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Low (33⅓ #26)

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  856 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
One day I blew my nose and half my brains came out." Los Angeles, 1976. David Bowie is holed up in his Bel-Air mansion, drifting into drug-induced paranoia and confusion. Obsessed with black magic and the Holy Grail, he's built an altar in the living room and keeps his fingernail clippings in the fridge. There are occasional trips out to visit his friend Iggy Pop in a ment ...more
Paperback, 138 pages
Published August 19th 2005 by Continuum
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Jan/Oct 2015
This book isn't just about Low, it's about Station to Station and Iggy Pop's The Idiot. I'm cool with that.

But not so much with the author's casual overuse of psychiatric terms - especially, but not limited to, 'autistic' and 'schizophrenic'. He throws them about pejoratively, begging the question, "If you think these albums are so nuts, man, why do you even like them?" David Bowie has been a powerful destigmatising cultural force for all manner of weirdness, but Hugo Wilcken's path
Oct 07, 2008 Larissa rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2008
I would have never thought it possible that a bite-sized book about cocaine-addled, Berlin-era David Bowie and the making of one of my favorite Bowie albums could be a tedious read. But surprises all around, folks, because it can be. Wilken's declared intention--"to talk around Low as much as I talk about it"--is an interesting one, and given Bowie's propensity for artistic homage, mimicry, and pastiche, a very appropriate way to discuss his work. I'm really happy to know some of the background ...more
Dec 06, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
I liked that this had more focus on Bowie himself, and his relationships to cities, people, drugs, etc. Specifically how they all converged to influence the creation of Low. Reading track by track tear downs is boring and tedious, so I'm happy that the author saved those for a brief visit in the last few (short) chapters.

BUT, I felt there was just too much lingering writing on his cocaine psychosis and black magic/occult hallucinations and obsessions.

If you're someone who read this, and is inter
Ian Mathers
Jul 03, 2014 Ian Mathers rated it liked it
This could have been a four star book, but even in 2005 (when it was written) Wilcken's use of 'autistic' (the single word most often used in this book to describe Bowie's music during the Berlin period?), and 'schizophrenic' is pretty unconscionable; not only does neither term not do the heavy lifting he wants it to, not only are both deployed in the laziest fashion imaginable, but they give the book a strong streak of totally avoidable and unnecessary ableism that leaves a bad taste in your mo ...more
Dec 17, 2008 Nat rated it liked it
The first half of this book, which describes Bowie's vampiric existence in L.A. (subsisting just on cocaine, milk and cigarettes), his obsession with the occult, and the recording of The Idiot with Iggy Pop and Low with Brian Eno in a converted French chauteau is very satisfying.

The analysis of the songs on Low, and the aesthetic of the album as a whole, is unfortunately unilluminating. This was the defect with the Paul's Boutique installment in 33 1/3 as well.

Is writing interesting history si
J.T. Wilson
Dec 27, 2015 J.T. Wilson rated it liked it
The freaky alien's most elusive album, 'Low' is, of course, half clanking funk-rock covered in synthesizers and half mysterious ambient pieces. Side A has very few lyrics, Side B none whatsoever. Yet its retreat from direct narrative invites musing over the album's textures and moods, in a way that you might not over, say, 'Young Americans'. In my affection, it competes with 'Diamond Dogs', an album five times wordier but sharing a cocaine-specked agitation. 'Diamond Dogs' is the sound of an att ...more
Ray Campbell
Apr 19, 2016 Ray Campbell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
On January 10 of this year, we lost David Bowie. I had been a fan. As a teenager I played his music and traveled to see him. As a young adult I watched his enigmatic, artsy movies and thought I was cool for knowing that side of Bowie. As MTV took flight, I watched for the premier of several Bowie hits. When he married Iman, David Bowie meant something to me, he broke down all barriers and elevated himself to hero status in my heart and mind.

As much as I enjoyed his music and admired his art, I r
Tobin Elliott
Feb 16, 2015 Tobin Elliott rated it really liked it
Low was a seminal album for me. I think I knew it at the time, but it somehow didn't really register for a year or two.

By the time I got to Low, I'd already gone through the Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, and Young Americans albums, and thought I knew what I was getting into.

