The David Bowie Is Exposition #Paris – brings back memories of the moment we met
It was 1987. I was living in the UK, young, single, carefree and studying hard at university. It was a moment never to be forgotten. Getting THAT phone call with news of an opportunity, to possibly meet one of the greatest British rockstars of all time.
It was not a matter of luck, although that would add a nice element to the story. It was in fact the vocation of family members, that led to this once in a life time rendez-vous.
You see, David Bowie, was born in Brixton, London in 1947 a mile away from where I was brought up. He only stayed there until he was about six years old, after which he moved to Kent, but he always considered Brixton to be his home, his roots, the place and environment that shaped him in the very early years.
We all know too well, stories of artists who forget where they came from, but David Bowie was not one of those people. He was someone who never forgot his past and that is still true of him today.
This special memory seems appropriate to share with you today because on Tuesday, March 3rd at midday, I, MLP was standing in the queue outside the Philharmonie de Paris, waiting patiently for the ‘David Bowie Is’ Exposition, to finally open its doors to the public and while standing there, the whole spectacular episode that happened in my youth was riding high in my mind.
Hearing that the show had landed in the City of Light, I found the excitement almost too much to bear, especially having missed out on the chance of seeing the exhibition in London which, incidentally had completely sold out! Paris, was giving MLP another proverbial bite of the cherry that was not going to be missed under any circumstances.
The exposition was welcomed with a huge fanfare in Paris, the second city stop in a worldwide tour en route to The Netherlands and Australia later in the year! The venue, which opened just a few months ago amidst much controversy, after 7 years of creative self-indulgence, spiralling costs and political fallout, was the perfect choice. The Philharmonie de Paris is truly magnifique! Stunning…and it was perfect for Bowie.
It was a stark contrast to the humble space where our paths had crossed, all those years ago back in London! But, more of that later.
On entering the Philharmonie de Paris, we were given headphones attached to a little box, that monitored movement using some kind of sensor ! It enabled you to move through the exhibition whilst listening to audio that flowed simultaneously with what you were seeing before you. It was an extremely clever piece of kit. Hearing David Bowie’s voice, that – not so subtle – London twang was heart warming. He talked about those days at the beginning when he discovered his talents, when he knew that music was his calling and how ideas came from a variety of sources, that would shape his future trajectory. Revealing his depth, it was a reminder of why he was so inspiring. Especially when it was coupled with the visual impact of: music scores, album covers, newspaper cuttings, personal notes, letters, and even the street sign from the road where he was born back in SW9, London Town. This was the same post code that would host the event where we would meet in the mid eighties.
The 80’s was when Bowie formed part of the soundtrack to great college memories and clubbing days for MLP. Ashes to Ashes, Let’s Dance, Under Pressure, China Girl and Modern Love to name just a few of his tracks, shaped some serious dance moves which still come in handy today, but they also illustrated David Bowie’s ability to be a chameleon with his music. He knew how to constantly evolve, move with the times and remain relevant despite ever changing cultural, musical and social shifts and this added to the respect he was most certainly due.
Modern Love was a far cry from his days as – the alien rockstar alter ego he created in the seventies – Ziggy Stardust, when he topped the charts with Starman; and the futuristic sound of Ground Control to Major Tom revealing yet another Bowie dimension but all are amongst my favourites.
The headphones pumped this playlist back into present day throughout the exhibition. Taking me back in time, it took a lot of self-control not to break out of the confines of ‘exhibition visiting protocol.’ In the words of David Bowie, it felt like the expo was almost screaming “Let’s dance, put on your red shoes and dance the blues , Let’s dance, to the song their playing on the radio”.
People were subtlety grooving, tapping their feet but nobody went as far as gyrating their hips ‘Bowie’ style, despite the temptation provided by: the music, the gallery of colourful and outrageous costumes, video footage, posters and more. However, the vigilant and stern faced security – fighting a losing battle with fans who were constantly taking pictures – may have added to the unlikely occurrence of these sort of moves and escorted any hip thrusters off the premises to the concrete dance floor outside!
That need to be self-contained and measured, reminded me of how I felt in the moments I had to collect my thoughts just before meeting David Bowie. Having spent at least a month contemplating what to wear (stay with me!) It was best to finally trust in a fashion obsessed friend who picked out a black thigh length, tight jersey, sleeveless Junior Gaultier number. It had a cute sailor style flap over the shoulders at the back. To set off the look, a beautiful black, medium wide hat was found with delicate satin pleats on the edges adding a hint of glamour. It was Perfect! Now it was just the footwear. Flats – this was #Bowie.
The exposition was packed! Six year olds wandered through the exposition alongside people in their 70’s, David Bowie’s breadth of appeal was obvious. Each person took their time to take in his body of work that had spanned five decades. In total, it took about 90 minutes to move through the gallery but you could spend so much longer if you wanted to or if you had the time. When necessary, fans would just take a seat in some of the more relaxed zones and watch video clips or old footage being broadcast of this iconic master at work.
So, the moment has finally arrived and here we are in Brixton 1987. It’s the opening of a business workshop venue for a local charity, designed to encourage and support young people from the area to strive for better and greater commercial skills. It was a unique initiative and the first of its kind in Brixton. Led by a charismatic, highly respected, honest, selfless community leader at the time.
Bowie had raised money by putting on a special concert and the revenue funded this venue just off Brixton High Street and he was now officially opening it.
When he arrives, he looks as you would expect, super cool, naturally laid back, slightly ruffled and boyishly handsome, as he walks up the stairs of the venue flanked by security.
Be still racing heart and pulsating sweat glands! The nerves are just too much. Standing there, amongst the crowd – jacketless – I wonder if I will actually meet him or speak to him, perhaps i’ll just end up being a face in the crowds of people there. I wonder if our eyes might meet or if I will get the chance to shake his hand or get an autograph or something. I considered whether I needed to jostle for position to make this more likely.
As these thoughts are rushing through my mind he is suddenly standing in front of me. First thing I notice are his eyes, they are different colours, one hazel, one blue, he smiles! Unable to say a word (in shock at this point), I check out his suit and my eyes finally rest on a stain on his shirt – Really David? I thought! C’mon, surely you could have worn a clean chemise! But, it didn’t really matter. David, previously Jones, now Bowie, is looking at me, straight in the eye and he says with a grin “I really like your outfit” unleashing his slightly cockney London accent, and that was it! OMG! Meltdown city, super swoon in motion! Imagine cartoon butterflies, animated hearts flying from wide open Betty Boo eyes, big sighs, a sudden lack of oxygen and a desperate desire to let out a ‘Beatles’ style sixties scream. I was beside myself!
These same feeling came flooding back at the Philharmonie de Paris. They felt so vivid, it was as though our meeting was taking place all over again. However this time, we spent more time together and I got to know him a lot better.
The David Bowie is Exhibition, Philharmonie de Paris. 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris. Next to the Cité de la Musique. Two minutes from Porte de Pantin Metro line 5. The exhibition is open until May 31st. The tickets cost €12. It’s free for under six-year olds.
Go and meet David Bowie and thank you for reading this very personal blog post.
Please share your favourite Bowie tracks too.