with intense eagerness since 2012! a channel of the los angeles review of books

You Had to Be There

But since you couldn’t come, I’ll tell you this. When you enter the David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, you fall under its government, and you follow its law.

You put your phone into airplane mode, and you forswear photography. You deafen yourself to the loved ones who came with you by wearing the headphones you are given, and they give you nothing but the Thin White Duke. It’s a lot.

You’re alone with him, and he’s alone with you, too. He talks to you and sings, meanders and confides.

It’s a perfect date.


You see traces of the life he lived before you. There’s an amp case fashioned into a bookshelf and costumes with sequins that have dulled since the time you were born. There’s a computer program called The Verbalizer, which turns the daily news into an exquisite corpse.

There’s an arrest for possession that yields the loveliest mug shot.

He shows you the keys to the apartment where he lived for a time in Berlin, and he tells you how he was restored by that grubby and glittery city after the bad time he spent in Los Angeles, where he did too much cocaine and felt so alone at the Grammys.

You didn’t know about his forays into Buddhism and musical theatre, but you see it now. You’re surprised to learn that he loved Cabaret, and he sang Chim-Chim-Cherree!

You see his thing for German expressionism in the suit he wore with Klaus Nomi (it’s smaller in some places than you imagined and bigger in others), and again in the portraits he painted of Yukio Mishima and Iggy Pop.

David, you delicate faun, you could paint.

Screens are scattered throughout the exhibit, so you’re never far from his digital image.

When you get close to it, the video syncs with your audio, and one story trails into another or becomes a song. You gather the understanding that the same device that brings his voice into your ears also keeps him apprised of your movements.

He knows where you are, always, so his mouth can convey what you hear. You want that.

You think about what it feels like to wear pants with such voluminous pleats, or pants that aren’t pants at all.

You think about what it feels like to see humans on earth.

You think about what it feels like to see men go to where they have never gone before and then hear that there’s something wrong.

You think he means it when he says, may God’s love be with you.

He’s your first boyfriend and your first girlfriend, the fag to your hag forever.

You remember the texture of your childhood bedroom floor, where you lay prone for a time that wasn’t short because that’s how long it took to bring yourself into the reality that also includes him.

You remember hearing that Cary Grant was a star not only because he had his native elegance, but also because he could bring it to all of his leading ladies by listening to them visibly.

You take your headphones off and find yourself in the quietest crowded room in New York City. There are other people there.

Some have come dressed in sparkly jackets, and others have elaborated their hair for the occasion.

Nobody is in your way, somehow, and everybody shuffles like a sleepwalker in a good dream. People are smiling, as if to themselves.

One of the last rooms in the exhibit is devoted to his live performances, so his music plays.

Mannequins wear his outfits, and everything is more human-sized than you imagined it, which is not to say that it is less beautiful.

A crowd like any other gathers in front of a big screen, skipping through the decades. The time when he was daddish in denim fades into the time when he was gold and lithe.

The camera rests on a moment when a white light shines through the gap between his thighs.

Everything after that, you already know.

Gloria Fisk: Lives





– Gloria Fisk

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