London invasion and Bowie Exhibit!


A Nice Visit

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 vegan food, and enjoyed the Tate Modern, but the most important thing was the exhibit I flew across an ocean to see.

The Main Event

The Bowie exhibit had sold tickets by time slot, in order to have some semblance of crowd control. 

The show sold out before it opened. My sister and I were late, because the exchange for the green circle line closed, and a man with teeth that splayed out like a water spigot told us that there would be a bus along in only 25 to 30 minutes.

Luckily, I got in without crying or striking any marble countertops.

Photos are prohibited at the show, which at first seemed like a bummer. However, when LACMA opened the Kubrick show to photos, it made the whole thing feel less special.  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 amazing Berlin era paintings of his friend James Osterberg, instruments, handwritten lyrics, stage props and designs, and other ephemera.

The show stayed away from gossip about Bowie’s drug use, love affairs, and mental problems, but returned again and again to a main theme. 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 Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias that was used in the great documentary The Nomi Song. I was 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.

Other Things I Learned

The Alexander McQueen jacket from Earthling that I had always assumed was a shiny vinyl thing was, in fact, a distressed and torn Union Jack frock coat- and it was inspired by 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 method of songwriting, but in recent years, he’s written a computer program to do it.

Bowie’s a better mime than you are.

The reason I just started seeing the amazing video for “Boys Keep Swinging” with Bowie in various drag is because it was 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).

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 made careers out of things that Bowie used for a week or two and abandoned- I’m looking at you, Marilyn Manson!

Selfridge’s had a new David Bowie pop-up shop, and three makeup looks by Illamasqua’s Alex Box!



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 fun and I enjoyed working with my makeup artiste, a Brett from Sheffield, where all the good music comes from.  When we were done, I was asked if I wanted a towel to take the look off with, and I was a little surprised at the 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. My sister did insist on a re-do for dinner.

After going out for drinks, my sister Emily and I were plumb tuckered out and we went to bed.