David Bowie remembered by his fans: fifty years of loving the alien

The "Bowie Odyssée, 50 years of Fanmania" exhibition pays tribute to the British singer who died five years ago on 10 January, 2016. The show includes over 1,000 rare items from the private collection of one of Bowie's most ardent French admirers.

David Bowie would have turned 74 on Friday, while Sunday is five years since he died of cancer.

As a tribute, several events are taking place around the world, including a streamed 2015 concert, the unveiling of previously unreleased tracks and a debut on TikTok.

Bowie's theatrical melancholy and outlandish persona attracted a huge fan base in France over the years, like Jean-Charles Gautier.

He has been collecting pictures, posters, vinyl discs and promotional material associated with David Bowie since 1974.

Around 1,000 items are shown at the "Bowie Odyssée" exhibition at the Le Palace in Paris, which like all cultural venues, is closed until further notice due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Gautier’s full collection contains more than 10,000 items. But how did it all begin?

He explains his enthusiasm to RFI:

RFI: When did you first hear David Bowie?

Jean-Charles Gautier: When I first heard Bowie, it was in the UK in 1969 with Space Oddity, but I couldn’t speak English.

At that time I was in a family house. The owner could spend maybe 6 or 7 hours each day playing Bowie's records.

Three years later I saw "Top of the Pops" and I was really “scotché”. I saw this guy on TV with red hair, so glam and I thought "what’s that?", I’ve never seen that before, I was like 13-years-old.

He was so protean and then I started collecting items, in 1974.

In 1976 I met Bowie in France. He had just finished the Isola Tour. We had 10 minutes together, at that time I was a big fan. He has always been kind, even curious about things he didn't know.

RFI: How did you get his birth certificate that we can see in the exhibition?

JCG: In 1975 I went to Brixton Town Hall. I said that I needed the birth certification of someone born here, a relative of mine, to complete my own ‘livret de famille’.

The employee asked me who? I said David Robert Jones. I just looked at her eyes to see if she understood but no, she just said I have this name in my registration book.

And she did it.

RFI: What about Bowie and the US?

JCG: Bowie wanted to be recognised in the US – for his work, his talent, maybe his androgyny and also like an English phrase says "to be there".

Many artists, especially English, thought they would exist if they had the fame in the US, it’s a reference. Then you could be famous everywhere. That’s why he left the UK and started a new career from '73 until the 80-90s.

RFI: The "Young Americans" LP was released in 1975 in the US. What were Bowie's intentions with this disc?

JCG: At that time Bowie wanted to communicate about a special and real American not in the spirit of good Americans.

In this LP he talks about drugs, sex, war and corruption for the young American people.

The LP was a great success but actually many people listened to the music and didn’t understand the lyrics. He just covered the words with the music.

RFI: What’s the story behind the cover of the vinyl disc?

JCG: On this photo (below) you can see Bowie in front of the US flag carrying a glass of milk, it's not beer. People don’t know it but Bowie only drank milk with cocaine, he was addicted to it. Here, he’s ecstatic.

This picture was meant to be for the front cover of the Young Americans LP but it was censored. It’s a very rare picture. Only a few copies exist. I had it in Philadelphia in the 80’s. I’m proud of this one.

In this other picture (below), you can see Bowie again in front of the US flag posing half naked with handcuffs.

He wanted somehow to say that if you’re gay or lesbian you will go to jail if you don't follow the good way of a ‘normal’ American.

That picture was also supposed to be on the LP cover.

In the end the LP is very soft with a classical picture made for the parents of the young Americans. You see Bowie, looking at you, with a cigarette, spending a cosy time.

Maybe RCA (Radio Corporation of America, the distributors) thought this photo would reassure the parents.

► "Bowie Odyssée" was to be open from 15 December, 2020 to 28 March, 2021 at Le Palace in Paris. But the exhibition is closed until further notice due to the coronavirus crisis.