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Traumafessions :: Unk on David Bowie and the Monster in the Closet

January 22nd, 2013 by unkle lancifer · 9 Comments

DAVID BOWIE had a birthday a bunch of days ago and that made me remember the first time I was made aware of him, as a youngin’ staying up late watching SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. In a few short years I’d be a huge fan, my first stadium concert experience would be seeing his “Serious Moonlight” tour but that SNL performance did nothing but freak me out. I think I was sadly raised with a rather concrete understanding of what was normal and what wasn’t and it was truly alarming for me to witness someone acting so wildly bizarre. He was shamelessly strange and my little brain couldn’t comprehend. I decided I should find the episode on Netflix Streaming and so I did and appropriately enough the often unnervingly intense MARTIN SHEEN was the host.

Fast-forwarding through the episode to find the musical portion, I spotted a skit that I had completely forgotten about but recognized at once and it’s so kindertraumatic in theme that I have to share it here. SHEEN plays dad, JANE CURTIN plays mom and GILDA RADNER expertly portrays their excitable daughter Jenny. Dad has just finished reading POE’s “The Raven” to Jenny and now it’s time for her to go to sleep. He turns off the light, leaves the room and Jenny is soon terrified, imagining she sees a bear. She calls to her parents who come in to calm her and inform her that it’s all in her mind. Next an intruder (GARRETT MORRIS) enters the room and Jenny screams. It’s just a handyman returning for his tools the summoned parents reveal and so it’s lights out and back to bed she goes. Next her bed starts to shake EXORCIST-style and the child yells again for her parents who return exasperated and explaining that they rented out the underside of her bed to a family of gypsies. Left alone once more, poor Jenny decides to put her mind at peace by making sure there is nothing in the closet. When she opens the closet door she sees this…a bloody-faced man with one eye falling out of his head, holding a hatchet!

How did I ever forget this? It was 1979, I was mad into horror and gory special effects and now I recall how amazed and fascinated I was by this figure! I remember how excited I was when she opened the closet door for a second time so that I may get another view! This was live television, I couldn’t rewind it, I could only ogle heartily and try to gather as much detail as possible while I could, chances were I might not ever see it again! Jenny calls to her parents one last feeble hysterical time and their angry, frustrated voices are all she needs to know. Rather than call them back into the room and face their wrath, she’ll take her chances with the psycho in the closet. I know how she feels. I realize it’s highly unlikely that it was BOWIE under all that make-up doing double duty as the scary monster in the closet but I don’t care, I’ll imagine it was him anyway.

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Tags: Traumafessions




9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 carolNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    wow – i love this! i’ve never seen this SNL episode. i’ll have to check it out!

  • 2 StickmannNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    You say you forgot this skit?! Damn, Unk, you are made of sterner stuff! I, too, saw this as a lad as part of that youngster ritual of aspiring to smugly claim insight into grown-up fare, and that very sketch crystallized what exactly was and wasn’t in my league. I mean, it was funny, I knew it was funny, my sister and I even joked about Radner’s great performance and the gory punchline later, but damned if it didn’t take everything to not actively smile to mask how terrified I was of this new hatchet-wielding spectre haunting every closet I passed for months (if not years) after its broadcast.

    But what had more of a Kindertaumatic impact that night? It’s a toss-up between this sketch and Bowie performing “Boys Keep Swinging” as a jittery floating marionette.

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yrXg3zTseY?rel=0&w=420&h=315

    Had my little child mind at the time really comprehended that there was a little puppet dong playing peekaboo from his britches at the conclusion of his act, I probably would’ve called my eventual adulthood right there on the grounds that it would always be beyond my comprehension regarding what I was trained to accept as the propriety of the mature. (Or did I even get the chance? They may have edited that out for the West Coast feed.) I was already flummoxed by Bowie wearing a dress for “TVC15,” as my still-developing mind had no frame of reference for British vaudeville traditions, and I ended up in an internal maelstrom of justifications that asked,
    “does he even know that he’s wearing a dress?” and its conclusion, “that’s just so weird.”

    Indeed, Weird is the word that kept presenting itself to me in those upcoming weeks when I kept fixating on the haunting production of “The Man Who Sold the World” in which a spotlit Bowie was carted out and recessed like some animatronic oracle crooning in hushed tones about an apocalypse that has come and gone without us noticing. It defied my youthful comprehension, and this frustrated me because its trappings of a heretofore unseen established ritual announced that what was being spoken was Important To Know.

