maggiealderson

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

See the mice in their million hordes

In Bowie, Celebrities on April 23, 2013 at 2:55 pm

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I went back to the Bowie exhibition. I had to. I couldn’t stand that feeling of unfinished business – and I’m so so glad I made the effort, because I’m now even more in love with him than ever. Which I didn’t really think was possible.

This time I got there early and the crowds were much less intrusive. Then I sped through the first two rooms which had irritated me so much last time.

I still found the headset maddening as it kept slipping in and out of spoken word and music, but I soldiered on and found myself fascinated. First by a computer program Bowie has developed to do his random cut up lyrics digitally, rather than his earlier William Boroughs inspired analogue version with bits of paper and scissors.

But the thing which really stood me still was a notebook with his tailor’s measurements. In 1972 his waist measured 26 and a half inches. Next to that was a highwayman’s coat of tattered Union flags, which was made for him by Alexander McQueen.

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It was amazing, but what really moved me was to see the note Lee McQueen had written to Bowie, apologising for being a bit late with it.

Imagining what it would have meant to McQueen – the gay son of brutal father, who grew up in London’s tough East End – and to start a letter, ‘Dear David…’ brought tears to my eyes.

The next great thing, as with my first trip to the show, was just standing and watching a video of the man, doing what he does. It was Boys Keep Swinging, from 1979 – and I’d forgotten how amazing it is. The way he dances! Soooo sexy. And the way he dressed as three women. One of them clearly an aged Marlene Dietrich.

I watched it three times, constantly thinking: ‘1979! He did this in 1979!’ It would be fresh if somebody did for the first time right now. He did it thirty four years ago.

The next area had more video of him performing and more costumes, which was all pleasing – but then I got to the really good bit: the Berlin room.

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That was the one section of this exhibition which was more than the sum of the parts. Using a mixture of artefacts, Bowie’s own paintings – including one of Iggy Pop – and a brilliantly randomised mash up of film footage, including Bowie talking about why he moved there, stills from the session for the Heroes cover, clips of 1930s Berlin – created a sense of total immersion.

Without knowing any more details of his life there, I felt as though I had, just for a moment, been there with him (and Iggy…). It gave me the flavour, the feeling – without destroying any of the mystique. Brilliant.

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Being able to stare at the Thin White Duke’s actual trousers, helped too. And I didn’t even mind seeing the keys to the apartment… They were properly Berlin-y looking keys and I’d rather see them than pictures of the rooms.

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Next to that was the other triumph of the expo. A cathedralic space where, with some delays between transmission, to build expectation, they showed footage of Bowie live, on huge screens, with the actual costumes displayed around – backlit, with the lights going on and off so now you saw them, now you didn’t.

We gathered, lounging on the black benches, and shared the experience, which was a triumphant antidote to the competitive jostling to scope the tawdry micro-memorabilia of the first two rooms. And they played each track in full and really really LOUD.

I stayed until I had seen it all through twice and even then found it hard to tear myself away. In one clip – I think it was from the Station to Station tour, but I can’t remember which song it was – as he shrugged off his trench coat, standing high on a gantry, I couldn’t believe anyone could have such sexy shoulders.

A fairly early film of Jean Genie was captivating and I had to hold my legs down to stop myself getting up to dance. What would have happened if I had? I wondered. Would anyone have joined in?

I just might have to go back and find out…

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And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…

In Heroes on April 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm

The Man Who Fell to Earth

I’m in a dither, trying to decide whether to go back to the David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum for a second try on Friday.

I went last week, in a state of highly-excited anticipation and it just didn’t work out. I left about a quarter of the way through it, feeling very irritated.

I’m a member of the V&A, which is well worth the £64 a year, as you just stroll into all the exhibitions, with no need to buy tickets – a particular advantage with this show, which sold out for the whole run as quickly as a One Direction tour. A first for the museum.

But this time, we were all made to queue up before entrance anyway to get the audio headsets.

I loathe those bloody things.

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It nearly drove me potty at the Manet show at the Royal Academy (also a member there, for same reasons…). Everyone walking around in a moronic state, all coming to a lingering gormless halt at the same places as the audio guide drones on.

So I was already grumpy about that, but conceded for this particular exhibition, as the audio aspect is pretty germain to Mr Bowie. But the real problem once we got in was sheer size of the crowd.

The exhibition is just mobbed. Which is great. I love that David Bowie – the man who shaped my generation and changed world attitudes to sexuality and gender forever – has such resonance and with such a wide cross section of people. But it did make it hard to connect with the show, when you were jostling for position to see anything.

David Bowie in Munich in 1976

And after I had queued up for my turn to look at a few wrinkled ticket stubs, I started to feel a bit lowered by the banality of a lot of the exhibits in the early rooms. Old tickets and posters didn’t enhance my appreciation of Bowie, they slightly reduced him.

But then I did have a golden moment. Standing in front of a large screen showing the film of him – in the blue lurex catsuit, with his halo of russet hair, plucked-away eyebrows and kohl- rimmed eyes – singing his 1969 breakthrough hit Space Oddity.

