(Hopefully that resounded in your head in exactly the right kind of tortured Bowie-esque squawk)
So a couple of weeks ago I took my friend along to the members preview of the David Bowie V&A exhibition. Oh Lord, it is good. In fact, good doesn’t do it justice. It’s bloody amazing. Probably the best thing I’ve ever seen at the V&A.
Ever since I’ve seen it I’ve been obsessed with DB. I’ve even been having strange dreams about him. There was a particularly memorable one where London had collapsed to rubble and a 70s-era Bowie roamed the post-apocalyptic streets, giving impromptu gigs to hordes of feral teens.
Anyway there are lots and lots of reviews out there that give you a professional-type overview of the show, so I thought I’d stick to my top five learnings from the exhibition.
1. David Bowie has incredibly childish handwriting
I don’t know what I expected, but his letters are big, loopy, and not joined-up in the slightest. He also loved drawing in biro, which adds to the ‘back of the maths textbook’ feel. What does it all mean? Did his childish creativity never drain away? Or was he off sick the day they taught handwriting at primary school?
You can sort of see what I mean on this hand-written cover for Hunky Dory.
2. David Bowie is absolutely terrifying
I didn’t realise exactly what a pasty, weird-looking, alien sex lizard David Bowie was around the release of Space Oddity. One of my favourite bits of the exhibition was just the video below playing on an old 60s TV set.
You wear headphones which magically play sound when you look at a screen or an object, and I stood in front of this video for ages, totally mesmerised. So were about 40 other people all crowded around. I mean come on, that is some scary charisma.
3. I finally know what’s so great about ‘multimedia exhibitions’
Nearly every exhibition has some kind of multimedia element to it nowadays. Normally it’s a bit of a rubbish add-on, like the creepy moving heads at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume show. But for this David Bowie extravaganza, they’ve really cracked it. The music, video, and objects are all jumbled together in one glorious mixture.
The most amazing bit is the last room. Somehow they’ve knocked through the ceiling to create a massive hall which is exactly like being at a huge gig. Seriously, the sound design is uncanny. One wall is covered with an enormous screen, showing footage of Bowie gigs, and the walls are lined with costumed mannequins towering above you on scaffolding. It feels totally epic.
I wonder what was in the rooms above though? If you look up in the last room in the exhibition (which is linked to the big hall) there are some hastily covered over holes in the ceiling…
4. David Bowie had a 26-inch waist
There’s some interesting behind-the-scenes gossip in this interview with the curator, who reveals that they had to get bespoke mannequins carved specially for the exhibition because of Bowie’s tiny waist and ‘powerful thigh muscles’ (*fans self*).
It was worth it, beecuse the costumes are presented really well throughout the show. Here’s the iconic jumpsuit he wore when Starman got in the charts – it’s in a mirrored booth with the TOTP footage playing behind.
Even the mannequins stuck on plinths have something interesting about them, like this one with a creepy golden hankerchief covering its face (apologies for the blurry picture – I was terrified of getting thrown out. We had to queue for two hours to get in)
5. David Bowie moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop in 1977 to try and get off drugs
Probably not the best example of decision-making in the history of the world. The Berlin room in the exhibition is pretty awesome though. It even has the key to the flat they shared, as well as one of Bowie’s paintings of Iggy, and the synth that Brian Eno used when recording the albums.
The other themed rooms are equally great. There’s a movie area that has one of the crystal orbs from Labyrinth, and a letter from Jim Henson telling Bowie how awesome he would be in the part.
YOU MUST SEE THIS EXHIBITION
Unfortunately it’s sold out online, but you can either queue up on the day, buy your own membership, or find a friendly V&A member with a guest pass and bribe them with cake (I am available for this purpose).
If you can’t get to London, as a consolation prize you should watch these two videos about David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth (RIP). They feature a hilarious voice-over from a bitter journalist who couldn’t hate Bowie more if David had killed his cat and skinned it for a new fur jumpsuit. There are also many crying teenage girls.
Just to finish, I have to show you this quote from a Guardian article about people who know David Bowie, as it made me lol significantly.