On Halloween, my dad and I went to Chicago to see the Museum of Contemporary Art’s new exhibit, “David Bowie Is.” It was REALLY cool, so I thought I’d write about it! I mean, I have no idea if any of you awesome people who read my blog also listen to Bowie’s music, but I don’t care because it was super cool and I want to write about it anyway.
It really was a perfect day for museum-going. It was cloudy and sleeting outside, but I didn’t even notice because I was so absorbed in music and design and art.
The exhibit is organized chronologically, and before you enter it you’re given headphones with a sensor that activates as you pass through various rooms. Each room is devoted to a song (or two or three) from some period in Bowie’s musical career, which plays as you pass through the room.
It may not sound like much, but honestly? I think the music made it one of the best art museum exhibits I’ve seen. Or museum exhibits, period. There really was no other way to tell his story; music and art and costumes and scribbled pages of song lyrics combined to make a multifaceted art collection.
Additionally, including music in “David Bowie Is” helped to give me some context. I’ve listened to a LOT of his music (my dad has a lot of Bowie CDs/vinyl records), but to tell the truth I’m usually not very sure when Bowie wrote a certain song. I just listen to his songs. I don’t know much of the history behind them. While meandering through the exhibit, I was able to hear how his music subtly changed.
Some other quick observations about “David Bowie Is:”
- OH MY GOD HIS COSTUMES. Google them if you have no clue what I’m talking about. Google “David Bowie personas.” It’s worth it. They’re weird and cool and there’s so much variation, from fairly normal suits to I don’t even know what.
- I learned that one of his songs, “Space Oddity,” had only recently been released when the Apollo 11 landings took place… so it was played along with footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon. Why I am telling you this? Because the lyrics include the lines, “Ground Control to Major Tom / Your circuit’s dead / There’s something wrong.” WHAT WERE YOU EVEN THINKING NASA THAT WAS NOT THE RIGHT SONG TO PLAY AT THAT TIME.
- Throughout the exhibit, Bowie’s experimentation with gender norms was discussed: androgyny, lots of makeup, et cetera. Basically it seems like he just doesn’t care about what’s traditionally “for men” or “for women,” and I think that’s pretty cool. (If you’d like to know more about this, I recommend this article: David Bowie Is Changing Your Perception Of Gender Norms.)
P.S. The exhibit, which was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has been on an international tour since early 2013 and Chicago is the only US venue of the exhibit. That’s kind of unfortunate if you don’t live in the Midwest – but hey, if you do live nearby (or happen to be traveling to this area) I highly recommend checking out “David Bowie Is!”
So. If you don’t listen to David Bowie’s music and you spent this entire post wondering who the heck I’m talking about, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY TRY HIS MUSIC. Here are a few recommendations to get you started!!
- Here’s “Space Oddity,” which I mentioned above.
- “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” is one of my dad’s favorites.
- It seems like a lot of my blog readers are fans of Stephen Chbosky’s book The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So, remember that tunnel scene in the movie? Charlie finds a song that makes him feel “infinite” and… it’s Bowie’s “Heroes.”
- “Five Years” is lovely too.
- And so is “Ziggy Stardust!”
- If you aren’t already following the official Lunar Chronicles page on Facebook, you really should. Every so often its administrators post a song that influenced/inspired Marissa Meyer’s books, and I totally had a fangirlish, squeal-out-loud moment when I saw that “Ashes to Ashes” inspired her! It’s probably my favorite Bowie song. (And I’ll end this list by making it come full circle: This song is about the same character in “Space Oddity,” but the two were written eleven years apart. A lot of his songs tell the stories of characters…)
Good night, and happy listening!