David Bowie… he was born in 1947 and I was born many years later, well after he’d become a star, and I only begun to appreciate his radical style when I was in my 20’s. By this stage his most well known tunes were 40 years old and yet still they spoke to a youth, all youth, who yearn for salvation by an alien starman.
“He’d like to come and meet us but he thought he’d blow our minds.”
I knew all his classics; “Starman” and the Ziggy Stardust days, The Thin White Duke from Station to Station and “Let’s Dance”. But they were background noise, I’d never looked at them as part of one life’s work. I never knew where he’d come from or how radical his performances were at the time of their release.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.
To the sound they’re playing on the radio.
It was through references, beyond his own releases, that my friends and I got caught up in the cult of Bowie. There was Seu George, the Brazilian crooner, singing Bowie songs in Portuguese in Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic – so beautifully obscure.
“Hey babe your hair’s alright, hey babe let’s go out tonight.”
There were Germaine’s dreamy incarnations of Bowie’s various guises in Flight of the Concords. “Is it cold in space Bowie?” It broke down his diversity through the years; it showed the span of his career and the cultural impact this one man has had.
“Hey that’s far out, so you heard him too…”
It got a little obsessive; there were themed parties and shrines of spilled make-up. I delved deeper, lusting for the obscure recordings from the Berlin sessions with Brian Eno. We were competitive in our knowledge, arguing about the correct time-lines and collaborations. We watched the Labyrinth more than once and The Prestige – and of course Zoolander, it was a perfect cameo for Bowie, who else is sufficiently equipped to judge a ‘walk-off’?
“I could be king, and you, you could be my queen.
For nothing could drive them away,
ahh we could beat them just for one day.
We could be heroes.
Just for one day.”
Jump forward a few years and my obsession was rekindled when I arrived in London to find the V&A museum were showing a retrospective on the life of Bowie. I was excited to say the least; there was a moment of frustration when I heard that tickets needed to be booked in advance, but this was soon dashed when Caitlyn told me she had a member’s pass.
“Don’t wanna be a richer man, ch-ch-ch changes.”
We strutted past the masses lined-up outside the museum, channeling the swagger of the Starman and we were ushered inside. With headsets firmly affixed we became suddenly immersed in a world of BOWIE.
The headsets were location sensitive and would alter the soundtrack depending on the display you were near. There were recordings of interviews and explanations of his rise to stardom.
“Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool.”
They had the original suit that he wore when he played Ziggy Stardust on Top-of-the-Pops, the track played on a loop as did the video, it was projected between mirrors behind a mannequin wearing that infamous suit.
“Hot tramp I love you so.”
In one of the interviews it was explained that it was this Top-of-the-Pops appearance that started it all for Bowie. It challenged so many of the norms of the time. He rejected the fashions and the status quo. He was so far-out, he was ahead of his time, it was as if he was from outer-space.
“That’s some hazy cosmic jive.”
The exhibition was vaguely chronological, it showed the outrageous breadth of Bowie’s career. He released 27 studio albums, the most recent coming out only a few months ago. He’s been in films, he’s done stage shows, he played “We can be heroes” at Live-Aid and he’s even tried his hand at painting.
“Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show.”
The last stage of the exhibition was a cavernous room that was draped with screens showing a whole range of his most extravagant performances. You’d get a different soundtrack depending on where you sat. You could rest your weary feet and soak in 50 years worth of musical history. So many costumes and so much make-up, he performed all over the world and was loved everywhere he went.
“Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?”
His latest single “The stars (are out tonight)” was released with a video that was more like a short film. It featured Tilda Swinton and some appropriately androgynous models. Check it out, it’s pretty freaky.
“Let the children use it
Let the children lose it
Let all the children boogie…”