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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Mojo MARCH 22, 2013 - by Ian Harrison

DAVID BOWIE AT THE V&A: FIRST LOOK

One of the items on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum's incredible, brain-overloading collection of David Bowie's style and related artefacts is superfan's Iain R Webb's scrapbook ("Take A Look At Lovely David Bowie" advises a teen pop mag cutting of the time). Having had his life changed forever by seeing Starman on Top Of The Pops on July 6, 1972, Webb writes, "I spent all my waking hours documenting his every elegant move."

Which is what this extraordinarily in-depth exhibition also does. The Thin White hoarder clearly knew the value of not throwing anything out, even before he was successful. After being greeted by the insanely pantaloon'd 'Tokyo Pop' vinyl bodysuit he wore in 1973, you're immediately surrounded by objects relating intimately to the whole of Bowie's creative and personal life.

It goes deep. There are pictures of him at ten months old, the street sign from his early childhood home on Stansfield Street in Lambeth and the saxophone he played in The Kon-rads. And moving on through the themed rooms - examining his success with Space Oddity, the glam years, his influences, music videos, a live room with huge screens showing concert footage - the brain bombs of surprise and delight do not stop. The hand-written lyrics for Oh! You Pretty Things, Ashes To Ashes, Rebel Rebel and "Heroes"? Yes. An acetate of The Velvet Underground & Nico, with a sticker on it saying 'Warhol'? Certainly. Peculiar diary entries relating to writing Fame with Lennon, his Oblique Strategies cards and make-up charts for the Diamond Dogs tour ("lips yellow + orange" it commands)? Of course.

There are also all the outfits that you've seen so many times, but not like this. On mannequins with Bowie's face (painted silver) there's the quilted TOTP Starman outfit, the Ziggy shorts-pants "rabbit design" bodysuit, the uniforms of the Thin White Duke and Jerome Thomas Newton (the protagonist of The Man Who Fell To Earth), the gold brocade coat from his titanic Glastonbury 2000 performance, and beyond. The Where Are We Now? puppet is here too; this time both heads feature Bowie's face, variously feigning boredom, grinning, going cross-eyed and speaking silently (can a lip reader get down there and find out what he's saying?). Poignantly, the graphic print costume from the cover of Ziggy Stardust appears as a replica, in a glass-topped sarcophagus containing 'publicity material 1972-3' (what's that Rock Fantasy Ziggy comic from 1990 doing in there?).

Get there if you can, and reflect on the objects that bring historical events into such sudden, close focus - like the coke spoon discovered in the pocket of one of the outfits, a 1976 Telefax from Elvis, or the house keys from when he lived at Hauptstrasse 155, hanging in a box outside a special vestibule devoted to the Berlin Trilogy. Gaze upon them all, and unlock your Bowie brain anew.

David Bowie Is runs from March 23 to August 11, 2013, at The V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7.


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