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Music

The comedian who inspired a David Bowie classic

David Bowie was well known to take inspiration from anywhere. Duly, the Brixton native makes a strong claim for being the most dextrous musical artist of all time. Whether it be sci-fi, films, or real-life experiences, Bowie’s extensive and illustrious discography is one of the most constantly surprising in all of music. Reflecting the extent to which Bowie cherrypicked from popular culture is his song ‘Slip Away’ from 2002’s Heathen.

A swooning piece, taking cues from Bowie’s early tracks such as ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Slip Away’ is one of the better tracks that Bowie released during the latter stages of his career.  

Bowie wrote the song as a homage to Floyd Vivino, a vaudeville-esque comic and pianist who presented The Uncle Floyd Show, a children’s programme that aired in the New York tri-state area. The show ran from 1974 to 1998, and many who grew up in the tri-state area remember it fondly, even if today it has faded into obscurity. Famously, Vivino utilised a cast of puppets to help bring the show to life, and two of its most memorable characters, Bones Boy and Oogie are mentioned on the track. 

It was well known that Bowie was a fan of the show, as he attended a live performance of it in January 1981 at The Bottom Line nightclub in New York City. That night, Bowie told Floyd that he always watched the show when getting ready to go on stage for a play he was in on Broadway. 

Interestingly, when asked about how he had found the show by the New York Times, Bowie replied: “John Lennon told me about it.” Elsewhere, Bowie also revealed that proto-punk icon Iggy Pop was also a regular viewer of the show. 

When touring Heathen in 2002, during his iconic show in Berlin, Bowie told the crowd: “This is another new song. It’s about a television hero in America from ’70s that myself, and Lennon and Iggy Pop used to watch in the afternoons. Crazy guy, and we were very addled and used to love fooling around watching this guy Uncle Floyd. And his song is called ‘Slip Away.'”

Given how indebted Bowie was to Vivino, in the run-up to the release of Heathen, Bowie personally phoned him and told him about the song. Later, Bowie said of the show: “It had that Soupy Sales kind of appeal and though ostensibly aimed at kids, I knew so many people of my age who just wouldn’t miss it. We would be on the floor it was so funny.”

A stellar tribute to Floyd Vivino and his bizarre cast of puppets, David Bowie’s love of The Uncle Floyd Show clearly shows the candid, comedy-loving side to the ‘Starman’ that carried him throughout his entire career.

Listen to ‘Slip Away’ below.