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September 5, 2014 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Via Open Culture, three songs by David Bowie with Klaus Nomi on Saturday Night Live in 1979.

The Open Culture post: David Bowie and Klaus Nomi’s Hypnotic Performance on SNL (1979).
Bowie, Nomi, and flamboyant New York performance artist Joey Arias do three songs, reaching back to Bowie’s folkier times for “The Man Who Sold the World.” Bowie launches next into Station to Station’s “TVC 15” in a skirt and heels, while Nomi and Arias drag around a pink plastic poodle. For the last number, Lodger’s “When You’re a Boy,” Bowie perhaps invents the look of 80s new wave videos to come...
posted by Celsius1414 (60 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Love the title.
posted by Nevin at 12:44 PM on September 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


Heh, I have a couple of Klaus Nomi CDs - amazing guy and yet another taken in the AIDS scourge. That performance by Bowie is pretty unusual in that he very rarely performed The Man Who Sold The World live until very late in his career, so it's nice to see this version.
posted by VikingSword at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


This has always been my favourite performance of The Man Who Sold the World, and it's all due to Nomi's beautiful "backing" vocals, which in fact should be overpowering, yet somehow work. It's brilliant and one of the things that makes me wish SNL would put out a compilation of some of the live stuff they have in their vaults (Devo's SNL rendition of Satisfaction is similarly brilliant).
posted by Palindromedary at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Did you just listed to the WFT podcast interview with Mike Meyers too? This was the performance that inspired Meyer's SNL character "Dieter".
posted by GuyZero at 12:54 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I was 8, thanks to a lenient babysitter, I watched this SNL episode when it aired. These performances are one of my earliest and most lasting TV (and music) memories. Thanks for posting!
posted by Ratio at 12:54 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this performance for many reasons, including the presence of the late and glorious Klaus Nomi (previously), but especially because Bowie's Bauhaus-inspired tuxedo during "The Man Who Sold the World" is one of my two or three favorite costumes he ever wore. (Another one of Bowie's great costumes was also inspired by an Oskar Schlemmer design.)
posted by scody at 1:05 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


How spectacularly weird! So glad I'm able to see this now, instead of reading descriptions that never seem to match up to what I just watched.
posted by Mizu at 1:19 PM on September 5, 2014


I still remember the house party I was at that night as we watched SNL in exotic Leaside, no near and yet so far from Scarborough.
posted by maudlin at 1:25 PM on September 5, 2014


(Oh, and having seen Bowie's stage costumes at the AGO exhibit this past year, I am not surprised that two slight men could carry him out on stage. Bowie is one fine-boned guy.)
posted by maudlin at 1:28 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I saw this when it aired. This performance and Gary Numan's appearance the following spring (16 Feb 1980) absolutely blew my little mind. It was as if I'd turned on the TV and actually encountered aliens. Hot aliens.

Bowie's Bauhaus-inspired tuxedo

Yeah, Malevich's costumes for Victory Over The Sun have much of the same vibe. It's probably one reason why I grew up with such a fondness for Bauhaus/Futurist design.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:35 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


This performance and Gary Numan's appearance the following spring (16 Feb 1980) absolutely blew my little mind.

Oh my god, yes! That Gary Numan performance, just one day after my 11th birthday, was life altering. LIFE ALTERING.
posted by scody at 1:39 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love that arrangement of TMWSTW.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:44 PM on September 5, 2014


Whoa, I just saw a clip of Klaus Nomi doing The Cold Song today! It's actually very hard to watch, as he looks unwell. It's his last public performance.

