Of course, the trains from my neck of the woods were not cooperating properly, so I ended up getting dropped off basically at the feet of David Bowie by my love with instructions to have fun. The David Bowie Is exhibition had opened at the Chicago Contemporary Art museum in September, inconveniently after I had packed three suitcases and a dog and moved across the country. (Interesting side note, every major move I’ve ever done can be equated to the size of what can be moved in three cases, with or without a dog.)
It was a grey and slightly rainy Chicago morning, just north of freezing cold, but otherwise what one would expect of fall in Chicago. The museum, at just before noon, was quiet, decorated in pictures of Bowie enticing passersbys to come and find out exactly what David Bowie Is.
I went in got a ticket, had a mix-up, got a refund for being overcharged for my ticket, said thank you, and was on my way in and up an elevator to the fourth floor with a ticket for entrance at high noon, which was 30 seconds away. The exhibit weaved guests down a little maze of an aisle to line up for the get-in. A docent came by and shouted at us about how the headsets worked and asked if we had questions. When there were none she smiled and ushered in the smallish group. (Normally I would eschew the headsets, but for this exhibit is seemed appropriate.)
The Walkman that we were given, which really does look like a Walkman, was programmed with geotagging or some sort of tagging, that allowed it to sink up with where you were in the museum by walking. No need to toggle, search, go forward or back. If you wanted to listen to something all the way through, you only had to stay in one place. If you moved on the track would move to the next track appropriate for the experience you were standing in front of. Which made this exhibitionist walk through David Bowie’s like a rather dynamic three-dimensional experience. The first part of the tour was his pre-history. Young teen David Bowie, headlining cheap cover bands and taking glam shots that make him look like the next late-night guest of the 1950’s Ed Sullivan Show. He is not yet full of drama and pageantry; he is just himself, a schoolboy, a chum.
He is rather adorable in his 1950’s button downs, looking more like Davey Jones than David Bowie. You walk through his young life, which he narrates for you, and watch as he transitions from a young Frank Sinatra to a young John Lennon. His bands don’t excite him, but he wants to be an artist. What you feel from walking through the tour of his youth is how he was influenced, but more than that, you could feel his need to create. He is compelled by a need to make art. If he can’t make music he will paint (and he did take a pass at being an artist). If he can’t get the recognition for the music he wants by being himself, he will become someone else.