25 Things We Learned At The V&A’s David Bowie Exhibition

The V&A museum’s David Bowie exhibition is a triumph, packed with costumes and one-off artefacts from Bowie’s own collection and curated with great reverence, just like a career retrospective for any great artist should be. A showman like Bowie would approve of its crescendo-like finale too, but you won’t get any spoilers here. Instead, here are 25 things NME learned from the exhibition.

‘The Next Day’ album cover alternatives
Other designs considered for the already-iconic ‘The Next Day’ sleeve featured different disfigured Bowie sleeves. One had ‘Pin-Ups’ with three black blobs suggesting a vague Mickey Mouse shape obscuring the image. Another had ‘Aladdin Sane’ as its base.

Why Bowie killed ‘Nathan Adler Diaries’

1995’s ‘Outside’ was supposed to be part of a series of works known as ‘The Nathan Adler Diaries’, which would be terminated in December 1999. In a handwritten note explaining the copy, Bowie writes, “History is now an illusion, therefore theoretically the future no longer exists. There is only today.”

Massive trousers
Bowie can pull off a very wide trouser leg. A couple of Kansai Yamamoto’s designs for 1973’s Aladdin Sane costumes, including the famous Tokyo top bodysuit, measure about a metre across.

Bowie and Tibet
Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex in the late ’60s, Bowie performed a mime piece titled Yat-Sen And The Eagle, about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Mainstream success was still some way off.

Bowie wrote music traditionally

Bowie noted many of his songs in full musical scripture. At the exhibition, you’ll see early tracks ‘London Boys’, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ and ‘Liza Jane’ plus later material including ‘Fame’.

‘Chart artistes’

A ’60s press release promoting Bowie says he “never buys singles but likes to watch live performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Cream and other chart artistes”.

Bowie loves biro

Bowie produced concept sketches for many of his albums – usually in biro.

As you can imagine…

The original artwork for ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ is beautiful – and massive.

Warhol on ‘Andy Warhol’
Andy Warhol did not like Bowie’s song ‘Andy Warhol’, and the pair only met – awkwardly – once.

Bowie gets verbalized

In the mid-’90s, Bowie used an Apple programme called Verbalizer to help with lyrics. The software randomly chopped up any sentences that were inputted.

Imagine owning one of these lyric cards

In conceptualising ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, Bowie noted short phrases down on playing card-sized bits of white card. Among them, “Ziggy Shines”, “out-hipping them”, “hit record” and “parents’ view point”.


In the written lyrics for ‘Ziggy Stardust’, Bowie writes “He was the nazz / With god-given arse,” though he did, of course, sing the more comfortably-rhyming Americanism “ass”.

‘Fashion’ in its original form
The song ‘Fashion’ originally had an extra verse. “He’s up ahead/Burn a flag/Shake a fist/Start a fight/If you’re covered in blood/you’re doing it right”.

Why ‘Diamond Dogs’ cover was airbrushed

On Guy Peelaert’s original artwork for ‘Diamond Dogs’, the anthropomorphic half-Bowie, half-hound creature had an actual dog’s dick. It was airbrushed from the finished sleeve, but you can see it at the exhibition (if you’re so inclined).

Lost lyrics
Deleted lyrics from ‘Station To Station’ include, “You love like a bomb/You smell like a ghost’.

Lady Bowie

Bowie wore man-dresses on his first trip to the USA. He was refused entry to a drag queen-intolerant LA restaurant as a result.

If you go down to the woods today…

The puppets from the ‘Where Are We Now’ video are shit scary up close. See you in my nightmares, Bowie-bear!

Bowie loves clowns

Bowie described Pierrot – a recurring image throughout his career – as “the most beautiful clown in the circus”.

‘Station To Station’ tour’s original set

The ‘Station To Station’ tour was originally supposed to have a nine-foot high puppet made from found objects on stage. Bowie scrapped the idea for a minimal set with bars of white light.

Can Bowie paint?
Bowie’s Francis Bacon-style Berlin paintings are pretty good, especially one of Iggy Pop.

Coke spoon

Bowie kept a dainty cocaine spoon on his person throughout the recording of Diamond Dogs.

Bowie and Visconti

Bowie’s handwritten production notes for ‘Young Americans’ urge producer Tony Visconti to “go back to 1969”.

Bowie’s technological identity
Speaking about his flamboyant stage shows in the early ’70s, Bowie told a reporter, “I’m the last person to pretend I’m a radio. I’d rather go out and be a colour TV set.”

‘The Elephant Man’

While Bowie was on Broadway in ‘The Elephant Man’, Mark Chapman bought tickets to see the show – and was due to attend the night after he shot John Lennon.

Henson’s Labyrinth request

Jim Henson sent the Labyrinth script to Bowie with a hand-written cover note saying, “You would be wonderful in this film”. And by god, he was!