Since the passing of David Bowie, people have asked me to share the story behind “Day-In Day-Out.” Needless to say, I have been reluctant to do so. But I promised, so here goes nothing.
It was a hot day in Hollywood and I was broke as could be. I lived on the corner of Sunset and Gordon in a building I shared with two other tenants. I had two rooms for myself with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Of those two rooms, I lived in the smallest and the other was the rehearsal space I had shared with my former band, The Lonesome Strangers; now shared with my then current band, Snake Farm. I had decided I should go down to the EDD office and apply for unemployment insurance. As I said, times were lean and I needed money. So I trundled down the road, hating every step I took. I abhorred the thought of standing in line and it was only made worse by the fact my car was out of commission, so I was forced to travel on foot. When I got to the office, the line was huge. Back in the day, I had no patience for such nonsense and decided I would rather face starvation than stand in that line, so back home I humbly strode.
Bathed in sweat, I walked into my place to find my answering machine filled with urgent messages to get a hold of the woman who was the assistant to Julian Temple. Age and illness has taken its toll, so please forgive me as I cannot for the life of me remember her name, but she was a huge fan of Snake Farm. All I knew was she felt I would be perfect for a recently vacated role in the new David Bowie video Julian was filming for Limelight. It appears Bette Midler’s husband had been cast but had bowed out at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. They needed someone immediately and felt I was the optimal choice.
Fortunately, my friend, Otto from Seattle, was there and provided me a ride to the Limelight offices. I walked in andwas introduced to Julian. He asked if I would mind him taking a Polaroid of me and I said I would not. He snapped the shot and said he would be back in a moment. It didn’t take long for him to return and ask if I had time to meet David Bowie. Of course, I told him I would have to check my schedule … not! I replied I would love to meet David and he asked me to follow him. I was no stranger to celebrity or rock stars, having played and partied with many notable ones. I never considered them to be my idols but rather my peers … but David Bowie, now this man was in a very different class altogether. As I ascended the stairway I was surprised to realize I was actually starstruck. With every step, my heart beat faster as it crept farther up my throat until, by the last, it occupied the space in which my Adam’s Apple formally resided.
We arrived at an office and Julian knocked, then opened the door. There, amidst the barren walls, behind a standard-issue, funky metal desk, sat David Bowie. While Julian introduced us he immediately jetted out of his seat to shake my hand. “Hi, I’m David!” he exclaimed, smiling as our hands interlocked. I’m not sure how I responded but it was probably something like, “nice to meet you.” He immediately gave me the once over. I was wearing the doo-rag you see in the video and he asked me to take it off. I obliged. He then asked if I would mind shaving my head. I informed him I had just started growing my hair out again but that if he needed me to shave my head, I would be happy to do so. He then asked me to put the doo-rag back on, pondered my appearance, then said, “No, I like that. Keep it.” I was then ushered out of the room and asked to wait. It didn’t take long to find out I had gotten the part and I was given the address to a rehearsal space in Culver City for the next day. I was told not to share this information with anyone and to please be on time as we were on a tight schedule. The best part was that I would be paid for both the rehearsal and the shoot. For me, it really was a win/win.
I don’t recall exactly how I got to the rehearsal space but somehow remember driving myself, though I may have gotten a ride from someone as my car was still not working. But at my age, it’s a bit of a blur. The other Principal Extra — as we were known, was Popeye. He’s the fine looking gentleman playing bass in the video, the one with the eye patch. We were told about the concept of the video, which I immediately forgot. I didn’t care about such things then, and still really don’t. For me, I was there to be the best damn performer I could be for this particular project. I think there may have even been some debate as to who would be on the guitar or who would play the bass. It seemed to me I should be the bassist, as that was my instrument, but I of course deferred to David. It was his baby and I was there to help him carry out his vision. It really was that simple. Along with Popeye and David was a young lad who was the choreographer. They told us the drummer — who was a shoe-in for William S. Burroughs — would not be with us that day as he would not be required to dance. Right then I knew I was in big trouble. To borrow a line from Butch Walker, “I kinda dance like I’ve been shot in the leg for sure.”
