My Saturday Night (Live) With Bowie

3.22.2013

By Joey Arias

Joey Arias explains the SNL performance with Klaus Nomi and David Bowie

In the late 1970s in New York, it was all about the Mudd Club. It was Kim Hastreiter, the editor of Paper, who introduced us to it: “There’s this club downtown that’s really fun, and it’s an arty club, and the music is crazy; you’re going to love it.” So there we were, late one night/early one morning in 1979 -- Klaus Nomi, myself, and a Russian hit man I’d befriended -- when someone said, “Won’t you say hello to David?” It turned out the David was David Bowie, and before you knew it, he and Klaus were jamming away like old friends.

Long story short, they started meeting and planning -- it was this project, and then it was that -- and then one day Klaus came to me and said they’d decided to perform on Saturday Night Live -- and they wanted me to join them.

Bowie was amazing -- cool, no-bullshit, super engaging, interested to know who we were. He told us he had three ideas for costumes: One was going to be this Bauhaus outfit [for “The Man Who Sold the World”]; the next was going to be a Chinese airline stewardess with a pink poodle [for “TVC 15”]; and the third one was going to be puppets [for “Boys Keep Swinging”]. He gave us a few thousand dollars to buy outfits, which was like $10,000 at the time, and we found these Thierry Mugler outfits for sale at Henri Bendel -- like, $100 each. When the saleswoman brought it out, Klaus just grabbed it from her hands and ran into the dressing room. It was very much a “this is it” moment.

The night of the performance, the vibe was so intense it felt like all of New York was standing still. It was the end of the ’70s, and it was a moment that was so far ahead of its time that nothing will ever match up to it because there’s only one Bowie, there’s only one Joey, and there’s only one Klaus. We didn’t have to do anything but be ourselves that night. People still come up to me on tour and say, “You changed my life.”

Watch a clip of the performance below:

David Bowie with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias from Tabula Rasa on Vimeo.

Tags: Music
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