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The Mid-70s Bowie Video Vault: David, Dick, Dinah … and a Dentist

July 12th, 2007 · 1 Comment · Culture, Music, New Wave, Performance, TV, Video

I think I must have died and gone to David Bowie video heaven.

Prior to discovering the other videos in this post on YouTube, I had seen the clip of Bowie performing “Young Americans” on the Dick Cavett show in December of 1974, because it’s on the Best of Bowie DVD set. (I missed seeing it at the time of transmission because I was in third grade, if you must know, and a good half a decade from having any idea who David Bowie was.)

It’s a wonderful clip — not only is it a brilliant performance of a brilliant song, but it’s also a joy to be able to see Bowie’s all-star lineup of backing musicians in action, including such luminaries as David Sanborn on sax and Luther Vandross singing backup. I get a big kick out of the Gerald Ford-era fashion, too. It’s a little like watching the cast of Barney Miller sing their hearts out. (You could probably make a full set of very snazzy curtains out of that tie Mr. Jones is wearing.)

Notice that Bowie doesn’t even try to go for the high note on “break down and cry” at the end. Apparently that’s the sort of vocal feat that requires 17 takes in a studio and is not to be attempted before a live audience, because they’d be scarred for life when it didn’t come off.

So while I’d seen that, I hadn’t had a chance to see Bowie’s interview segments with Dick Cavett from that same show, and they are jaw-dropping in an entirely different way.

Bowie made it very clear in later years that he spent the mid-70s with a snoot full of toot, and that this messed him up so badly that he had to move to Berlin and make dark synthesizer music with Brian Eno for several years just to recover enough to name an album Scary Monsters.

Still, it’s jarring to watch him fidgeting and sniffing his way through this interview, getting freaky with his cane, while you can see poor Mr. Cavett trying to figure out how to keep the interview somewhere in the vicinity of the rails, if not actually on them, without making his audience think he’s oblivious to the arty genius turned hyperactive powder gibbon in front of him.

Here’s the first part of the interview.

When I was a kid I thought Dick Cavett was the most boring grownup alive, but I’m gaining a new appreciation of him as an adult. That line about the draft board is sheer genius. He even cracks Bowie up with that one.

Here’s part two of the interview, during which Bowie settles down a bit and answers a few questions. Maybe they got some chamomile tea into him during the commercial break, or something.

But I’m just getting going here. After the jump I’ve got Bowie doing a medley with Cher, Bowie on Dinah Shore, and a hard-hitting historical report on Bowie’s teeth.

OK, now it starts getting strange. In our next segment, Bowie and Cher sing a medley together, beginning with “Young Americans” (in a strikingly more geriatric-sounding arrangement of the song. It point of fact, it sounds like “Young Americans” as performed by the lounge band on the Love Boat.) From there it’s an all-bets-are-off melange of everything from Buddy Holly to Bill Withers. There is one surprisingly genuine and funny performance moment at the end, when they dare each other to go for the “break down and cry” high note and both cop out.

Definitely puts the Bing and Bowie thing in perspective.

Now let’s move on to, of all things, the Dinah Shore show. Here’s an absolutely thrilling clip of Bowie performing “Stay” for Dinah and her friends. I wish they would have gone easier on the craaaazy funky video dissolves, but otherwise it’s a solid performance with some snappy dance moves.

And after Bowie sang they decided to try out some karate moves on him. Because it’s the 70s. And of course, Nancy Walker is on the set, because she would be.

And yes, there’s interview … it starts out with some direct Dinah-on-David action.

Then we throw both Nancy Walker AND Henry Winkler into the mix. (“I’ll see your Rosie and raise you a Fonzie!”) Because, in case you forgot, it’s the 70s. We get to find out what a big Fonzie fanboy David is. And of course the feeling is mutual. (In fact, I think David and Henry really needed to just get a room at that point. Who knows, maybe they did.) Unfortunately, it’s a little bit abridged — whoever recorded this was apparently not interested in hearing Mr. Winkler talk because they keep skipping forward every time he says more than two sentences. Which is a shame because the Fonz seems sort of charmingly eager to make an impression on Bowie and you can’t really tell from this whether he succeeded or not.

And then a little later in the show Bowie does “Five Years.” The video quality here is atrocious, but I think the distortion adds something appropriately Major Tom-ish to the performance.

In 1977 Bowie went back on the Dinah show, and this time he took Iggy Pop with him, apparently to protect him from Nancy Walker. No word on if Henry Winkler tried to scratch Iggy’s eyes out in the dressing room.

Then Dinah takes the Ig on solo. Iggy talks about his Dad the high school communications teacher whose students call him “Mr. Pop,” and getting musical inspiration from electric shavers. And getting all of his teeth knocked out on stage. Watch for the shots of Bowie cracking up off to the side. Good times …

Speaking of teeth … finally, just for the complete bizarro factor, here is an actual, no-fooling, in-depth TV analysis of Bowie’s teeth and their ch-ch-changes over the years. There’s even a dentist expounding on various pictures of the Bowie mouth-furniture, with big red circles and a pointer. It’s like something from a dream sequence in a John Waters film.

Okay, one last bonus. Here’s Bowie at age 17, standing up for the rights of long-haired men.

Related: An interesting take on Bowie’s mid-70s soul period.

Previously on Ocelopotamus:

      • Jacques Brel, Marc Almond, and “Jacky” — with a Side of David Bowie


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