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David Bowie performs with Klaus Nomi & Joey Arias on SNL (1979)

In many ways, the fifth season of 'Saturday Night Live' was a handy portent of the lowering of expectations that would become necessary for survival in the 1980s and beyond (and not just when watching TV).

It was the first season of SNL without Belushi and Aykroyd (replaced by Harry Shearer), and the last season for what remained of the original cast. In Season 6, Charles Rocket & Gail Matthius hosted 'Weekend Update'. If there had ever been a time when SNL was fresh and new, by then it was gone.

Season 5 was not without its high points (they were just becoming fewer and further between).
A huge standout was
David Bowie's musical guest appearance on the
December 15, 1979 episode, hosted by Martin Sheen.

Bowie was in fine theatrical form, playing well to the camera in outlandish costumes, flanked by the perfectly enigmatic Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi as back-up singers.

The story goes that Bowie hired them for this one appearance soon after having heard about Klaus Nomi's performances at various hip New York clubs.

In the first musical segment, Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold the World' was given new life in an arrangement radically different from the 1970 original, one well-matched to Nomi's distinctive counter-tenor harmonies.

Dave's bulky and angular
'space-tux' costume necessitated Klaus and Joey becoming his 'bearers', and helped to inspire the variant that became a signature look for Klaus.

(Both outfits also have roots in the immobilizing cardboard costumes designed by Sonia Delaunay for Tristan Tzara's 1923 dadaist play,
'La coeur à gaz'.)

Below, ▼ 'The Man Who Sold the World'...

(That's Blondie's Jimmy Destri playing keyboards.)

Below, ▼ the second and third musical segments tacked together in one video clip.
'TVC 15' had been a hit single from 1976's 'Station To Station' album, while 'Boys Keep Swinging' was at the time still relatively recent, having been released in the Spring of '79 as a single and on the 'Lodger' LP.

While Bowie danced about during 'Boys Keep Swinging' in his VFX puppet costume, NBC censors apparently had no problem with the lyric 'Life is a pop of the cherry', though they did choose to mute out the line 'Other boys check you out'. Go figure.

The SNL appearance served as catalyst for Klaus Nomi's career, escalating his status on the
New York City club scene and leading to his (sadly brief) stint as an international recording artist.

- Follow link to
Madeline Bocchiaro's 1997 reminiscence of her friendship with Klaus, including some nice behind-the-scenes tidbits regarding the evening of the SNL appearance...

"...I asked [Klaus and Joey] who did their fabulous makeup (the meticulous details were not visible on TV). They boasted that they'd done each other's makeup; 'Joey did mine and I did his, and we did David's!' Boys will be girls."

Joey Arias is still active as a NYC-based singer, author, and performance / drag artist.

Klaus Nomi died in 1983. He was one of the first celebrities to die of complications from AIDS.

- The 2004 feature-length documentary film, 'The Nomi Song', is available on DVD and is highly recommended viewing. As of this writing, it can also be viewed online for free at SnagFilms.


Timmy said...

This performance and the stones in '78 were the best performances ever on saturday night live.
Shame the live feed was pulled from youtube 2 weeks by nbc

B.C. said...

Just the best collaborations ever....made an indelible mark on me the moment I saw them, back in 79. Unforgetable. Thanks for posting, great blog!