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Arts & Entertainment

Joey Arias on David Bowie's legendary, weird Saturday Night Live appearance

David Bowie performs at Wembley Arena in London in 1983.
David Bowie performs at Wembley Arena in London in 1983.
Phil Dent/Redferns/Getty Images

In 1979, David Bowie gave one of his weirdest TV performances on Saturday Night live.

It was three songs: "The Man who Sold the World," "TVC 15" and "Boys Keep Swinging."

Each song featured a different costume: In one, he donned a huge Bauhaus-style costume that was so heavy and rigid he couldn't move. In another, he's a flight attendant walking with a stuffed pink poodle at his side. In the final performance, a weird — possibly NSFW — puppet:


You can view the entire performance here.

His backup singers were the late avant-garde performer Klaus Nomi (wearing black) and Joey Arias (in red). Arias now makes his living performing a Billie Holiday tribute, and he told us the story of the now legendary TV appearance:

We were at the Mudd Club, and we were getting ready to leave. It was about 4 in the morning. And a friend of ours said, "Well good night, we're leaving. Are you going to say good night to David?"

And we were like "What are you talking about?" And she said "David!"

And she pointed against the wall, and there's David Bowie sitting there with a group of people. And we stood there, like frozen. And we walked over and we bypassed the bodyguards. He tapped David on the shoulder and said, "Mr. Bowie, I want to introduce you to Joey and Nomi," and he turned around and went "Nomi? Oh my god! I just got back from Berlin and I know your friends! Everyone was talking about you, I can't believe I'm meeting you!"

Anyway, they exchanged numbers. And actually, David went to a loft and was looking at films of the shows that we had been doing and told Klaus, "This is what I've been wanting to do!" 

And then somehow it all changed up. And Klaus would tell me what was going on. And then after like two, three weeks — maybe a month, even — he said, "You're not going to believe it, but they're going to do Saturday Night Live, and he's asking if you'd be available."

I thought to myself "Are you kidding? Yes!"

We met on Monday, and we were together every single day for like 10, 15 hours a day. So we got to really know each other very well. On the second day, they gave us a thousand dollars each. We went out shopping and we found these costumes by Mr. Thierry Mugler, now known as Manfred Mugler.

It was all based on Bauhaus — Klaus and I were naturally, the way we moved — I mean David was just like completely fascinated and blown away by us. And you know, we actually choreographed ourselves. David hardly did anything. He kept saying, "I wish I knew you guys since the Diamond Dogs days, I would've fired everybody immediately and just had you guys."

He said, "I got this costume that I can't move in, based on Bauhaus." And he put it on and we carried him.