Nomi performing in 1977
|Birth name||Klaus Sperber|
|Born||January 24, 1944|
|Died||August 6, 1983 (aged 39)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Genres||New wave, synthpop, opera, experimental, baroque, disco|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, actor|
|Associated acts||Joey Arias, Man Parrish, Kristian Hoffman, David Bowie|
Klaus Sperber (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983), better known as Klaus Nomi, was a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.
Nomi was known for his bizarrely visionary theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo that flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker's "The Twist" and Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". He is remembered in the United States as one of David Bowie's backup singers for a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.
Klaus Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany on January 24, 1944. In the 1960s, he worked as an usher at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin where he sang for the other ushers and maintenance crew on stage in front of the fire curtain after performances. He also sang opera arias at the Berlin gay discothèque Kleist Casino.
Nomi moved to New York City in 1972. He began his involvement with the art scene based in the East Village. According to The Nomi Song, a documentary by Andrew Horn, Nomi took singing lessons and supported himself as a pastry chef.
In 1972, Nomi appeared in a satirical camp production of Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold at Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater Company as the Rheinmaidens and the Wood Bird. He came to the attention of New York City's art scene in 1978 with his performance in "New Wave Vaudeville", a four-night event MC'd by artist David McDermott. Dressed in a skin-tight spacesuit with a clear plastic cape, Nomi sang the aria Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix ("My heart opens to your voice") from Camille Saint-Saëns' opera Samson et Dalila. The performance ended with a chaotic crash of strobe lights, smoke bombs, and loud electronic sound effects as Nomi backed away into the smoke. Joey Arias recalled: "I still get goose pimples when I think about it... It was like he was from a different planet and his parents were calling him home. When the smoke cleared, he was gone." After that performance Nomi was invited to perform at clubs all over New York City.
At the New Wave Vaudeville show Nomi met Kristian Hoffman, songwriter for the Mumps. Hoffman was a performer and MC in the second incarnation of New Wave Vaudeville and a close friend of Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully, who produced the show, and Ann Magnuson, who directed it. Anya Phillips, then manager of James Chance and the Contortions, suggested Nomi and Hoffman form a band. Hoffman became Nomi's de facto musical director, assembling a band that included Page Wood from another New Wave vaudeville act, Come On, and Joe Katz, who was concurrently in The Student Teachers, the Accidents, and The Mumps.
Hoffman helped Nomi choose his pop covers, including the Lou Christie song "Lightnin' Strikes". Hoffman wrote several pop songs with which Nomi is closely identified: "The Nomi Song", "Total Eclipse", "After The Fall", and "Simple Man", the title song of Nomi's second RCA French LP. This configuration of the Klaus Nomi band performed at Manhattan clubs, including several performances at Max's Kansas City, Danceteria and Hurrah.
Disagreements with the management Nomi engaged led to a dissolution of this band, and Nomi continued without them. In the late 1970s, while performing at Club 57, The Mudd Club, The Pyramid Club, and other venues, Nomi assembled various up-and-coming models, singers, artists, and musicians to perform live with him, including Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf. He also appeared on Manhattan Cable's TV Party. David Bowie heard about Nomi's performances in New York and soon met him and Arias at the Mudd Club. Bowie hired them as performers and backup singers for his appearance on Saturday Night Live on December 15, 1979. The band performed "TVC 15", "The Man Who Sold the World", and "Boys Keep Swinging". During the performance of "TVC 15", Nomi and Arias dragged around a large prop pink poodle with a television screen in its mouth. Nomi was so impressed with the plastic quasi-tuxedo suit that Bowie wore during "The Man Who Sold the World" that he commissioned one for himself. He wore the suit on the cover of his self-titled album, as well as during a number of his music videos. Nomi wore his variant of the outfit, in monochromatic black-and-white with spandex and makeup to match, until the last few months of his life. He released his second album, Simple Man, in November 1982.
Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish, appearing on Parrish's album Hip Hop Bee Bop as a backup vocalist on the track "Six Simple Synthesizers".
He played a supporting role as a Nazi official in Anders Grafstrom's 1980 underground film The Long Island Four.
666 Fifth Avenue was listed as the contact address in the liner notes of Nomi's 1981 self-titled record.
In the last several months of his life, Nomi changed his focus to operatic pieces and adopted a Baroque era operatic outfit complete with full collar as his typical onstage attire. The collar helped cover the outbreaks of Kaposi's sarcoma on his neck, one of the numerous AIDS-related diseases Nomi developed toward the end of his life. Nomi was reported to be gay; before his illness, there was speculation that he was asexual.
Illness and death
Nomi died on August 6, 1983 at the Sloan Kettering Hospital Center in New York City, one of the first celebrities to die of complications from AIDS. His ashes were scattered over New York City.