‘I heard David laugh from the back and say, “I know, why don’t we all just follow Nino.” ‘
But first things first: we needed to learn the song and David happily showed us the chords and arrangement. I remember a beautiful baby grand in the room that he used, along with the guitar, to quickly go over the song. It was a very simple chord structure, which Popeye and I made quick work of. Now came the moment I was dreading, the dance moves. But before we tackled that part we took a break. I recall “borrowing” a Marlboro or two, OK, MAYBE three, from the Man himself. He was so friendly and gracious and I recall being so at ease around him. I mean, here was Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke in the flesh. I cut my musical teeth on his repertoire. First having heard “Space Oddity” when I was 11, only to be weened on The Spiders From Mars and The Thin White Duke; later sustaining myself on his Berlin Trilogy. We talked about his eyes and how he got into a schoolyard fight as a child, injuring one eye so badly it was permanently dilated, putting to rest the notion he had one blue and one brown eye. We debated what he sat on during the song “Time” during the Diamond Dogs tour, him saying it was a hand. I recalled something else, only for him to laugh and tell me, “I think I should know.” Anyone who knows me can attest to my linear thinking at times. I’ve gotten better but if I thought something was a certain way, especially back then, it was hard to dissuade me. The fact that I was 15 and stoned out of my mind on pot brownies during the Diamond Dogs show didn’t help any. I’m still like that. It certainly is a flaw in my character and has led me to believe there is probably a smidgen of Asperger’s in there somewhere! LOL! But David was not offended and I apologized. He laughed and joked with us. He was the consummate host and the consummate professional. You knew he expected the best from you without one word being uttered nor any demands made. He made you want to be the best you could be; to not let him down. So it was with great trepidation that I fell in line for our dance lesson. The choreographer in front, Popeye next to me, and David in the back.
As you will see from the video, the moves were nothing special, but for me you may as well have been asking me to do the Tango. I was so damn bad that at one point we stopped and I heard David laugh from the back and say, “I know, why don’t we all just follow Nino” to which I quickly turned, pointed at him and replied, “I WILL have this by tomorrow.” I doubt it eased his mind much but I think he understood. I wasn’t replaced and as you can see from the video the moves are there. How you ask? It was actually quite simple. I stayed up all night in my tiny rehearsal space, naked with a guitar strapped on, and practiced those stupid fucking dance moves all night. Why naked you ask? Simple, I slept in the nude and feeling woefully unprepared, I got up, put on a guitar and forced myself to learn the moves until exhaustion set in. When I arrived to the shoot the next day, I was nervous about how I would do, but made sure not to let them see me sweat. As with any performance, it was time to fish or cut bait, and I was damned certain I would not be the one cutting any bait that day.
So the big day had arrived! And while you might think I was a novice to acting, you would be wrong. Once in Santa Maria as a wee lad, I was given a small speaking line for a film being shot at a local high school. To this day I have no idea what the movie is called, but even at my tender young age I knew it was well below a B on the rating scale, so I never much bothered. My role? I tapped some kid on his shoulder and said, “Hey, get Marble.” That kid tapped someone else, who may have then tapped someone else, who then “got” Marble. Who was Marble? I haven’t a clue. He was just some actor playing a role in a pre-Porky’s comedy about troubled teens, which probably never got released. But if any of you recall seeing such a film, by all means please let me know. But other than that, I had never really been in front of a camera on a professional level. Sure, I’d done interviews, been filmed playing live, and was even on “Lil’ Art’s Poker Party” with the one and only Art Fein, but never before had I been involved at this level. I had no idea what to expect but I did know I was ready. Hell, I had better be since I had stayed up all night working on those damn dance moves!
