Like many aspiring musicians before them, and like many more since, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie of Flight Of The Conchords once tried and failed to be David Bowie, as Clement himself remembers in a lovely tribute article in The Spinoff. They didn’t quite have the vocal or instrumental chops to cover Bowie’s surprisingly tricky songs with any degree of authenticity. Faced with this seemingly insurmountable problem, Clement and McKenzie decided on the only possible course of action: They imitated him anyway, only to comic effect. The result was “Bowie,” a 1999 song in which Clement and McKenzie offer dueling, shaky Bowie imitations and ask the the real Bowie a slew of questions about what it’s like to be in outer space: “Does the space cold make your nipples go all pointy?” It’s a number that manages to be simultaneously reverent and irreverent, spoofing Bowie’s “freaky” alien image but obviously created out of love for the man and his music. “Bowie” became a staple of their act.
Years later, when Flight Of The Conchords had an eponymous HBO series, Clement and McKenzie wanted to incorporate “Bowie” into an episode and even tried to get the real Bowie to portray himself in a dream sequence. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards. Bowie had just portrayed himself on Ricky Gervais’ show, Extras, and wasn’t interested in doing it again so quickly. They initially cast comedian Dan Antopolski in the role, but when the footage had to be reshot for technical reasons, Clement himself portrayed the Thin White Duke, which he considered an honor even though his ultra-tight costume was supremely uncomfortable. Clement was so enamored of being David Bowie that he wore the costume home after shooting was done. To this day, the members of Flight Of The Conchords are not sure whether the actual David Bowie ever heard their parody/tribute. Clement, for one, said it was a relief not to work with his idol: “I’m still glad he didn’t meet us, perhaps he would have liked to, but he would have blown our minds.”