In popular culture
- Filmmakers such as Andrew Horn and writers such as 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 had not yet met with national commercial success at the time of his death, 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, which was released by Palm Pictures, helped spur renewed interest in the singer, including an art exhibit in San Francisco at the New Langton Arts gallery and one in Milan at the Res Pira Lab, which subsequently moved to Berlin's Strychnin Gallery, called "Do You Nomi?". New music pieces inspired by Nomi were commissioned by the gallery for a variety of European musicians, including Ernesto Tomasini, a singer often considered to be Nomi's heir.
- German pop duo Rosenstolz and English singer Marc Almond recorded together a cover version of "Total Eclipse". It was released in 2001 as a single and reached No. 22 in the German charts.
- Morrissey used the song Wayward Sisters as an introduction to a concert in his Kill Uncle tour. He used the song After the Fall in the same way during his 2007 American tour. Morrissey included Nomi's song Death in his compilation of influential songs, Under the Influence, after selecting it in 1984 as the last track for his appearance on the BBC radio show 'My Top 10'. Morrissey also chose Nomi's version of Schumann's "Der Nussbaum" ("The Walnut Tree") as one of his selections on BBC Radio 4's "Desert Island Discs" in November 2009.
- A character based on Nomi appears in the Adult Swim animated comedy/adventure TV series The Venture Bros.. He is one of the bodyguards, along with Iggy Pop, of David Bowie, who is "The Sovereign" of The Guild of Calamitous Intent. Nomi has super-scream capabilities, which he uses when he and Iggy turn against Bowie.
- Nomi's cover of Lesley Gore's 1964 hit "You Don't Own Me" has been featured on the nationally broadcast The Rush Limbaugh Show as the "Gay Update Theme". Limbaugh reportedly has an appreciation for Nomi's performance, and has sold his albums on his website.
- Nomi's visual aesthetic has been noted as an influence on women's fashion such as Boudicca, Givenchy, and Paco Rabanne, as well as men's fashion designers such as Gareth Pugh and Bruno Pieters for Hugo Boss. Jean Paul Gaultier's Spring 2009 couture was influenced by Nomi and he used Nomi's recording of Nomi Song in his runway show.
- Kazakh-American tenor Timur Bekbosunov, profiled in LA Weekly's Best of LA People 2011 issue as 'The Reform Tenor', recorded "Total Eclipse" and performed it on America's Got Talent Season 10 with his dark glam opera band, Timur and the Dime Museum, and the composer of the song, Kristian Hoffman, at the piano. According to Hoffman, "Timur sang Total Eclipse to the utter befuddlement of the panel of judges, with the exception of Sharon Osbourne, who gave some encouragement".
- Mike Myers's character Dieter from the fictional Sprockets show on Saturday Night Live was based on Nomi.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Primal Perry", the boys' friend Baljeet makes a 1980s style music video featuring himself in costume and makeup as Nomi.
- In Season 6, Episode 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race, contestant Courtney Act wore a Nomi-inspired outfit for the episode theme of Black and White.
- Giorgio Moroder cited "The Cold Song" as his inspiration for "Tony's Theme" from the movie Scarface.
- In the Netflix drama, Sense8, a principal character is transgender and named Nomi, an ostensible tribute to Klaus Nomi.
- The indie rock band Superchunk recorded a cover of "Total Eclipse" as the B-side to their 2018 single "Our Work is Done."
- Till Lindemann, Rammstein's vocalist, paid a tribute to Klaus Nomi in the music video of the single "Radio", 2019.
- Kylie Minogue gives a nod to the avant-garde cabaret singer and David Bowie affiliate during her current Summer 2019 shows, celebrating her 30 plus years in the music industry with her Step Back in Time - Definitive Collection compilation album. This performance was recently seen in the Legends slot at Glastonbury Festival 2019, by over 3.9 million viewers on BBC1. After singing ‘On A Night Like This’, Kylie dashes off for her first costume change, as a dancer dressed in an exaggerated tuxedo robo-waltzes on stage. Over the course of the next two songs (the lovely, Latin-y ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’ and the poppy ‘Hand On Your Heart’), Kylie teaches the automaton how to loosen up and dance! And what a show!!!
- AllMusic biography entry for Klaus Nomi
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- Kaufman, David (2005), Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, Hal Leonard Corporation, p. 263, ISBN 978-1-55783-637-3 (excerpt)
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- Diana, Barbara (2008), "Ladies and Gentlemen Ernesto Tomasini (article)", Il Giornale della Musica (April 28)
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- "Rosenstolz – Marc Almond – Nina Hagen – Total Eclipse – swisscharts.com", Hung Medien
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- WWD Staff (January 28, 2009), "Jean Paul Gaultier Couture Spring 2009", Women's Wear Daily
- Reddy, Sameer (January 29, 2009). "Klaus! Kylie! Inès! JPG Loves The Eighties". Style.com. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
- "Timur | Hollywood Bowl". hollywoodbowl.com. Archived from the original on March 23, 2012. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
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- "Live Review: Timur and the Dime Museum at the Central Library | L.A. Weekly". blogs.laweekly.com. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
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- ""Our Work Is Done" b/w "Total Eclipse" | Superchunk". bandcamp.com. Retrieved February 27, 2019.