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Critics' Choice

Photo credit: John Robert Rowlands 

By Phil Gallo

Since 2012, the David Bowie Is exhibit has made its way to 11 venues, among them Chicago, Berlin and its starting place, London. It’s been seen by 1.79m people. Bowie wanted its tour to end where he did, in New York City, and on Friday it will open at the Brooklyn Museum for a four-month run through 7/15.

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum organized the exhibit with the intention that it be like no other museum presentation it has presented. They have succeeded. It’s a compelling, immersive experience that, for fans who will undoubtedly connect with certain videos and artifacts, is quite emotional as well.

David Bowie Is positions Bowie as a thinker, an integrationist who turns ideas from philosophy, literature, Little Richard and theater into music. It’s a celebration of his bold inventions of characters and costumes, and adaptations of musical styles that one would be surprised to find in a single record collection let alone one artist’s oeuvre: Philly soul, glam rock, pre-WWII German songs, electronic music and, eventually, the free jazz he listened to as a teenager.

The exhibit, which includes about 100 items not shown at other stops, is set up to engage the viewer and force them to examine elements of Bowie’s life in depth. Visitors are giving headphones—which wonderfully prevents sound bleeds and makes the exhibit feel rather intimate—and in the early part of the exhibit, we hear Bowie speak about his childhood, his ambitions as an artist, where he got his ides and his thoughts about what he might have been had music not panned out. (Answer: A novelist.)

Soon the audio becomes a musical soundtrack, songs paired with the visual you’re facing: Bowie performing “Starman” on Top of the Pops; a Saturday Night Live performance from 1979; “fame” on Soul Train”; videos of “Space Oddity,” “Boys Keep Swinging,” “Dancing for Blue Jean,” “Blackstar” and more. Each video is surrounded by the pertinent costumes and/or lyric sheets.

For the man who coined the phrase Sound + Vision, the organizers could have just as easily used that title for the exhibit as it does focus on the relationship between Bowie’s visuals and his music. Unlike most exhibits dedicated to musicians, there are few instruments—just the EMS synthesizers used on “Heroes”; the “Space Oddity” 12-string, the banjo from Baal and the saxophone used on Pinups—no collection of album covers with metadata or chart positions on a label; no photos capturing the artist performing in clubs or in front of thousands of fans.

The set up in 25 “areas” is loosely chronological—his school days are at the entrance and Blackstar artifacts fill the space before the well-stocked gift shop—but in no way does it delve into specifics about his career path or how popular one era might be compared with the next; there are more items related to his late ‘80s Glass Spider tour and the albums Never Let Me Down and Tonight and than one of his commercial peaks, the Let’s Dance album from 1983 and its Serious Moonlight tour. An uninformed visitor would be well-served to show up with a Bowie timeline or at least a Wikipedia page.

By focusing on Bowie as an artist, it is an astonishing statement about change and evolution, how Bowe’s characters such as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke made an impression and then were cast off. The exhibit, which has about 500 objects and about 60 costumes, is filled with sketches and photos that reveal how album covers and stage sets came about. There’s also a collection of clips from his film roles and an area devoted to his run on Broadway in The Elephant Man. The smallest object in the exhibition is his coke spoon from the early 1970s.

Toward the end of the exhibit, a room shows concert footage from multiple periods. (I could have sat there for hours), and in the final hallway, there’s a behind-the-scenes film of Bowie playing guitar and singing during a Herb Ritts photo shoot. It personalizes the collection, giving you the sense he was a playful, approachable and joyous spirit, happy to engage and share.

Details on the exhibit, which has a mega-deluxe package, can be found here.

Photo credits: Heroes contact sheet, Masayoshi Sukita; Aladdin Sane contact sheet, Photo Duffy; The Kon-rads, Roy Ainsworth




On what would have been George Harrison's 75th birthday, we take you back to December 2001, just after his death, compelling Bud Scoppa to recall his day with the Quiet Beatle at Friar Park in 1974. 

The A&M Records lot was abuzz one day in early 1974 as word spread that a bona fide member of rock's royalty was scheduled to arrive at Herb & Jerry's Camelot on N. La Brea. As it turned out, George Harrison didn't show up with the expected fanfare; in fact, we wouldn't have known he was among us if the A&M campus hadn't been so open. We peeked out of our office windows as Jerry Moss greeted George and escorted the ex-Beatle to his office near the front gate. Later, a rumor circulated that Johnny the Guard, the celebrity-challenged keeper of the gate, had refused entry to Harrison on the grounds that his name wasn't on Johnny's list. Rather than kicking up a fuss, the rumor went, George meekly walked to the Safeway next door and used a pay phone to call Moss' office to secure a pass. I don't know if it really happened that way, but I want to believe it, because that was the kind of guy George seemed to be...

Story continues here



The Shape Of Jazz To Come is one of the ballsiest—and accurate—album title of all time. Released the same year as the game changers Miles DavisKind of Blue, Charles MingusMingus Ah Um and Cecil Taylor’s Looking Ahead!, Coleman’s album as well as his arrival was a shock. He lacked the apprenticeships other leaders had under their belts or documented evidence that he had a command of the canon at the time, two attributes the jazz world demanded of its bandleaders.

Atlantic took a chance on Coleman and let him run free, recording six albums of challenging piano-less music with a band that included trumpeter Don Cherry, either Charlie Haden or Scott LaFaro on bass, and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell on drums.

Rhino, which packaged Coleman’s Atlantic recordings in the CD box Beauty is a Rare Thing in 1993, is releasing Coleman’s complete Atlantic output plus two hours of outtakes in a 10-LP boxed set on 5/11.

The set, Ornette Coleman: The Atlantic Years, features newly remastered audio by John Webber at AIR Studios. The LPs are presented in replica European-style 1960s jackets in a side-loading slipcase along with a 12 x 12 booklet with new liner notes written by Ben Ratliff, plus photos from Lee Friedlander. The albums are: The Shape Of Jazz To Come (1959), Change Of The Century (1959), This Is Our Music (1960), Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960), Ornette! (1961), and Ornette On Tenor (1961) plus the compilations of outtakes The Art Of Improvisers (1970), Twins (1971) and To Whom Who Keeps A Record (1975), and The Ornette Coleman Legacy (1993.)