Monday, August 29, 2016

Tony Visconti The Autobiography – Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Tony is, of course, best known as the producer for Bowie and Bolan though his tale reaches much farther and wider. As always, I love hearing the stories of the emergence of rock’n’roll in the 50’s and 60’s and Tony, a New Yorker, was in the heart of it all. He learned several instruments as a child and played bass in groups – both rock bands and jazz bands - where he made a living when he was barely a teenager. His world grew as he was exposed to drag queens, gays, the Mob, drugs (he was a heroin addict for a while, which, by an odd stroke of luck, excluded him from the draft) and much more. His school music theory training served him well in many ways, and opened a life-changing opportunity for him when he did a quick score for British producer Denny Cordell, then visiting in NYC, who offered him a job in swingin’ London, which he jumped at.

Of course, this was a big culture shock for him, but he immersed himself in his work and eventually met Marc Bolan and David Bowie at roughly the same time and began working with both – in the studio, as friends, as sounding board for ideas and, in Bowie’s case, even as bassist for his band (he appears on The Man Who Sold The World). David and Angela’s fashion ideas (ironically picked up from the gay scene in the States) infiltrated the music scene in London and inspired Bolan to move away from his hippie persona and perhaps even helped him move to electric music.

Once Visconti moves away from the 70's, I find the story a little less compelling - obviously there was no time more exciting and innovative musically and artistically as the 60's and 70's - but he continues to work with Bowie and numerous younger artists (even D Generation, which was a surprise to me) and kept up with modern techniques and studio equipment. It is interesting to hear his opinions of changing technology as one who started when 4 track studios were state of the art. Of course, his personal life evolves (he even is married to May Pang - John Lennon's ex-girlfriend - at one point), and he travels around the world and has many personal anecdotes about the musicians he works with. 

A fun read of an exciting time and fascinating characters. Worth getting, for sure!