Recorded and broadcast 5 September 1980 in Los Angeles, David Bowie performed ‘Life On Mars?’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes‘ from the recently released ‘Scary Monsters and Super Creeps’ album, on NBC’s ‘Tonight Show’, hosted by Johnny Carson.
Before the show, Bowie was interviewed by Robert Hilburn of the New York Times:
“I guess I’m sort of on top of the world at the moment,” the 32-year-old Englishman said, sitting in the dressing room before an appearance Friday night on ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’. He’s here from New York for just the day, a healthy looking Bowie was relaxed and open, far different from his nervous and elusive manner of the mid-1970s when his life style seemed as troubled as the often neurotic characters in his music. Waiting for the Carson taping to begin, he chatted with friends and even signed a few autographs.
To see Bowie’s first performance in two years, about twenty of the rock star’s fans camped in front of NBC on Thursday night to secure tickets for the Carson show. By Friday morning, about two hundred fans were there. During the show, the fans cheered so loudly at every mention of Bowie’s name that Carson finally gulped: “After all this, he’d better be good.”
Speaking to Hilburn, Bowie said, ‘There is discipline involved in both rock and straight theatre, but it’s a different kind of discipline. The strange thing for me was to take one character and play him with an emotional chronology from beginning to end, knowing the emotional and psychological steps he was going to take in a two-hour period. In concert, I play with the characters and evoke different kinds of emotional drive anytime I wish.”
Bowie felt comfortable in the play from the start. “I knew after the first night that I was credible,” he said.” I felt, ‘Yes, I was John Merrick tonight.’ That made me happy and I thought, it’s a continual process. It may be imperceptible to some people, but I do find something new every night.”