The building was this huge place in downtown Los Angeles. I have no recollection of where it was located or of parking, but do recall I drove myself there so my car must have been in working order by this time. When I walked inside I was greeted by a scene that could have been out of “Blade Runner.” Throngs of people, young and old, gathered in some makeshift Tent City, close to a stage which was built in front of the descending staircase you see in the video. Come to think of it, aren’t all Tent Cities makeshift?
After greeting everyone, my first stop was makeup and wardrobe. I recall they wanted to put all these fake tattoos on me. Much to their dismay, the only way to accomplish that would have been to shave my chest: an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and that was just not going to happen. I think they had hoped to make me look a lot harder, as in just-released-from-prison hard (think De Niro in “Cape Fear”). So again the plan changed. I would wear a ripped up T-shirt and my County of Los Angeles issued orange coveralls. Once that was done it was off to the stage for direction and rehearsal. What you can’t see in the video — though I believe it has been in at least one version — is the treadmill built into the stage that we took turns riding on. Great. Not only do I have to play, dance, and sing, but now I have to be a fucking acrobat too? But as is my way, I leapt at the opportunity!
Now, to be honest, I don’t remember much about the particulars of that day. It was long and we worked hard, but it was also fun and very rewarding. As far as David was concerned, we really didn’t see much of him when not filming. He was either on stage or in his trailer. But he was gracious and friendly and, of course, he had more people to be gracious and friendly with. There was a bit of banter between us all, some joking around, and a few laughs. But we were working and everyone was in top form this day. One extra bonus was that I did get to know Julian Temple a lot better. We actually exchanged numbers and spoke quite a few times on the phone. I recall we threatened to go out and get drunk together a few times but nothing ever came of it. More likely is that I threatened to take HIM out to get drunk with ME. I must say he was a very warm, nice, real, and interesting man and I’m sorry I lost touch with him as we had developed a bit of a friendship. He even threw some more work my way. One time as an extra in Neil Young’s “This Note’s For You” and another time in a Rod Stewart video that got canceled. That was nice because I got to hang out in a trailer for a few hours, got paid, and didn’t have to do a thing for it. I didn’t get fed, but they did bring me a couple bananas! As I recall, Rod had hooked up with a stewardess and, as they say, the rest was history.
‘For fuckssake, I couldn’t buy a drink in my hometown because I was now a certified “Rock Star.” ‘
But I digress. I do have to admit it was nice to be pampered and treated like a star for the time I was on set filming “Day-In Day-Out.” Attractive makeup girls coming by to take off the shine, engage in small talk and flirt. Of course we were fed well and the best part was we all got paid. Was there stress? You bet. I did not want to go down as that “guy” who fucked up David Bowie’s video shoot. But in the end, it all went pretty smooth. I had my rent covered, food in the refrigerator, gas in the tank, money for drinks, and I made some new friends along the way. It was a rewarding experience and the best part was that I got to work with one of my childhood heroes and one of the greatest artists the world has ever known. I guess the best way to wrap this up is to remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and not only did I somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie, I got to work with him too.
As it happens, “Day In, Day-Out” was kind of a big deal. Bowie had not released anything in three years so it was news. And wouldn’t you know it, the clip used to promote the video had my big mug prominently displayed. I recall getting a phone call telling me I had been observed on “Entertainment Tonight.” Another time I was in Ensenada with a fellow bass player. We had gone to San Diego for a gig and afterwards, in a drunken mess, decided to go to Mexico on a whim. The bathroom in our shitty room had a lip on it and after a particularly intoxicating evening, he called out to say I was on the television. I stumbled out in a rush only to trip over the lip and fly, face down onto the bed with my pants around my ankles: leaving him forever scarred by the sight of me on the television juxtaposed with me face down and bare-assed in person! We had laughs about that for years. And while embarrassing, I have never been that guy who can’t laugh at himself and would be remiss if I were to not add that moment to this story. But it was not all grins and giggles.
