From Ad Man to Visionary

I recently had the pleasure of attending the “Bowie Is” multimedia exhibition in Tokyo. It was truly magnificent.
A celebration of all the beauty, joy and intrigue that the man brought into our world. Not only was he an accomplished writer, artist, musician singer and actor, he was a true visionary. Few artists have managed to touch so many areas in new and exciting ways, challenge our values and the ways we relate to everything from fashion to relationships.

Bowie on homosexuality (1972).
"I'm gay," said Bowie, "and always have been, even when I was David Jones," in the January 22,1972 issue of England’s Melody Maker, just three years after Stonewall and more than a decade before the flaming Elton John admitted to the same. In fact, at the time Bowie was married to a woman and had fathered his son Duncan Bowie, future movie director and screenwriter. Later in life, he would marry another woman, the supermodel Iman. “Bi” or gay he transcended stereotypes and well predated today’s gender ambiguity.

Bowie on the Internet, some 17 years ago (1999).
“I don't think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential for what the Internet is going to do for society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we are on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. The context and the state of content is going to be so different that anything we can really envisage at the moment”

What’s very cool about the exhibit is that upon entrance you are given a headset featuring Bowie’s voice from interview clips, almost narrating your tour. The audio also includes his music and film clips, which kick in as you pass the appropriate displays, music videos and movie clips. The displays feature what appear to be all of Bowies provocative outfits, many of which he designed, as well as fascinating arcane items such as his silver coke spoon. (No kidding. In Japan). One notable piece is a remarkable oil portrait of Mishima. There are also interviews with Nagisa Oshima and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano about working with Bowie on Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. There’s also plenty to learn, such as the fact that Bowie’s left eye was permanently dilated due to a playground brawl when he got punched in the face. And going back to our headline, Bowie’s first job was in an ad agency. Yet, another great mind getting its start in advertising. These are the kind of things a Bowie “music fan” might never have encountered.

However, one unforgivable logistical error is that the entire exhibit lacks a restroom. Attendees waiting to enter are warned to use the facilities before passing the ticket gate, as there are none to be found inside. Thus, if you gotta go you are gone. No reentry. For most of us, of a certain age, sitting through a 2-hour movie is a challenge, but at least there's an option. This is an exhibition that could easily consume 3.5 hours of your day or more. I found myself rushing through the last few displays for that very reason. Major fail. However, don’t let that dissuade you from checking what is otherwise an amazing, comprehensive and important interactive collection. Best to save your coffee break for after. Enjoy.

Here’s more info on the venue and how to attend: Bowie Is in Tokyo