Yesterday 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 cock. Not his cock but a giant plastic dick 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 cock 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. There are not enough penises in television—seriously, why the hell Game of Thrones is full of tits and ass but there are no penises—or female genitalia—in sight? It’s such an annoying, artificial prudish thing to do.
But I digress. Here’s Bowie’s January 5, 1980 Saturday Night Live performance. Fast forward to the end of the last song to see the penis waving if you have to. I recommend watching the entire thing if you have the time.