Then I heard the second side of Low. I didn't know what to think. I'd literally never heard anything like it before. Then, within a year of listening to that, I discovered Roxy Music and, more importantly, Japan's stunning Q
Stephen Curran
Nov 27, 2014 Stephen Curran rated it liked it
The first book in this series that I have read, this does a decent job of putting Low in context, spending a lot of time discussing the albums that float around it: Station to Station, Iggy Pop's The Idiot, Kraftwerk's Radioactivity, Brian Eno's Another Green World, and so on. There's nothing new here, but it's a thorough round-up of the processes that went into creating what is, I think, one of the greatest works of art of the 20th century.
Mason Jones
Mar 25, 2009 Mason Jones rated it really liked it
As with many of the 33-1/3 series, the book made me re-listen to the album again. Nice background info, and it brought up connections that I hadn't really considered before (Kraftwerk in particular). Fun read.
Feb 16, 2010 Laura rated it it was ok
this book was a giant typo. some interesting anecdotes. better off just listening to the album again.
Dec 01, 2014 Zach rated it really liked it
My first of these books 33 1/3 books. Gave me much appreciation for an album I never really liked.
Jill Bowman
Jan 25, 2017 Jill Bowman rated it really liked it
The book was very well researched and written - but heavy on the details of studio work for the Low album. Some gossip but never salacious. I spent a lot of time watching songs on YouTube, otherwise I would have read it in about an hour.
I've also read the 33 1/3 for They Might Be Giants's (brand new album for 1990) Flood. They both came from the library. That one was still in its original paperback form, but this one was full-on library bound.

To which you might properly reply, "YES OF COURSE," but when I tried to tell my husband this useless fact, he got confused because he didn't understand why you would write a book about "British post-punk and alternative rock record producer and audio engineer Mark Ellis"* or why I would be
Dec 30, 2016 Byron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I copped this maybe five years ago, but I didn't get around to reading it until earlier this year, after Bowie already died. Then I read almost all of it, sitting in a waiting room somewhere, and never got around to reading the last few pages.

As I recall, there's an impressive amount of information on the album and the process of recording it, including the state Bowie was in at the time and what was going on in his personal life, given that this was upwards of 40 years before, and I don't think
Jan 04, 2017 Geoff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a small paperback book about David Bowie during his creation of the Low album, back in 1977. It's kinda hard to get a read on this book to tell if the information is factually correct, as a lot of it seems to be gossipy stuff, which I take with a grain of salt. And a lot of it I haven't heard, which makes me question the book, because I've been following Bowie forever. But on the other side of the coin, I am glad it contains a lot of new information that I haven't previously read. This i ...more
Rodrigo Acuna
Jan 15, 2016 Rodrigo Acuna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The birth of synthetic music"

Low is one of those albums that divided you from normal music listeners and placed you at the edge of what was to come, the future was here and it was not easy or happy but it was beautiful and strange.
I got my first copy of Low in Port Mcneill, Vancouver Island, Canada, for those of you who know it, it will be no surprise that this was like finding a wild amazonian flower growing out of Tokio’s pavement. Country music and straight rock was all you could openly list
Mary Warnement
Jun 02, 2016 Mary Warnement rated it liked it
Shelves: subway, berlin
It took me a week to read this because I took it with me to my reunion weekend, which did not allow a lot of time for reading. (And Wait Wait podcasts occupied my mind with laughter during flights.) I can't say I could recall any of the music from this but I wanted to read about Bowie in Berlin. I listened to the album a couple times after finishing the book and like it.

The author uses the word "autistic" quite often to describe music. I am not quite sure what he means by that. His discussion o
Rob Hermanowski
Reading Hugo Wilcken's detailed exploration of one of his favorite albums, David Bowie's 1977 release "Low", was actually great opportunity for me to discover this album for myself. "Low" is the first of Bowie's so-called Berlin Triptych (the other two records being "'Heroes'" and "Lodger") - all mostly composed and recorded while Bowie lived in Berlin in the '70's. Wilcken explores what lead Bowie to semi-isolate himself in Berlin, and what musical and cultural influences impacted the album. I ...more
Mar 06, 2015 Angel rated it did not like it
This was so very boring. I've never read any of the 33 1/3 books before, but I've bought a few for my kindle. I hope they aren't all like this. I listened to this - was probably an audible daily deal. And I love David Bowie. But I don't feel like I learned anything significant at all from listening to this.

And why did the narrator insist on reading punctuation - "quote" "end quote" through the whole book? So unnecessary. I used to work as a copy editor at a news distribution service, and sometim
Adrian P
May 03, 2012 Adrian P rated it liked it
p9: The 'Station to Station' sessions represent the high-water mark of Bowie's prodigious drug intake. By this stage, Bowie had practically stopped eating and was subsisting on a diet of milk, cocaine and four packs of Gitanes a day. He was leading a vampiric existence of blinds-drawn seclusion in his Hollywood mansion, spliced with all-night sessions in the studio.

p10: During one interview, Bowie suddenly leapt up and pulled down the blind: 'I've got to do this,' he jabbered. 'I just saw a body
Dusty Henry
Jan 11, 2016 Dusty Henry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the high marks of a 33 1/3 is its ability to ascend to an idea greater than the album itself. Sometimes it's a lofty idea like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or suburban bummers like on Let It Be. Low isn't so much focused on an emotion, as it is a moment in time. Hugo Wilcken masterfully dictates not just the recording of Low, but the world around it. It's as much about Iggy Pop's The Idiot and Bowie's own Station To Station as it is about the book's namesake. That's a strength, to be ...more
Kat Bowie
Jul 25, 2015 Kat Bowie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fueled by just cocaine n' milk, Bowie, Eno, Iggy and the gang made "Low."

