Showtime: London

Bowie, at 66, a museum piece


Bloomberg News

David Bowie is looking straight ahead into your eyes. He points right at you.

“I had to phone someone,” he sings. “So I picked on you.”

He’s modeling the best of Ziggy Stardust fashion. The skintight Burretti suit in Day-Glo colors is almost as eye-poppingly bright now as when he wore it to sing Starman on the Top of the Pops television show in 1972. Bowie shocked viewers by putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson.

The lifelike video display is one of the best in a new exhibition in London. The Victoria & Albert Museum show will be as close as most fans will come to Bowie in his surprise comeback announced in January on his 66th birthday. There are hints but no official word on a tour, interviews or concerts, just the album The Next Day, Bowie’s first in a decade.

The museum sold more than 42,000 advance tickets, a record and more than twice that for any other show, before the March opening.

In a first for the Victoria &Albert, visitors wear interactive headphones. Turn a corner and Life on Mars blasts out. Turn again, and hear young Bowie talk about the Swinging Sixties, mod and mime.

A breathless documentary tells how he was earning half a million pounds a year — a huge amount in the 1970s — and could afford a manicurist for his silver nail polish.

The words “David Bowie is” repeats throughout, starting with “David Bowie is all around us.”

This is alongside one of his most famous outfits, a striped bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. With its absurdly wide flares and red stack heels, one wonders how the star crossed the stage without falling over. The show features 60 Bowie outfits, including the singer’s clown costume from the Ashes to Ashes video.

Unusual objects from the singer’s archive include the handwritten lyrics to Five Years with crossings-out. Then the cut-up words inspired by William Burroughs that Bowie endlessly threw about, discarding some phrases and building others. There’s also a mock studio where visitors can hear offcuts as never before, with coughs, wrong notes and fragments being formed into songs.

You come out with the songs reverberating: “Fame, what’s your name?” After an hour or so seeing Bowie’s name everywhere, there’s no doubt on that.

•  David Bowie Is, sponsored by Gucci and Sennheiser, runs through Aug. 11 at the Victoria &Albert, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL. Information: 011-44-20-7942-2000 or

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