Maybe it’s too soon to divide pop music history into “Before David Bowie” and “After David Bowie,” but two years after Bowie’s death, it’s impossible to imagine pop music history without him. Yet, if there ever did come a time when future generations did not know who David Bowie is, they could do far worse than hear Gary Oldman tell the story. Luckily for them, and us, Oldman narrates the new David Bowie augmented reality app, which launches today on what would have been the legend’s 72nd birthday.
Bowie and Oldman were both born and raised in South London. They became friends in the 80s, starred together in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat, and collaborated on the 2013 video for “The Next Day,” in which Oldman plays a sleazy, ducktailed priest. As much the consummate changeling in his medium as Bowie, Oldman brings a fellow craftsman’s appreciation to his role as docent, without any sense of star-struckness. “I see him less as ‘David Bowie,’” he once remarked, “and more as Dave from Brixton and I’m Gary from New Cross.”
The app is based on the sensational 2013 Victoria & Albert museum exhibition David Bowie Is, which traveled the world for five years before ending at the Brooklyn Museum this past summer. Focused on “the colourful, theatrical side of Bowie,” Tim Jonze writes at The Guardian, the show drew “a staggering 2m visitors” with its stunning breadth of costumes, props, sketches, lyrics sheets, film, and photography. The digital version intends, however, not only to “recreate the experience of going to the exhibition,” but “to better it.”
Learn how “Dave from Brixton” (or Davy Jones, before a Monkee of the same name came along) made “sketches proposing outfits for his teenage band the Delta Lemons (brown waistcoats with jeans).” See how that young aspiring crooner learned to love “hikinuki—the Japanese method of quick costume change that he experimented with during his Aladdin Sane shows at Radio City Music Hall.” The exhibition brilliantly fulfilled his own wishes for his legacy. “As Bowie himself puts it,” Jonze writes, “he didn’t want to be a radio, but a colour television.”
Bowie probably would have been pleased to have his friend Gary hosting his variety show. But does the AR app match, or better, the real thing? It’s “no match for seeing the costumes in real life,” or seeing Bowie himself in the flesh. But for the millions of people who never got the chance—a category that will soon include everyone—it may currently be the best way to experience the musician/actor/writer/one-man-zeitgeist’s career in three dimensions. See a preview of the app from Rolling Stone, above, and download the AR David Bowie Is for iPhone and Android via these links. The cost is $7.99.