The best parts of the of this book are when the author is framing the mindset of Bowie: paranoid, trapped in a loveless marriage, escaping to the Berlin studio: "Paranoia was not madness but the correct response to the situation." Loved the explanations to some of my favorite songs, like "always crashing in the same car." The author sticks to the facts and avoids putting personal,emotional analysis.

There's also a good deal
Stephen Futterer
Jan 30, 2016 Stephen Futterer rated it really liked it
My first try with this series and it was truly enjoyable. A small book that packs quite a lot inside. Like Cliffs Notes but with a heart. You get Bowie's personal history, his collaborations with Iggy Pop, Eno and Visconti, the LA cocaine scene, Berlin wanderings, German Expressionism, and meaningful insight about the (often mutual) influence on Bowie of Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, Syd Barrett, Scott Walker, etc. There's just enough dissection of the musical elements for the initiated but not too m ...more
Joseph Hirsch
May 12, 2016 Joseph Hirsch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Low" is by far my favorite David Bowie album, and maybe my favorite album of all-time. Wilcken's book is short, but packs more of a punch than many (actually all) of the larger volumes about this specific period in the mercurial musician's development. This book is jam-packed with info about Bowie's descent into cocaine-fueled madness during his "Thin White Duke" period, on into his miraculous recovery and redefinition of himself and his sound in Berlin. There is a lot of good technical info ab ...more
Sep 16, 2010 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-music
The 33 1/3 series is kind of a mixed bag, sometimes you get these really insightful examinations of a specific albums production, historical context, and antecedents, and sometimes you just get a delerious fanboy's paean. Wilcken's book fortunately falls into the former camp. He obviously loves the album, yet manages to maintain a healthy distance and a high level of critical examination overall. And he shows the sort of ideas that Bowie, Eno et al were playing around with in the mid 70's before ...more
Mar 24, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it
Odd choice of words; "autistic" and "solipsism," for example, are sprinkled onto a page every chapter or two, and every time I read them I mentally looked up the definition and had to think: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Regardless, the first half of the book traces the events and music that brought Low into being, and does a great job winding its way through the facts and fictions and characters of that time. The second half of the book is less intere
Jul 16, 2011 Andy rated it it was amazing
I guess I love this book because I love the record it discusses, but it's more than that. Wilcken examines the album, gives lots of background that avoids the usual hagiography in favor of something as close to the facts as one can get, while not failing to suggest that it's really hard to know the facts when many of the players were blitzed out of their minds. Really puts you in the studio and digs into the record track by track, and never devolves into fanboy navel-gazing. Also chock-full of n ...more
May 28, 2016 Eric rated it liked it
This is the second time I have read about ‘Low’. The briefly for the first time from the perspective of Brian Eno’s biographer in ‘On Some Faraway Beach’. In this version, Eno’s involvement is correctly portrayed as an after thought. In Hugo Wilcken’s 100+ page version, it is placed historically and with the appropriate influences, Kraftwerk, Can, Steve Reich (which is also a great jumping off point to investigate these other musicians/composers) and gives greater credit to Bowie as the visionar ...more
Feb 25, 2009 Carol rated it really liked it
When I was a teenager and heard "Low" for the first time, it scared me. So cold, so urban, so European. Now, I see it as Wilcken does: an experiemental escape from America that reflects exaustion and hope, black wit and emerging wisdom. It's the portrait of a person turning thirty and looking forward to age settling in.

Wilcken takes information from previously published accounts about Bowie and his music and intersperses his reaction to the album to create this small portrait of a few years in B
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Madison Mega-Mara...: # 50 David Bowie's Low 1 3 Jul 22, 2015 09:48AM  
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“Pop culture didn’t actually need an Andy Warhol to make it postmodern. Rock ’n’ roll was never anything but a faked-up blues—something that the glam-era Bowie had understood perfectly. (Eno: “Some people say Bowie is all surface style and second-hand ideas, but that sounds like a definition of pop to me.”)” 2 likes
“According to Buckmaster, the two were very taken at the time with Kraftwerk’s recently released Radio-Activity. This album caught Kraftwerk at a transitional phase of their career, channelling free-form experimentalism towards more tightly controlled, robotic rhythms that are like the sonic equivalent of a Mondrian painting. Radio-Activity is a clear influence on Low, with its mix of pop hooks, unsettling sound effects, retro-modernism; its introspection and emotional flatness. The theremin-sounding synths of “Always Crashing in the Same Car” and the electronic interludes on “A New Career in a New Town” in particular have a RadioActivity feel to them.” 0 likes
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