I'd never seen his work on SNL, or Bowie's either, and Bowie's been a few times. Bless the person who managed to save the recording!
posted by droplet at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


yes! I totally remember seeing this on tv! except for the last song - I suspect I must have been sent to bed. probably for asking inconvenient questions about men wearing skirts. I still love genderbent fashion.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:53 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


SNL used to be so much more dangerous than it is now.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 2:09 PM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I dunno, their musical guests are much as they ever were. I saw Kayne do Yeezus on SNL and it was pretty intense. Not really my thing and I found it kind of boring, but it sure ain't mainstream.
posted by GuyZero at 2:20 PM on September 5, 2014


Yeah, but who is the being in red?
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 2:21 PM on September 5, 2014


I also watched this when it originally aired, back in Orange County (!!!) -- I still want Bowie's suit from TVC 15.

Also -- dude on the keyboards and dude on the guitar winking at the camera? With all that awesomeness on stage, NO ONE IS LOOKING AT YOU.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:21 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Joey Arias is the other singer.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Heh. From Wikipedia:
During the broadcast NBC censors muted the "other boys check you out" line, but failed to notice the puppet's bouncing phallus at the close of the song.
Ok, Kanye. Where's your bouncing phallus?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:26 PM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Thank you! So good.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2014


Video compositing sure has come a long way.
posted by ckape at 2:31 PM on September 5, 2014


Video compositing sure has come a long way.

Sic transit gloria mundi.
posted by pullayup at 2:42 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


That was a lot of fun, but the giant pink meta-poodle-on-a-string, with a screen behind its fangs showing a view of the same poodle? That part's going to haunt me.
posted by DrMew at 2:44 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ok, Kanye. Where's your bouncing phallus?

SHUSH
posted by contraption at 2:57 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also -- dude on the keyboards and dude on the guitar winking at the camera? With all that awesomeness on stage, NO ONE IS LOOKING AT YOU.

Dude on the keyboards is Jimmy Destri. From Blondie.
posted by daveje at 3:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


That after party must have been ridiculous.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:19 PM on September 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'd forgotten just how pretty/ethereal Bowie could be.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:21 PM on September 5, 2014


A year or so back an article was linked on Metafilter where Iman dropped a line about how Bowie supposedly gets embarrassed when his daughter brings up this era, saying stuff like, "It was a different time, everybody wore makeup back then." The idea of Bowie squirming about this stuff and renouncing it even a little bit is too heartbreaking to bear. I hope Iman was just exaggerating for the sake of a "funny" story.

I'll concede that the original SNL may not have been the funniest era of the show. (As I recall, the Martin Short/Billy Crystal/Christopher Guest/Harry Shearer era was pretty hilarious.) But the original SNL was electric in a way the show has never come close to being, since. You see 40-year-old reruns and you can't tear your eyes off the thing.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:28 PM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Tangential, but can anyone find video of Nomi singing Wagner before his pop work?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:45 PM on September 5, 2014


About the dudes on keyboards/guitar, don't forget the CAMERA was looking at them and thus so was the entire viewing audience. SNL = millions of viewers. Acknowledging your audience is a perfectly acceptable bit of stagecraft, they did fine.

That puppet was pretty good. I speak as one who performed with many a puppet similar and different to that one during the era of this clip. The manipulation of the thing strikes me as a nice blend of chaotic movement and meaningful gesture. I liked its construction too, I'm a sucker for that Poor Theatre look - a few rags and some bare-bone articulated limbs and voila! A living being.

I wonder if Bowie operated it himself, does anyone know?
posted by valetta at 4:07 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The one thing I learned from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is how TINY David Bowie is. He's like, POCKET BOWIE. I could put him in my bag.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, that's generational. People were smaller/shorter back in the day, I don't think he was seen as exceptionally short in the 70's, though yes, always very slim/slight. I've seen his height reported as around 5'10. Today that's considered short for a man, in most Western countries.
posted by VikingSword at 4:31 PM on September 5, 2014


Well, Bowie was getting cocaine slim at the time, although not as bad as he would be the next year.

And for my money, if you are on camera in the backup band your job is to play well and look cool, not all HEY MA LOOK AT ME.

