How David Bowie’s act of defiance resulted in him being banned from SNL
David Bowie, not one to be ordered around, was once banned from performing on Saturday Night Live after an act of defiance resulted in him being escorted off the premises.
After planning to do a number of comedy sketches and performances, Bowie’s rocky relationship with executive producer Lorne Michaels ended in a three-year ban for the Starman who couldn’t resist taking a swipe at his old friend.
“The gist was that I was somehow roped into a low budget telly advert for a Brooklyn bakery,” Bowie later explained. “They wanted me to sing about their pastries or what have you. One of the things they came up with was a version of my song, ‘Watch That Man’. But instead, in the chorus, I would sing, ‘Try our flan’.”
While signing off on the humorous lyrical adjustment, Bowie had an issue with how the producers wanted him to pronounce the word “flan” which sparked a troublesome back and forth which developed into numerous different issues through the week’s planning.
“David is a man of the world,” producer Lorne Michaels would later say of the issue. “He’s seen it all. And he takes food very seriously. I get that. But when you are running a big, live production like we are, last second changes can be complicated.”
David Bowie is not about to let somebody tell him what to do creatively and, knowing of the tensions between him and the producer, hatched a last-minute plan of his own. “I was scheduled to perform a single from my ‘Earthling’ album called ‘Telling Lies’,” Bowie explained. “Just before the band took the stage I decided to take the piss out of Lorne a bit because I knew he wasn’t happy with me.” Instead of playing ‘Telling Lies’, Bowie instructed his band to perform 1981 effort ‘Scary Monsters’.
In what could have been considered a cheeky impromptu move turned out to be a deeply considered “fuck you” move by Bowie who, at the time, knew how much Lorne Michaels had grown “terrified” of the song because of his past life issues. “We got to talking about this and that at dinner one night and Lorne’s SNL hiatus in the early ’80s came up,” Bowie explained.
“He [Lorne] told me how it was the darkest period of his life and he described how much cocaine he did while listening to my ‘Scary Monsters’ album. Just mountains and mountains of the stuff. Sometimes straight off the record sleeve. Those were his words. I want that to be clear about that.”
Michaels, clearly furious about Bowie’s surprise move, took immediate action and had security escort him and his band off the premises immediately. “They didn’t waste any time,” he explained. “The real shame of it was there was a lovely fruit basket in my dressing room that I wanted to take back to my hotel. I obviously didn’t get to. I was very sore about that. Still am, to tell you the truth.”
As Bowie’s stardom continued to rise, his ban from SNL was, in the end, terminated and he made his return when Jerry Seinfeld was hosting. “We’re mates,” Bowie explained about why he was allowed to return and describing his relationship with Michaels. “We have been since the ’70s. He knows now that I was just trying to get a rise out of him. Maybe I could have done it less, I don’t know, showy. But the air has been cleared, obviously.”