Klaus Nomi

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Klaus Nomi fans unite! Klaus Nomi is definately an acquired taste, and honestly I still have yet to meet someone in person who is also a fan. It’s his combination of classical, new wave and serious cheeze that makes him compelling to me. He was one of the first artists I heard where I went: “Oh wow, a musician can be like that?”. That was back in 1983 or so.

YouTube.com has a lot of his videos posted – search “Klaus Nomi” on YouTube for listings – or check out one of his videos here:

The other thing very intriguing about Klaus Nomi is that he made up not only a fictitious persona, but also fibbed a little on his real world identity. His claims of opera background were not exactly accurate – but that’s part of what makes him ultra cool to me. He just “did it” and did it his way.

And if you are a Klaus Nomi hater (and I know there’s PLENTY of you out there), you at least have to give the concession that he is a unique artist. And from there you can cut and debate what “unique” means – but unique it is.

Klaus Nomi makes me happy. I don’t know why, he just does. IÂ picture him walking on stage in the 16th century doing his act with a string section. If you’re also a Nomi fan, please leave a comment. Nomi fans also make me happy, because I know there are other people out there that appreciate his art.

And yes, Klaus Nomi was one of the first artists to die of AIDS. Back when AIDS was mysterious and not talked about much. I remember how sad I was when I heard about that. Sad for me, because I wanted to hear more of his music.

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KLAUS NOMI ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

In 1980 Klaus Nomi was on Saturday Night Live with David Bowie and Joey Arias. David Bowie invited Klaus to perform with him after seeing footage shot by Anders Grafstrom.

Many of Klaus’ fans have wondered about the identity of Anders Grafstrom to whom Klaus dedicated his first album.He was a Swedish film-maker and good friend of Nomi who was killed in a car accident. He filmed many early performances of klaus and Klaus had a role in Grafstrom’s ” The Long Island Four”.The early film footage was shown to David Bowie who became very intrigued with Klaus.As a result Klaus was invited by Bowie to appear with him on “Saturday Night Live” in 1980. Grafstrom’s footage was also used by Michael O’ Donaghue in his “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video.

SNL Photo with Bowie, Nomi and Arias

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ABOUT KLAUS NOMI

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Klaus Nomi (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983) was a German countertenor noted for remarkable vocal performances and an unusual, elfin stage persona. Nomi is remembered for bizarrely theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classic opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes”.

Personal life

Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Germany. His birthday is commonly observed as January 24, 1944, though the director of The Nomi Song stated at the New York City premiere of the documentary that Sperber’s exact birthday is unknown.

Nomi moved from Germany to New York City in the mid-1970s. He began his involvement with the art scene based in the East Village. According to Horn’s documentary film, Nomi took singing lessons and supported himself working as a pastry chef. Nomi moved in gay circles and in the performance underground.

Nomi died on August 6, 1983 in New York City, one of the first celebrities to die of an illness complicated by AIDS.

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Career

After a chance meeting in a nightclub, David Bowie hired Nomi and Joey Arias as back-up singers and consultants on costume design for a performance on Saturday Night Live which aired on December 14, 1979.

Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish.

The 1981 rock documentary film, Urgh! A Music War features Nomi’s live performance of Total Eclipse.

Influence and cultural significance

Filmmakers like Andrew Horn and writers like Jim Fouratt consider Nomi an important part of the 1980s East Village scene, which was a hotbed of development for punk rock, music, the visual arts, and the avant-garde. Although Nomi’s work was not met with national commercial success at the time, he garnered a cult following, mainly in New York and in France.

Andrew Horn’s 2004 feature documentary about Nomi’s life The Nomi Song released on Palm Pictures helped spur renewed interest in the singer, including an art exhibit in San Francisco at the New Langton gallery.

Nomi’s influence can also be measured by references and homages to him in the work of later artists.

British pop icon Morrissey used the song “Wayward Sisters”* as an introduction prior to appearing on stage to begin a concert for his Kill Uncle tour. Morrissey included Nomi’s song “Death” in his compilation of influential songs titled “Under the Influence”.

Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth wrote a “Hommage à Klaus Nomi” for countertenor and chamber ensemble.

A fictionalised version of Klaus Nomi appears in a two-part episode of animated comedy/adventure series The Venture Bros. In “Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part I),” he appears as one of David Bowie’s bodyguard henchmen (alongside an animated Iggy Pop, another Bowie collaborator). “Klaus” attacks his opponents with ultra-high-pitched singing and the over-sized bow tie of his famous costume, spun and ejected as a battering weapon. In “Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part II),” “Klaus” seems to have been killed after betraying Bowie in order to become a henchman of a villain known as The Phantom Limb.

Nomi’s flamboyant cover of Lesley Gore’s 1964 hit “You Don’t Own Me” is sometimes featured on The Rush Limbaugh Show as the “Homosexual Community Update” Updates (Rush Limbaugh) This was done after Gore’s original was for a time adopted as the Feminist Update. Nomi does not change the lyrics (e.g. “Don’t say I can’t go with other boys”).

Discography

Albums

* Klaus Nomi 1981
* Simple Man 1982
* Encore 1983
* In Concert 1986

Singles

* You Don’t Own Me / Falling in Love Again (1981)
* Nomi Song / Cold Song (1982)
* Lightning Strikes / Falling in Love Again (1982)
* Simple Man / Death (1982)
* Ding Dong / ICUROK (1982)
* ICUROK / Ding Dong (Canadian 12″)
* Za Bak Daz / Silent Night (CD single, 1998)

Klaus Nomi 1982 Interview:

From French TV. With clips from the video of The Nomi Song (not the documentary).

Translation by anonymous:

Interviewer : When you arrived to NY, how did you earn a living?

Klaus : Hum… like Rudolph Valentino*. Hehe, kidding. Well, I did everything, even dirty jobs, like dishwashing or delivery boy for a grocer, delivering flowers, cooking, peeling vegetables… it was a curious story, up to a point it became unbearable. The urge to sing was stronger, so one day I performed in a club and it was very successful ; then I could give up all those dreadful jobs, and devote my time to music.

Interviewer : Why did you choose that name, “Nomi”?

Klaus : It was on inspiration. I think the name sounds good, it doesn’t really have a certain national taste, you know, it could be any nation, because I see myself as universal, not as German, American, French ot whatever you want, cause we are all on this planet, we’re all living on the earth.

Interviewer : It’s not enough for you to be Nomi, you must also wear the Nomi symbol?

Klaus : well you know now I’m in the business, I like to promote myself, ans I think this is a very nice badge, this is my own design.

Interviewer : It was said about you that you were either the 8th wonder of the world, or a tragic accident of the nature. What do you think of this definition?

Klaus : oh it’s wonderful, it’s extraordinary. I hope it’s true.

Interviewer : Who has drawn your costume?

Klaus : I have.**

Interviewer : What does it mean ? (seeing Klaus’ hesitation) Nothing?

Klaus : I don’t know. I hope it means something, people talk about it a lot.

Interviewer : Why this clown-like, cold make-up?

Klaus : I don’t think it’s clown-like, I don’t think it’s cold. It’s very theatrical, very intense. It’s an unnatural make-up, made for stage. It’s like a doll or a cartoon. You see it once and never forget it.

Interviewer : Why are you hiding behind this make-up?

Klaus : I’m not really hiding, I’m showing out, because the way I am it’s hard to look like a normal person. You know, in the streets, when I was a kid, people always said I looked strange, and it made me feel very unhappy. And all of a sudden I go on stage, and people like me for that ; but as soon as I’m outside, I feel like I have to hide, because people laugh at me, because of the way I look. Now I’m using this look, it works for me, I even exagerate it. I used to hide my large forehead, but now I’m selling it.

Interviewer : How do you.. work your voice?

Klaus : I think I do have my own technique, because I’ve been disappointed by teachers, maybe because i didn’t meet the good one. I don’t like to depend on teachers anyway. So I’m walking on my own way, and I try to be as natural as I can. I think it’s the only way to be yourself.

Interviewer : What kind of music do you listen to?

