Tuesday, 25 June 2013

(words, pictures, tunes...) part III

From Lambs Conduit Street to South Kensington and the V&A for the Bowie exhibition. 

Perhaps because of the exhibition, the BBC has been showing various documentaries and films about Bowie over the last few months - and my darling C has often abandoned me to the telly, only occasionally rolling his eyes, as I sit there singing along, slightly starry-eyed. So, let's just say I was primed for this exhibition...

You see, I really used to love David Bowie. Granted, I also really loved David Cassidy, and had numerous other crushes throughout the early 1970s (boy in the butcher shop, where are you now?) but I only ever made a scrapbook for David Bowie. I kept newspaper cuttings and pictures from magazines in a ring binder and it survived, stored along with all my teenage diaries, for many, many years. I wish I'd kept it, just like I wish I'd kept all of the diaries - imagine the material there would have been in there for a dull, slightly less angsty, Scottish Catcher in the Rye! An anodyne version of Trainspotting... Bus-stopping!

'My' years are definitely the Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust years. One of the girls in school sat me down one lunchtime, so that she could recite the lyrics of the Ziggy Stardust LP in their entirety to me whilst I checked them on the LP cover - and that seemed like a perfectly legitimate way to spend our lunch break...! In the early 1970s I'd gone to see Genesis (my first concert), snuck in with some friends after school to watch Roxy Music rehearse, pored over Jackie magazine every week, watched Top of the Pops religiously, and listened to Radio Luxembourg in bed on an orange plastic, doughnut-shaped radio, but somehow I didn't get to see Bowie live until sometime between 1978 and 1981.

By then, however, I wasn't a true 'fan' anymore - real life (and real boyfriends) took over, and I had neither the time nor the inclination to learn song lyrics. Still, when he came on stage, we stood up, then stood on the seats, then stood on the arms of the seats, all to get a better view, waving madly if he showed any indication that he knew we even existed. Magical! Crazy!

I'd waited a long time for an exhibition like this, but... just like I grew out of wanting to keep a scrapbook about him, I've realised that my appetite for looking at paintings he did, or bits of paper he scribbled on, or even a tissue he used to wipe off his lipstick, is not what it might have been 40 years ago! Nevertheless, the costumes are interesting - not particularly because Bowie wore them (although they do show just how very thin the Thin White Duke was...) but because of the diversity of styles, fabrics, and finish - from the skintight sparkle of Ziggy Stardust to the immaculate tailoring of later years, or the stylised black and white plastic suit showing little relation to the body underneath, to the gorgeous Alexander McQueen Union Flag coat, all demonstrating just how interestingly stylish Bowie has always been. I smiled at the blown-up note from McQueen, apologising for the lateness of delivery, and assuring Bowie that there would be something in the post soon... We've all  made our excuses at some time or another when a deadline has got the better of us...

However, the best bits for me - proving that, really, it's all about the music, the performance - had to be the video screens everywhere showing him in clips from TOTP or The Old Grey Whistle Test, and the headsets playing his songs. One of the last rooms is filled with giant screens playing video footage of concerts, displays of scale models of stage sets, and mannequins dressed in yet more costumes. The atmosphere there reminded me a little of Brixton Academy, with people milling around, all looking upwards at Bowie 'on stage', scary monster size. So, when my headset failed, I felt momentarily at a loss. I could have gone and looked at the rest of the costumes in more detail, but without the music that seemed slightly... pointless. The problem was fixed, and the music came back on after a few minutes, but it didn't feel quite the same as before. Time to leave. I guess it's good to know that Bowie isn't the only one who has moved on - but he'll always have his own special sparkly place in my heart!

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