Of course Bowie’s notebooks were grist for the curator’s mill with all manner of scribbled notes and lyrics given a public airing. More visually intriguing were his many sketches that showed the way forward for the sleeve designers and stage designers. I particularly enjoyed seeing the maquette of Hunger City from the infamous Diamond Dogs tour as designed by Mark Ravitz. I’ve never seen photographic images of this most spectacular of Bowie’s 1970s concerts but seeing the maquette gave me an idea of its impact. The fact that the tour was scuttled midway to make way for the Philly Dogs leg of the tour [which was actually my wife’s first concert!] only lends it more rarified status.
Another iconic object included in the exhibit was the actual Velvet Underground and Nico white label promo that manager Ken Pitt thoughtfully brought back to England for Bowie to hear! This was the record that launched a thousand careers [at least] and was instrumental in broadening Bowie’s artistic horizons dramatically. He began to cover the songs immediately, even before the material was in release, and these days, even Jimmy Page claims to have heard a WLP while in The Yardbirds and brags about covering “Waiting For The Man” before anyone else. You do the math. If this thing ever sees the light of day at Sotheby’s I can’t imagine what it would sell for.
The most brain melting object on display, had to have been Bowie’s personal coke spoon! I’m speechless, here. Clearly, cocaine, was central to Bowie for huge swaths of the 70s and kudos to the V&A curators for honing in on this inescapable fact. It staggers the mind to think that David Bowie and Iggy Pop, decamped from Hollywood [where Pop was hospitalized in rehab] and traveled to Berlin [the heroin capital of Europe in the 70s] to clean up their drug habits! But the artistic rewards reaped have made for my favorite of Bowie’s albums. Objects from this period on view included several great paintings of Iggy Pop by Bowie and the EMS synth that Eno used on the albums, which he later gave to Bowie in the late 90s!
I was also thrilled to see at least one of the infamous Saturday Night Live musical appearances by Bowie as made in December of 1979 on view here. The live version of “The Man Who Sold The World” stands head and shoulders above all other versions [and covers] of this song that I never could fully appreciate. The backing vocals by Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi were as striking as the Theatre of Bauhaus inspired costume that Bowie wore. It rendered him immobile and Arias and Nomi had to carry him onstage to reach the mike. The arrangement was superb, and for once, this song delivered here for me in ways that it always fails to elsewhere.
It was fascinating to see the imagery used in the 1980 video for “Ashes To Ashes” with Bowie as a Pierrot clown walking on the beach with an old lady actually refered to artwork on the back of the 1969 “David Bowie” [a.k.a. “Space Oddity”] album! The original art for that album cover was a revelation since the second Bowie album saw innumerable changes in packaging over the years before it filtered into my Record Cell with the Ryko edition. What seemed like a flight of video fancy on 1980 was actually a carry through from his early period!
The original artwork for that back cover was only a peek at some of the delights on view here. A real treat was the original Diamond Dogs cover by Guy Peeleart! Naturally, an airbrush painting like that was bound to have been as large as it was, but I was astounded to see that Edward Bell’s original art for 1980’s “Scary Monsters […and super creeps]” was even larger! It was at least 48″ x 24″ if it was a postage stamp. Let’s not forget that the precedent of Bowie painting over earlier images and icons of bygone eras that culminated in “The Next Day” began on the original back cover for that album, sadly eliminated from the Ryko CD.
Next: …David Bowie Is moving out of the American Continent