Friday 21 September 2012

David Bowie: London Boy

London boy
News that the V&A will host a David Bowie retrospective reminds me of how deep his roots in the capital are. 

Dave Hill
Friday 14 September 2012

I liked it that David Bowie declined to appear at the Olympics despite his song Heroes being the unofficial theme of the Games. His absence seemed to fit with his artistic single-mindedness during his heyday years, his perpetual state of otherness and his refusal to retrace former steps.

He hasn't been a public figure for some time, but he's been in the news lately because the Victoria and Albert museum has announced that next March it will be exhibiting a collection of items from his large private archive - stage costumes, musical instruments, photographs and so on. Thinking about the exoticism of Bowie's fame, it's amazing to think that his rise to superstardom began at a pub called The Toby Jug in Tolworth.

I'd never even heard of Tolworth until I ran through it last year, training for the London marathon, yet this uneventful suburb of pure Kingston semi-detachment was the birth place of Ziggy Stardust, the flame-haired Bowie alter ego for whom The Toby Jug turned out to be a launch pad for his conquering the world - having, of course, turned up in Heddon Street, W1 from whichever far out planet he was born on.

The extraterrestrial pop star has, in fact, been a very London artist, as I imagine the V&A show will reflect. Born in Brixton, raised in Bromley and a ravenous devourer of all the demimonde allure the capital could offer, he's old enough to remember the London of dockers and bowler hats that his generation of pop stars transcended, out-dressed and outlived.

His song London Boys is a picaresque portrayal of Mod-era anxiety, his rendition of Gershwin's A Foggy Day (In London Town) as eerie as the weather it describes. He lives in New York now and his creative inspirations have been drawn from across the globe, but despite that or, perhaps, because of it, I think of him as a complete Londoner.

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