Farewell David, you’ll be missed. January last year was the anniversary of one of the most surreal music performances in TV story: 35 years ago David Bowie ushered the 1980s in Saturday Night Live. The producers censored a gay reference in the last of his three-song set—but they missed him repeatedly showing a giant penis at the end of it. [NSFW-ish]
Bowie’s set for the show—which was hosted by actor Martin Sheen—started with his now classic The Man Who Sold the World followed by TVC 15. Everything was fine through those. It was kind of weird and out of the typical SNL act [we can see these days], but there was nothing that a crusty person would find offensive in one of the square states. Then it came the last song: Boys Keep Swinging.
Apparently, someone in the production thought that a verse was way too offensive for national TV: “When you’re a boy, other boys check you out!” was not something you could say in turn-of-the-70s America because boys couldn’t be gay anywhere else outside New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, those dirty deviants. Lyrics in hand, ready to push the censorship button, some operator silenced “other boys check you out.”
Thus, the potential national crisis was averted. Until Bowie took out his giant penis. Not his own but a giant plastic phallus that came out of the pants of the puppet he was operating in his green screen suit during his performance. He didn’t just took it out once or twice. He moved it up and down several times as the song reached its final climax. We don’t know if it was a “fuck you” because he knew of the censoring beforehand or if he had planned it from the beginning. It doesn’t matter. It was hilarious all the same.
Unlike the gay reference, the flaunting was not censored. I imagine that the control completely missed it or, since they weren’t expecting such a display, they didn’t have time to black out this part of the transmission. Whatever it was, I’m glad it survived.
The Man Who Sold the World
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) take us behind the scenes on one of Bowie’s more flamboyant costumes for his infamous Saturday Night Live performance with Klaus Nomi.