Review of Bowie’s Piano Man – The Life of Mike Garson by Clifford Slapper

Written by an accomplished pianist, but also a Bowie fan too.

I am also a fan of Bowie and I have discovered music through his influences and people he has worked with. Bowie and Garson are similar in that they adapt to anything and are not frightened to try something new.

The book clearly markets itself on Garson’s work with Bowie but readers will find that having been drawn into it, the book is actually a lesson in how anyone can become a creative genius, through practice and dedication.

There are many musical references and terms which meant nothing to me, and sometimes I thought I was getting bogged down in them. I’m glad I stayed with it as by the end I really felt I understood musicianship better. I had to smile at one point when the term ‘120BPM’ was explained at the bottom of the page, and yet terms such as arpeggio and coda were not!

Those readers who do not know Bowie’s music must (before they start reading) listen to his Aladdin Sane album from 1973, in particular the title track which is mentioned regularly throughout the book. It is useful to have these songs in your head as they are spoken about.

Once the reader accepts that the book is not about Bowie but refers to him continually and that Garson is a private man who is dedicated to two things, his family and the piano. Once the reader accepts that Garson avoided the rock and roll excesses and will not be sharing any salacious stories, then then Garson’s unique career can be understood.

As my musical understanding improved gradually through the book, I also discovered more about Bowie from the years 1990 to 2005, a period of productivity that I missed out on.

Toward the end of the book, it is uplifting to learn about his work with music and healing. Where illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease can be added to the existing therapies. Garson continues to teach and pass on his skills to help others.

A fascinating book about Garson’s career. A dedicated musician who just happened to get a call from Bowie in September 1972. A collaboration that changed the face of popular music but did not change Garson as a person.