** Full disclosure: Mick Ronson is one of the main reasons I started playing guitar seriously. He is a major influence on my attitude and creative muse, as well as my personal touchstone for what a rock guitarist of a certain era should be. Therefore, to be completely honest with our wonderful Guitar Player readers, I am admitting that I did not attempt to be journalistically objective in the following report. Reader beware...
Without taking anything away from David Bowie's genius, vision, and ambition, the story of his early days may have ended quite differently had Mick Ronson not become his musical foil, creative sentinel, and lead guitarist. So many of the thrilling and ferocious riffs and beautiful sweetening parts (pianos, strings, etc.) on Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), and Pinups (1973) would never have happened without Ronson, and it's temping to believe that those records — and all of those songs — would have been pale ghosts with Ronson's contributions deleted.
But Ronson's mammoth and essential impact on Bowie's recordings — as well as those by Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, Morrissey, the Rich Kids, and several random talents that he graciously assisted for little or no compensation — has been celebrated by an almost exclusive club of guitar players and Bowie zealots. WE know how valuable Ronson was to the Bowie legend and guitarcraft in general, but Bowie's larger-than-life persona tended to overshadow much of Ronson's importance from the general public.
It didn't help that Ronson appeared to be uncomfortable in the spotlight as a solo artist, tended to make unfruitful business decisions, loved playing far more than exploiting any celebrity cache he garnered over the years, and remained exceedingly deferential in Bowie's presence.
But now — thankfully — a new documentary directed by Jon Brewer, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story [Cardinal Releasing], endeavors to put things as right as possible through film clips and interviews with Ronson and Bowie, Angela Bowie, Ian Hunter, Lou Reed, Earl Slick, Rick Wakeman, and others.
Here's the official trailer for the film, which is just beginning to see theatrical release this week...
While one documentary won't suddenly "fix" decades of relative public neglect, it's certainly a welcome event for those who know and love the real Ziggy Stardust of the '70s glam era and beyond. Beside Bowie is also a lovely way to reconnect with — and celebrate — Ronson's feral majesty. He died way too soon at just 46 years old from liver cancer in 1993. I miss all the music he may have had in his future.