I know, I’m reviewing an exhibition – two, in fact – which begs the question: have museums got more rock n’ roll or have I got less? Does seeing Evan Dando at Gorilla in Manchester and having night tickets for Sonar preclude me from mummified status? Perhaps – at least for now. While this opportunity to see the V&A ‘on tour’ was less immersive than the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains experience I waded through in London a few weeks ago, it still has plenty to offer. The interactive mixing desk, and thus the opportunity to remix your favourite tracks (‘Money’ without the bass line is worth a listen) is absent, and there’s no 3D revolving prism to indulge the senses, but what you lose out on in technological whimsy, you gain in intimacy.
Here – torn from A4 pads or accounting ledgers or written with schoolboy simplicity on graph paper are the lyrics that Bowie and his handpicked musician friends alchemised into genius. Although his artistic visions undoubtedly scaled the same preposterous heights as Floyd’s, the version of events presented here reminds us – as does the man himself in a selection of interviews that, like the music, is transferred straight into your Sennheiser headphones as you browse the intriguing paraphernalia – that the nuts and bolts of the creative process were just as mundane as those serving countless other artists, only David Jones had decided early on that he was going to transform himself into something utterly unique. His motivation? At least in part it was to avoid the dark history of madness and suicide on his mother’s side of the family. Unlike most of us, Bowie felt he had no choice but to put his money where his mouth was even before he made any, and his cards on the table even when the pack was a jumbled mess of influences with no obvious aces to play.
On that point, Bowie reminds us that there is no shame in ignorance; any more than it’s uncool to have a thirst for knowledge. He recalls seeking out difficult books and impossible jazz records, refusing to be intimidated by them – hating them, then growing to love them (helped in part no doubt by the effect the avant-garde titles had on potential admirers when poking out of a bag or jacket pocket on the tube). He wasn’t being pretentious; didn’t hide his naivety, but his shameless pursuit of a more cerebral world worked out, and he went on to digest and reinterpret its more playful, humorous and human elements to the delight of his audience. Enough said – here’s a few photos of the Floyd show. They wouldn’t let me take any at the Bowie gig; maybe I just missed the warning signs in London.
I read recently that the music you enjoy at 21 stays with you forever – an evolutionary adherence to a misspent mammalian prime. I prefer to think I just have good taste but feel free to disagree!
DAVIDBOWIEis continues at the Museu del Disseny, Barcelona, until 25/9/17. A weekday ticket (Monday-Thurday) costs 14,90€.