Flight documentaries: An indispensable documentary about Mick Ronson, the under-appreciated guitarist and arranger for David Bowie.


Flight documentaries happen when we’re flying home after a European sojourn. Eastbound flights are for sleeping, westbound for reading, writing and watching.

Movies? Not for me, although it’s usually a good opportunity to explore new music via audio selections.

I readily concede to being only a lukewarm aficionado of David Bowie, but an addiction to music magazines during the early 1970s has assured my lasting familiarity (and belated listening) with Bowie, Mick Ronson, the Spiders from Mars, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, and the other “glam” period British acts that so influenced personal fave, Def Leppard.

Hence, the vital importance of this snippet from the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992: Bowie, Ronson, Ian Hunter, the surviving members of Queen with Joe Elliot and Phil Collen on backing vocals on “All the Young Dudes.”

Ronson was terminally ill and died not too long after his appearance. If you’re a fan of music of the period, this documentary is a must-watch.

“Beside Bowie-The Mick Ronson Story” Is a Flawed But Essential Documentary For Every Bowie and Mick Ronson Fan, by Michael Fremer (Analog Planet)

… After kicking around London for a few years and making little headway and less money, (Ronson) returned to Hull and became a municipal groundskeeper. One of his band mates in a group called The Rats returned to Hull to try to convince the contented gardener to travel back to London to become a member of David Bowie’s backup band. Though hesitant after his previous experiences, Ronson made the trip and the rest, as they say, is a history in desperate need of telling, which this film manages pretty well so I’m not going to further synopsize it.

It’s clear that Ronson was a masterful guitarist with a unique sound that’s in part created by a partly open “Wah Wah” pedal that he matter of factly demonstrates on camera and that by the time Bowie’s semi-breakthrough album Hunky Dory was recorded, he’d learned from Visconti the art of arranging and had become a brilliant one.

Rick Wakeman, who plays piano on that Ken Scott-David Bowie produced classic, says in his on-screen interview that Ronson, not Bowie, was the real co-producer and that his string arrangements on tracks like “Life on Mars” were, as all listeners know, nothing short of brilliant. While “Michael Ronson” receives arranging credit, it’s kind of buried …

Turns out I’m not the only person favoring flight documentaries.

Speaking of airplanes, I watched this on the flight back from Amsterdam so I can’t get into the technical aspects of the film or the sound, though I did listen on my Jerry Harvey Layla in-ear phones, which are amazing. My conclusion is that while this is a somewhat flawed presentation, it’s one every Mick Ronson fan should see as should every Bowie fan. In fact, it’s indispensable. When it was over, having “met” onscreen, Ronson’s wife and family I was left beyond sad by how this super-talented man, who was never a money-grubber, left this planet too young, under-appreciated and with little money to leave his family.