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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…