If they really wanted people to pay attention, they should have agreed to wear the dresses.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:47 PM on September 5, 2014


Now I have to hunt down my copy of URGH!: A Music War on DVD, just so I can watch Klaus Nomi perform "Total Eclipse." (Not to be confused with "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which now I'm wishing Nomi had had a chance to cover. Because THAT would have been grand.)
posted by bakerina at 5:30 PM on September 5, 2014


the original SNL was electric in a way the show has never come close to being

Yes. Watching it made me feel alive, in the same way much of that era's music did. I'm grateful I was a young teenager during that time.
posted by davebush at 5:48 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


He's like, POCKET BOWIE. I could put him in my bag.

Not a judge in the land would have sent you to jail for shoplifting him.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:14 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Whoa, I just saw a clip of Klaus Nomi doing The Cold Song today! It's actually very hard to watch, as he looks unwell.

Odd, I've always found it luminous. Apart from the fact that it's lovely to have one clip of a stadium audience cheering him while he performs with an orchestra, and that I'm a Purcell fan anyway. I mean, it's a terrible performance, one full of terror, in that there is his imminent death hanging over it, but technically it's superb, and beautiful, and the combination of those things makes it immensely moving. It's watchable because it's his apotheosis.
posted by Grangousier at 6:14 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I mean, I'm absent-mindedly watching a Maroon 5 video on the TV, and wondering whether I ought not switch to YouTube and look for Nomi's Cold Song, because I'm old enough that the amount of time I have left on the planet is non-negligable, and that would be a better use of it.
posted by Grangousier at 6:52 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I did just that, and to clarify - now YouTube has given me Total Eclipse, which is wonderful, and it's Opera in a Rock Club. But that performance of Cold Song is opera, with no distinction. That's where he made it.
posted by Grangousier at 7:06 PM on September 5, 2014


Coke-ravaged Bowie was 74-76. The SNL appearance was in December 79 the year Lodger was released.

The Yamamoto costume is rigid; I think he just posed in it.


He's the only good looking man with a long upper lip.
posted by brujita at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Bowie-clothes in the Rock Hall are so tiny my Barbie can't fit in them. Like, these absolutely MUST have been from Cocaine Bowie era. I could probably put one hand around his waist.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:28 PM on September 5, 2014


scody: “I love this performance for many reasons, including the presence of the late and glorious Klaus Nomi (previously), but especially because Bowie's Bauhaus-inspired tuxedo during "The Man Who Sold the World" is one of my two or three favorite costumes he ever wore.”
potsmokinghippieoverlord: “Joey Arias is the other singer.”
Speaking of which…

“My Saturday Night (Live) With Bowie,” Joey Arias, Out Magazine, 22 March 2013

Which… I must have found here but I'll be damned if I can remember who I copped the link off of.


This really was an unbelievable moment in television history. Especially "The Man Who Sold the World." Listen to the reaction of the crowd afterwards. They were quite literally stunned. Not to mention the millions of people at home. It was probably the most stupendous rock performance ever broadcast on television. The only thing that even comes close is Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:31 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


This performance and Gary Numan's appearance the following spring (16 Feb 1980) absolutely blew my little mind.

The Numan performance in question.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:25 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Coke-ravaged Bowie was 74-76. The SNL appearance was in December 79 the year Lodger was released.

Correct:

"Before the end of 1976, Bowie's interest in the burgeoning German music scene, as well as his drug addiction, prompted him to move to West Berlin to clean up and revitalise his career."