Klaus : Oh… honestly, all of them. You know, I like to try things, to experience, especially with electronic music.

Interviewer : Are tou touched by modern life issues, or do you live in your own world, in your own character?

Klaus : I feel threatened, and sometimes it makes me angry because I can’t do anything about that, there’s just too many issues. But in a way I think my work is meant to get people out of that.

Interviewer : I read that you wanted to be a magical character..

Klaus : Well I think it’s a nice to be a little magical. Today we need this. All that we can read in fairy tales or books, I think somewhere it’s all around us. But nowadays we can think that this magic has been killed, and I try to make it survive as long as possible.

Interviewer : Do you want to become a star?

Klaus : I don’t know what that really means… I want to accomplish my work and fulfil my dreams, and do something with my life, and I hope I’ll be able to accomplish it. It’s very much work, but I like it.

8 comments

  • Hello.It’s a great pleasure for me to find that there are another NOMI funs out there!

    I have my own blog in which I set a categoriy “KLAUS NOMI”.
    In case you are interested,have a look at the adress below…

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/noroya1/c/a6fa4858d494aa7c103c6959b065d1d5

    I write the articles all in Japanese,but photos and illustrations are also containd.

  • Hello. I came upon “The Nomi Song” by accident while scrolling thru “ON DEMAND” on cable. Blew me away. I can count on the fingers of one hand the performances that I have seen in my life which brought tears to my eyes. His performance in the New Wave Vaudeville Show brought the tears. Beautiful voice, he stayed completely in character at all times! (no little achievement!), he was interesting, bright obviously, very sweet personality, and I wish I could have known him. What a darling person! I have just ordered one of his albums from Amazon.com. Of course this unusual personality is not to everyone’s taste. So? I know what I like! And, as was wisely said by one of the commentators on the documentary, “This is art, and you are not.” True. I wish he could have had a longer life. There is not a doubt in my mind that he would have been a highly respected world famous operatic tenor in the same category as was Pavarotti and others. His contacting AIDS was bad luck. In those days, most of us were fooling around sexually and we had no inkling that there was a disease out there that would kill us if we contracted it. I luckily, there’s no other explanation…did not contract it. Twenty years later my tests still come back negative…so far. Who can figure? The universe is indifferent to us as humans. If there is an afterlife, Nomi is singing arias for the gods.

  • We can Klaus if we want to
    We can leave your friends behind (Klaus would never leave a friend’s behind)
    Cause your friends don’t Klaus
    And if they don’t Klaus
    Well they’re no friends of mine

  • Hello,

    I admired Klaus very much and first saw him in Mr. Mike’s Mondo video.
    I had the pleasure of meeting Klaus while wondering around the streets when I lived in NYC in 1981, he was a very nice guy, and gave me one of his buttons with his logo, (plain with no text, very cool)
    Klaus was an interesting, creative, visionary artist, and also a pleasant and polite individual to meet.

    (wondering the streets there and then is like surfing the web today, never knew what you were going to run onto)

    Glad I met the guy, shame he died young

    regards,
    Jet

  • Jet – I am so jealous that you got to meet Mr. Nomi – what an experience!

    I just updated this page with some additional Klaus Nomi music videos and also an interview from 1982 French TV. Enjoy!

  • Thank you for posting this site; I was a fan in the ’80’s and into the 90’s and if I met someone who may have heard of Klaus as well, then they were a friend of mine! I loved his gentleness, his originality and the ability to really put himself out there. Having the videos to watch, plus that interview from 1982, make me both happy and sad at the same time. He inspires me to this day.
    I am a fan, but feel it is something deeper and to all who follow such a soul I think you know what I mean.

  • Ange – I agree with your comments as if I’d written them myself. Klaus is very special.

  • I am just finding out about Klaus Nomi! I clicked on a video in the suggestion column on YouTube (Lightning Strikes) and was blown away! A month later I am reading, watching and listening to everything I can! I think he was as genuine as he seemed. I know what it feels like to be an outsider/wierdo. Thank you for the interpretation of the French interview.
    Nomi forever!

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