For fuckssake, I couldn’t buy a drink in my hometown because I was now a certified “Rock Star.” People were pulling me to one side and asking me to help their buddy “break into” the music business. The absurdity of it all was too much sometimes. It was surreal and I could only laugh about it with my friends so as to not lose it, often saying, “If they could only see where I lived!” But I was never one to lambast anyone for being inaccurate, unless I had imbibed a bit too much and then … well, sometimes I could be a real ass. But that is no excuse for bad behavior so allow me to formally apologize to anyone now who may have gotten a dose of my drunken stupidity. The real downside for me was that I had been in so many great, critically acclaimed, and groundbreaking bands up to that point: Puppies; Country Dick & the Snuggle Bunnies; The Lonesome Strangers; Snake Farm; a stint with Billy Bremner from Rockpile. So for all I had done as a musician, my praise, my legacy as it were, was from a fucking acting gig.
The worst part is I was in the throes of alcohol and drug addiction at this time. I really was a mess. I recall a friend coming by my place at Sunset and Gordon to pay a 12-Step call on me. He is a prominent and talented drummer and though I didn’t know it at the time, he was trying to save my life and my career. Of course I was in a rather joyous mood, having made a trip to the downstairs liquor store that morning so his efforts were to no avail. He sat patiently laughing — I’m sure at me — as I jumped up and down on the my bed with a Schlitz “Tall Boy,” pontificating on the brilliance of Nelson Riddle’s arrangements while “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely” played loudly.
My situation was so bad, I made a drastic life change and moved to Washington state. I’d rather not go into the details of that as they are basically boring but I will say I was at my mother’s house for a short rest when I got a call. It was from David’s “people.” I was being invited to his Glass Spider Tour with backstage passes. So I sojourned to a room at the Sunset Marquis to pick them up. Of course, David was not there, but it was nice for him to remember me that way. It only deepened my appreciation for him as a person. The night of the concert is a tale in and of itself so please forgive me if I leave that for another time.
I eventually cleaned myself up, moved back to Hollywood, and went on to play in a few more amazing, yet totally unknown bands: The Knights of the Living Dead; AntiProduct; The Black Tongued Bells. I also did some session work, got a degree from UCLA and eventually semi-retired from music and took up screenwriting — moving from one high-paying job to another! LOL! To this day I have a handful of people who feel I’m one of the best bass players they’ve ever known. I don’t see it. I never have. Further, while I appreciate their kind and supportive words, I never really cared. I’ve always considered myself a “band guy” and being a part of the greater whole is where I felt I shined the brightest. All I ever cared about was making the best and most honest music I could. And now, as I write this, I ponder my life and the choices I’ve made. Two failed marriages and two failed careers; failing health and a future that looks less than fulfilling. Anyone who knows me will attest that I never talk about this stuff, except to a few close friends, and then I usually find the humor in it all. But as a writer, I’m a firm believer in being honest. Perhaps now you can see why I was hesitant to tell this tale. For all the sparkle that accompanied working with David Bowie, there is an aftermath, and that too must be told. For if I left that out I would be but a liar and a fraud. When we pass, the only thing we can take with us is our credibility. I would like to feel mine remained intact. But I will not be around to determine that; only others will. I can only hope they will be honest, if not kind.
As for David? Well, I did run into him one more time right before he formed Tin Machine. But he was surrounded by people, friends and fans alike, so we did not have a chance to talk. I doubt he remembered me but we shook hands and said hello nonetheless. And I actually did get to work with him again, though he never knew it. I helped build the sets for a movie he was in called “The Linguini Incident.” So there you have it; the good, the bad and the ugly. I hope you have enjoyed this tale and that it has helped shed some light on just what an amazing person he truly was. He never came off as a rock star and his generosity and exuberance had a profound impact on me. I only wish I had gotten to spend some time in the studio with him. Not to sound egotistical, but I honestly think he would have enjoyed it as much I would have.