“Here I am floating round in my tin can. Far above the moon planet earth is blue and there’s
nothing I can do”
David Bowie – Space Oddity
“You’ve got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or girl”
David Bowie – Rebel Rebel
“We know Major Tom’s a junkie. Strung out in heaven’s high hitting an all time low”
David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes
During the moon landings of ’69 and the original release of Bowie’s Space Oddity, I was in utero. I was around 5 years old when the song was re-released. Space Oddity is so haunting and atmospheric with the addition of the Mellotron and Stylophone. The song is a play on 2001: A Space Odyssey (the Kubrick film had been released in 1968). With the build-up of the moon landings, Space Oddity captures the zeitgeist of the time. Unfortunately, Major Tom slipping through the stars and endless galaxies, floating around space sitting in his tin can. I loved that song even when I was 5 years old, transfixed by the song and video shown on Top of the Pops….
So while wandering around the Bowie exhibition at the V&A I was once again captivated by the original ’69 version and a later version. One of the exhibits was a plain space suit with line drawings based on the work of architect Le Corbusier. It was a fascinating jaunt though the history of such an iconic and avant-garde artist and musician. From his early life in Brixton and Bromley, influences… along with monologues from Bowie talking about his family life (he spoke about suicides on his mother’s side). There are some drawings he did of both of his parents tucked away. What struck me was seeing a b/w photo of Bowie circa ’66 in a suit with a floppy haircut, not really remarkable and rather similar to the styles of the time… within a few years time he had created the radical colourful glam rock Ziggy Stardust persona. Further images of Bowie on Top of the Pops singing Starman along with the clothes he wore in glass cases. Boy… what creations!
There were massive screens playing Bowie at various periods in his musical career. Showman/mime artist/actor/singer/musician… From Ziggy Stardust to the continuation of the alien theme with The Man Who Fell to Earth the Thin White Duke (oddly I didn’t see any reference to his stupid and offensive “Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader” comment during that period.. I coulda missed it though). The man reinvents himself. There’s a specific area devoted to his Berlin years (getting “clean” from drugs, painting, Iggy Pop, Heroes, Expressionism and Brecht).
Not an aficionado of Bowie therefore I don’t know what is missing etc. not enough of and so on. But I loved peering at the glass cases which encased Bowie’s handwritten notes, diagrams of gigs, lyrics and music, reviews and his dainty coke spoon!
For me, I liked Bowie’s androgyny along with sexual ambiguity. The visualness of his art interested me too. I was 10 when he released Ashes to Ashes, the solarised and inverted colours for the video with Bowie in a Pierrot costume along with Steve Strange, who later became part of the New Romantic era (I liked early New Romantic especially Strange’s Visage – Fade to Grey…. the influence of Bowie is crystal clear). Later work …. Let’s Dance and his collaboration with Nile Rodgers… Tin Machine and so on….
Another aspect of the exhibition were various iconic and cult paperback books hanging from the ceiling. Many I had read as a teenager from Burgess to Lawrence to Hubert Selby, Jr. And … Absolute Beginners (Colin MacInnes). The trilogy including City of Spades and Mr Love and Justice were favourites of mine. Bowie acted in Julien Temple’s piss-poor version of Absolute Beginners (my 16-year-old self was appalled at the casting of Patsy Kensit…. “She is NOT Crêpe Suzette”….)
…. Anyway I digress…
The exhibition is a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, it reminded me of my childhood (memories of Glam Rock) and teenage years (early New Romantic). Lots of people were at the exhibition too, many were young people. One young guy was wearing a Doors t-shirt and looked like he was about to start dancing. There is so much to see and experience…. the exhibition is on until 11th August 2013…..
Btw: BBC 4 did an excellent documentary on Bowie … don’t know if you can still see it but it is worth it!