David Bowie wrote this song in homage to New Jersey's own "Uncle" Floyd Vivino, a vaudeville-styled comedian and pianist who for 20+ years hosted The Uncle Floyd Show, a kiddie-styled variety hour airing on local access cable in the New York tri-state area (and continues to perform live today). The show started in the 1970s as an actual kiddie show, but it turned out that most of the adult-slanted jokes were going right over the heads of the kids populating the in-studio "peanut gallery," so Floyd reworked the show, eliminating the peanut gallery but retaining the menagerie of puppet cast members, which outnumbered the human cast by at least 3 to 1. Floyd himself is mentioned in the lyrics, as are Bones Boy and Oogie, both puppets on the show.
The cast first became aware of Bowie's interest in the show when he attended a live appearance by The Uncle Floyd Show cast on January 29, 1981 at New York City's legendary The Bottom Line nightclub. He informed Floyd that he always had the show on as he was getting ready to perform in a play he was doing on Broadway. He had been turned on to the show by another fellow musician who watched it, John Lennon.
Bowie called Floyd a few months before the album Heathen was released, and told him about the song. In the text below, courtesy of davidbowie.com, David talks about his new album and the show: "Both 'Slip Away' and 'Afraid' were recorded early last year and as I liked these 2 so much, I just moved 'em forward to this album. We completely re-recorded 'Slip Away', over one of Matt's great loop parts. Back in the late '70s, everyone that I knew would rush home at a certain point in the afternoon to catch the Uncle Floyd show. He was on UHF Channel 68 and the show looked like it was done out of his living room in New Jersey. All his pals were involved and it was a hoot. 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. Two of the regulars on the show were Oogie and Bones Boy, ridiculous puppets made out of ping-pong balls or some such. They feature in the song. I just loved that show."
Floyd's brothers Jimmy Vivino and Jerry Vivino are both members of the Max Weinberg 7, the house band for Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
Suggestion credit: Laura - Eatontown, NJ, for all above
Carlos from Chicago, IlBowie was playing the lead in the Broadway production of "The Elephant Man" when he first saw the Uncle Floyd Show. Incidentally, one of Uncle Floyd's more legendary musical guests were the Ramones.
Laura from Eatontown, NjThe second series of corrections comes from David Burd, who played Artie Delmar on the Uncle Floyd Show for many years. In David's words: "The Uncle Floyd Show was never on local access cable. It was always a commercial production, that is, it made money. Local access does not allow advertising. Floyd gets upset when people refer to the show as public access because it implies that he's some kind of a nut who wants to be on TV so bad he'll work for free. The TV show was always a business, not a hobby. Also, The Uncle Floyd Show was an hour long for a certain period of time, but the show ran 30 minutes for most of its 4,000+/- episodes." Thanks, David!