    And yet, I kept thinking about it, despite its ineffability. I couldn’t articulate it as such at the time, but this was the nascent formulation of my hypothesis that Weird Is A Valuable Commodity, and this epiphany was reached soon after I realized in my life that I Am The Market for Weird. Embraced it ever since I could put words to it.

    Side note: A few years ago, a highly recommended documentary on Klaus Nomi [ http://thenomisong.com/ ] included these performances by Bowie on SNL, and it was all I could do to not jump out of my seat and excitedly tell everyone in the theater that OMGThat’sHIM, Nomi was in the background when I first was introduced to David Bowie and The Concept of the Weird Commodity.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Carol, thanks you are the best!

    Stickman, wow, we are on the exact same page with this! I decided that I could never properly describe Bowies performance so I just gave up! That Boys keep swinging” puppet is insane! I tried to take a picture but it could not capture its essence properly! Those small hands! And he keeps saluting! So glad you found a clip!

    When he comes out for the first song he is carried by Nomi and that other guy in a box/suit thing and for some reason I remembered it as a coffin! Memory is such a strange thing! Yep, the whole thing was beyond my ability to understand and somehow its impact was so great that eclipsed the murderer in the closet!

    “And yet, I kept thinking about it, despite its ineffability. I couldn’t articulate it as such at the time, but this was the nascent formulation of my hypothesis that Weird Is A Valuable Commodity, and this epiphany was reached soon after I realized in my life that I Am The Market for Weird. Embraced it ever since I could put words to it. ”

    Well said! Could not agree more!

    Wow, Now I feel less alone in the world. I guess that’s what this site is really all about! Thanks for reminding me!

  • 4 StickmannNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Unk:

    Definitely take a look at The Nomi Song, then. Had I know about them back then, “Total Eclipse” and “After The Fall” could’ve been two of my favorite theme songs back in high school.

  • 5 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Whoa! Very strange and creepy! My parents were hard-core bedtime believers (even on weekends) so I never saw SNL when I was a kid.

    In a similar vein, I recall an SNL commercial parody for a product called “Monster Spray” in the early 90s. Phil Hartman was hawking a can of monster repellent that kids could spray around their rooms at night to keep monsters away. The best bit came at the end, where Hartman demonstrated what happened to kids that failed to purchase Monster Spray – A large, costumed monster barges in and rips the head off of the poor unprotected kid in his bed. A fountain of blood then erupts from his neck, which the monster (hilariously) drinks. Funny stuff but maybe traumatizing to youngins’ allowed to stay up and watch SNL in the Hartman years….

  • 6 godmonsterNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Nomi was what stood out for me in that episode. I bought his albums back in the day, only two as I recall. The first one and “A Simple Man”. The documentary about him is very good. The one eyed ghoul looks like Bill Murray to me…

  • 7 gcgNo Gravatar // Jan 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This was the very first SNL I saw on television one night with my brother. I got my cabin mates at summer camp a year or two later to perform the monster-in-the-closet skit during the camp talent show. I played the ghoul with the ax, naturally. I recall the television audience audibly gasping when Radner opens the closet door, because the bloody figure was surprisingly horrifying. I forgot that Bowie performed that same episode, but now that I think about it, didn’t he have some strange toy poodle near his feet with a television monitor in its body?

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 23, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Chuckles,

    I have to find that Hartman Monster Spray ad. I must see that.

    Godmonster,

    I have yet to see the documentary- I get the feeling that the whole performance was designed and /or inspired by Nomi.

    GCG,

    That is correct there is a TV poodle! I was just on my way to forgetting that part! Alright, there is something clearly going on with that episode! There is a weird signal in it or something. It belongs on videodrome!

    How wild that this was your first SNL and that you did the skit at your summer camp talent show!!! That is really cool. I really thought this subject was going to be too obscure but its really amazing how it stuck in so many minds.

  • 9 dokuhaku2323No Gravatar // May 5, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Good heavens… This episode of SNL was also MY introduction to the fact that normal is a relative term. I was 9 years old. With his performances that night, David Bowie caused neurons to begin firing in a new part of my creative mind. The job was complete once I viewed his ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video soon after, perhaps on some late-night music showcase of the same era, out of L.A. I think… anyone know what I am talking about?

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