I went to London last week to see the David Bowie Is exhibit at the V&A, to visit my sister Emily, and to experience 32 degree weather and a light dusting of snow during the week everyone usually calls Spring Break. We hit Camden market, ate some local vegan food, enjoyed the Tate Modern, and thoroughly failed to get stage time, but the most important thing was the exhibit I flew across an ocean to see.
The Bowie exhibit had sold tickets by time slot, in order to have some semblance of crowd control. It is currently sold out until it closes in August, so there’s not a lot of good to me telling you about it, but I am anyway. In the traditional style of my family, my sister and I were late for our slot, because the exchange for the green circle line was inexplicably closed, and a very nice man with teeth that splayed out like a water spigot told us in a very friendly manner that there would be a bus along in only twenty-five to thirty minutes. Luckily, I got in without crying or striking any marble countertops with my wee fists.
Photos are prohibited at the show, which at first seemed like a bummer, but when LACMA opened the Kubrick show and anyone could take non-flash photographs, the flood of Instagram photos of dispensers from the Cordova Milk Bar made the whole thing feel less special. Granted, the image is not the thing itself, but sometimes it feels like the thing.
The show itself was arranged in rough chronological order, but mostly as clusters of influences and connected things interesting information. There were famous outfits, but also some amazing Berlin era paintings of his friend James Osterberg, instruments, handwritten lyrics, stage props and designs, and other ephemera. The show stayed away from salacious gossip about Bowie’s drug use, love affairs, and mental problems, but returned again and again to the theme that Bowie is an editor, collaborator, and borrower, always consuming, interpreting, and composing music and image that is consistently ahead of its time.
Speaking of Kubrick, Space Oddity was a pun on Space Odyssey. Seems obvious now.
I was glad to see the SNL footage of Bowie with backup singers/prop managers Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias that was used in the great documentary The Nomi Song, but also amused to see photos and drawings of English music hall artists that Bowie’s sculptural outfit was drawn from, which Klaus’ outfit was a simplified version of.
The Alexander McQueen jacket from Earthling that I had always rather assumed was a shiny vinyl thing was, in fact, a distressed and torn Union Jack frock coat- I had been seeing the white lining as “shine”- and of course, it was inspired by another of my favorite bands, Pete Townsend’s mod Union Jacket.
I learned that when David Bowie was writing Suffragette City, he was rocking a 26 1/2″ waist on cocaine.
Bowie has always been a fan of the mash-up and cut-and-paste surrealist method of songwriting, but in recent years, he’s written a program to do it.
Bowie’s a better mime than you are.
Also, the reason I just started seeing the amazing video for “Boys Keep Swinging” with Bowie in various drag aspects is because it was slightly too kinky for RCA records and they banned it.
The wiping-off lipstick gesture from the video was something that came from Weimar-era burlesque, and that would later be quoted in the video for China Girl (written by his friend James Osterberg), and later I would do it in high school, but it just annoyed my boyfriend Philip Montoro.
The Space Oddity cover used a photo of Bowie superimposed over a painting by Victor Vasarely.
The close of the show was a wall of “influenced by” images, including The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding in his makeup and silver jumpsuit, Annie Lennox in all her androgyne glory, John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig, and dozens of fashion pictorials. Many musicians have picked up and made careers out of things that Bowie used for a week or two and abandoned- I’m looking at you, Marilyn Manson! ( We love you! Please be on Gothixxx!)
Selfridge’s now has a new David Bowie pop-up shop, though, so even though you can’t see the show, you can buy all the V&A stuff from the exhibit, as well as a specially curated collection of vintage from Decades in LA, and three makeup looks by Illamasqua’s Alex Box!
And that’s a weird coincidence, because the other thing I made sure to do when I was in town was to take a makeup class called Drag Superhero at the Illamasqua store on Beak Street, where we did this amazing natural, no-makeup look!
It was a great deal of fun and I enjoyed working with my makeup artiste, a very darling fellow named Brett from Sheffield, where all the good music comes from. When we were done, I was asked if I wanted a towel or remover to take the look off with, and I was a little surprised at their shock that I would walk back to the hotel with my “face” on. I explained to them that I was not visiting weirdoland, that I had been weird for quite a long time, just never before on Carnaby street.
After going out for drinks, my sister Emily and I were plumb tuckered out and we went to bed.