"After completing Low and "Heroes", Bowie spent much of 1978 on the Isolar II world tour, bringing the music of the first two Berlin Trilogy albums to almost a million people during 70 concerts in 12 countries. By now he had broken his drug addiction; biographer David Buckley writes that Isolar II was "Bowie's first tour for five years in which he had probably not anaesthetised himself with copious quantities of cocaine before taking the stage. ... Without the oblivion that drugs had brought, he was now in a healthy enough mental condition to want to make friends."[76] Recordings from the tour made up the live album Stage, released the same year.[77]"

Bowie was clean when this SNL was recorded. He was not a few years earlier while performing Golden Years on Soul Train, or in 1974 when he was truly skeletal doing Young Americans on the Dick Cavett show.
posted by VikingSword at 8:31 PM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh, and the only non-blocked, non-Hulu-Plus version of DEVO's Satisfaction on SNL I can find is here.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have no idea if Bowie was still rocking a 26-ish inch waist in 1979/1980, after he got clean, but my comment above about his size was sparked by viewing the minute loincloth he wore in the 1980 run of The Elephant Man. I remember peering down at it in shock, really not believing that it could have fit a full-grown man, but genetics and self-discipline can achieve teensy weensy miracles, it would seem. (He apparently went up to a still slim but less fantastical 30 inch waist by 2002.)

VikingSword, did you spot Luther Vandross singing backup in that Cavett performance?
posted by maudlin at 9:38 PM on September 5, 2014


just so I can watch Klaus Nomi perform "Total Eclipse."

It's a TOTAL ECLIPSE of the sun.
posted by ovvl at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, maudlin, Luther Vandross was a big part of that whole album, and it is shocking to know that he died so young.

The thing that always amazes me about Bowie and drugs, is that somehow that guy survived after taking absolutely epic quantities of drugs. Epic! And he's still around. I tell you who else did truckloads of coke and is still around - and whom I've met and talked to - Little Richard... it is absolutely insane that this guy is 81 and still around after the amount of coke he did. These guys are a different species of human being when it comes to drug use - by rights, they should have been dead a thousand times over.
posted by VikingSword at 10:53 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also -- dude on the keyboards and dude on the guitar winking at the camera?

The guitarist looks like G.E. Smith, who was famous for mugging for the camera. (Also famous for being a guitarist for Bowie, Hall & Oates, etc., leading the SNL house band, and being Gilda Radner's first husband.)
posted by pracowity at 11:12 PM on September 5, 2014


Yikes! I don't know how or why I got my skinny Bowies mixed up, but I sure did.



[dibs on the Skinny Bowies band name]
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:00 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


These guys are a different species of human being when it comes to drug use.

I can't remember who told the story, but some rock star recounted doing drugs with Keith Richards. Before they began, Richards told him, "Now, the first thing you gotta know is, you ain't me."
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:41 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


pracowity: “The guitarist looks like G.E. Smith, who was famous for mugging for the camera.”
Indeed he is, but this was Smith in 1979. I'm pretty sure it's Stacey Haydon.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:44 AM on September 6, 2014


Check out The Nomi Song doc.
posted by brujita at 2:46 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've never seen The Cold Song before. That was beautiful. I've watched it about 5 times now. Thanks for posting.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:19 AM on September 6, 2014


The thing that always amazes me about Bowie and drugs, is that somehow that guy survived after taking absolutely epic quantities of drugs.

I still can't quite believe that during the time when Bowie was strung out, he was still fairly prolific and writing interesting songs.
posted by ovvl at 8:27 AM on September 6, 2014


Nomi fans, seek out The Nomi Song documentary. Somewhere on it about this night they say Klaus and Joey weren't offered a ride and they had to walk from the studio to way uptown to get to the after-show party.
posted by Rash at 9:49 AM on September 6, 2014


I still can't quite believe that during the time when Bowie was strung out, he was still fairly prolific and writing interesting songs.

I know, it's pretty incredible. Bowie was apparently so strung out during his L.A. period that he has said he literally has no memory of writing or recording Station to Station. Not the song. The whole album.
posted by scody at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


i wonder who edited out the "…other boys check you out" line at the beginning of Boys Keep Swinging, and why. surely that's less shocking than "…lie is the pop of a cherry."
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 1:41 PM on September 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Vimeo link has changed.
posted by unliteral at 8:31 PM on September 14, 2014


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