book worthwhile for casual Bowie fans who don’t really care who played rhythm guitar on an unreleased 1972 remake of “John, I’m Only Dancing.”
Freaky Trigger, Tom Ewing. “There’s more emphasis on the music – the bones of the song. Rebel Rebel is stronger on this – and on Bowie’s collaborators and their contributions – than any other similar book about anyone, except possibly Rebel Rebel‘s avowed model, Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head. Rebel Rebel isn’t just for musicologists, though…The pacing remains superb in its balance of short, informative pieces and big critical workouts, critic and artist raising their games in unison.”