Back it all came. How amazing it was in homespun hippyville 1969 to see someone on the telly, who looked like that, singing a song about the most amazing thing ever, which was happening right then – men landing on the moon.

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Someone who looked like he came from outer space, but sang about it in a way which still never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

‘Tell my wife I love her very much… She knows…’

Because while I was as gripped as any other school kid by the Apollo missions, making my own space capsules out of cornflake packets, it was all about the science and technology. Bowie put the romance and the mystery back into space.

So I just stood there in the V&A gazing at him, strumming his guitar, looking right into the camera, the razor cheekbones turning this way and that and I fell in love with him all over again.

The madding crowd was pushing around me impatiently, determined to see every little detail of every flyer from crappy gigs in Bromley in 1965 and I didn’t care.

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There was a bloke standing next to me, about my age and like me, rooted to the spot, transfixed and transported, watching the video. And that’s when I understood why I didn’t want to see the rest of the exhibition: the whole point of David Bowie is the sound and vision.

I don’t care where he went to school, where he bought his first guitar, who he was and is married to, or what he has for lunch. All I care about his how his music and his image have made me feel since I was nine years old.

He expanded my mind like a psychedelic drug then and did it all over again ten years later with the thrillingly dark and cerebral Berlin albums. He has been a uniting passion between me and all the most interesting people I have known in my life.

I don’t need David Bowie curated. He’s in my DNA.

David Bowie

When the film finished, I headed round the corner, hopeful the magic might have started kicking in, but the crowds just seemed to get worse and the stupid headset didn’t even work.

I ran out of there, trying not to look at the rest of the show in case I wanted to come back another day (and in case I accidentally saw a picture of him in Labyrinth….shudder), at a time when there might be fewer people.

Then, as we do these days, I got home and asked the hive mind what it thought about this subject.

Was I just being a grumpy old woman? Had anyone else seen and loved the exhibition? And – FOMO kicking in – was I missing out, by giving up after the early section?

And did anyone feel, as I realise I do, that finding out more about the your heroes – a mistake I’ve made with reading way too much about Joni Mitchell and the Mitford sisters – can lessen them?

I was interested to get these replies:

@kateinkew: I felt the same when I read more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s life outside his work. Wish I hadn’t.

@olibennett: Yes! Also the Keith Richards biog was a romp but certainly cured me of fandom.

@fictionwitch: Happened to me with Georgette Heyer biography. Fallen idols.

@LDNcalling: Yes, tick box. Music biographies can be really dull.

And finally, my favourite.

@TrueBritKnits: I do not need to see the keys to the Berlin apartment!

I felt very comforted by those replies. But I’m still not sure if I can stop myself going back during the special ‘members only’ hour this Friday.

What do you think I should do?

And here’s the clip with stood me still…

We’re all going on a summer holiday…

In Celebrities, Famous people on April 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm

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I was listening to Oliver Stone being interviewed on the radio last night and thought: ‘I don’t think I’d like to go on a caravan holiday with him…’

Can you imagine? The confined space, the rain (inevitable on the caravan holidays in Wales of my childhood) – and the endless conspiracy theories.

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You’d get out Monopoly or Risk, to pass a wet afternoon and he’d be off.

Obviously I’m unlikely ever to be in a caravan with Mr Stone (who I do deeply respect for his commitment to Big Serious Things), but this is one scale on the measure I generally use for assessing how I feel about people I’ve never met.

Another is: Would I go on a villa holiday with them?

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Jeremy Clarkson is a definite no on that one. He’d just grab the biggest room and would order all the wine at dinner without consulting anyone else. From the pointy end of the wine list. Hugh Grant, on the other hand, would be terrific fun in a villa.

I’m sure he’d be up for all manner of after dinner games, moving on to the full demolition disco (when you take it in turns to DJ and everyone dances wildly round the pool…) and would be perfectly happy to drink the house wine – or would offer to pay for all the drinks. Proper villa holiday etiquette.

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He’d also understand, without taking offence, that not everyone in the party of ten would want to do everything together. The natural ebb and flow of different groupings setting off for the local market, visits to ancient rubble, or a nearby spa for a massage, would happen without tension, with everyone happily regrouping for pre-dinner drinks.

(I’ve never been on a group holiday where this was the case, but I’d like to think it would be possible.)

On an even more elite list are the people I would love to go on a camping holiday with. David Sedaris features on this one, partly because I think he’d hate every minute and would be so funny about it. I would also enjoy his commentaries on other campers nearby.

David Walliams, while hilarious and adorable, I think could be a bit me, me, me and exhausting in the close confines of the canvas getaway.

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I’d jump at the chance to go camping with Kate Moss though. While it might be a bit hard to deal with how good she’d look climbing out of her sleeping bag in the morning, I know (from first hand experience and general reports) that she’d be a good laugh and I have the feeling she’d be cool about not being able to wash much for a few days. Essentials for a camping partner.

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Although I would have to ask her not to smoke in the tent, so she might not like to go camping with me.

So that’s my scale for how I’d get on with people. Now tell me: who would you go camping with – and not?

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