Klaus Nomi

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Klaus Nomi
Nomi in 1979
Nomi in 1979
Background information
Birth nameKlaus Sperber
Born(1944-01-24)24 January 1944
Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany
Died6 August 1983(1983-08-06) (aged 39)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, musician, performance artist
Years active1978–1983
Websiteklausnomi.net Edit this at Wikidata

Klaus Sperber (24 January 1944 – 6 August 1983), known professionally as Klaus Nomi, was a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.

In the 1970s Nomi immersed himself in the East Village art scene. He was known for his bizarre and 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". Nomi was one of David Bowie's backup singers for a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.[1]


Early life and career[edit]

Klaus Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany, on January 24, 1944.[2] 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.[3]

Nomi emigrated to New York City in 1972.[4][5] He did some off-Broadway theater work and moonlighted as a pastry chef.[6]

In 1977, 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.[7]

Music career[edit]

Nomi came to the attention of the East Village art scene in 1978 with his performance in "New Wave Vaudeville", a four-night event MC'd by artist David McDermott.[7] 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.[7]

At the New Wave Vaudeville show Nomi met Kristian Hoffman, a 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, Hurrah and the Mudd Club.[8] He also appeared on Manhattan Cable's TV Party.

Disagreements with the management Nomi engaged led to the 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, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf.[7] He was briefly involved with Jean-Michel Basquiat, then known for his graffiti art as SAMO.[9]

Nomi and Arias were introduced to David Bowie at the Mudd Club, who hired them as performers and backup singers for his appearance on Saturday Night Live on December 15, 1979.[10] They performed "TVC 15", "The Man Who Sold the World", and "Boys Keep Swinging".[11] 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.

Nomi played a supporting role as a Nazi official in Anders Grafstrom's 1980 underground film The Long Island Four.[12]

The 1981 rock documentary film Urgh! A Music War features Nomi's live performance of "Total Eclipse".[7] His performance of "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" was used for the closing credits. In the liner notes of Nomi's 1981 self-titled record, 666 Fifth Avenue was listed as the contact address.

He released his second album, Simple Man, in November 1982. He also collaborated with producer Man Parrish, appearing on Parrish's 1982 album Man Parrish as a backup vocalist on the track "Six Simple Synthesizers".[13]

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.

Za Bakdaz, a suite of home-studio recordings circa 1979 restored by Page Wood and George Elliott, was released posthumously in 2007.[14]

Illness and death[edit]

Nomi died at the Sloan Kettering Hospital Center in New York City on August 6, 1983, as a result of complications from AIDS. He was one of the earliest known figures from the arts community to die from the illness.[15][16] Nomi's close friend Joey Arias was executor of his estate.[17] Nomi's ashes were scattered in New York City.[6]


Filmmaker Andrew Horn and writer 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.[18] Andrew Horn's 2004 feature documentary about Nomi's life, The Nomi Song,[19] 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.[20][21][22][23]

In pop culture[edit]

In 2001, German pop duo Rosenstolz and English singer Marc Almond recorded a cover version of "Total Eclipse".[24][25] Garbage used his "Valentine’s Day" song as the basis for their 2012 "Beloved Freak".

Nomi makes an appearance in Derf Backderf's graphic novel Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, released in 2008.[26]

Timur and the Dime Museum covered Nomi on their America's Got Talent audition.[27] In 2023, Timur and Matthew Setzer premiered a musical "Klaus from Space" curated by composer of Nomi's hits, Kristian Hoffman at O. Festival [nl] in Rotterdam, described by Theaterkrant critic as "This reincarnation of Klaus Nomi shows serious feelings beneath the glitz and kitsch."[28]

In the film Suspiria (2018), Nomi singing "Total Eclipse" can be heard in the background on the radio in the room of another dancer.[29]

Nomi makes an appearance in the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros. in the 2006 season 2 closing episode "Showdown at Cremation Creek.[30]" He is portrayed as one of two bodyguard henchmen of the leader of the villainous organization the Guild of Calamitous Intent, The Sovereign (shown to be David Bowie in the episode, or at least taking his form). The henchmen (the other being Iggy Pop) seemingly assassinate The Sovereign (Nomi shown to have flight and a sonic scream as superpowers), only to be duped and later killed by him.

He made an appearance on The Special Without Brett Davis' TV Party homage.



Album Year Album information
Klaus Nomi 1981
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: LP, Cassette, CD, Digital Download
Simple Man 1982
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: LP, Cassette, CD, Digital Download
Za Bakdaz: The Unfinished Opera 2007
  • Label: Heliocentric
  • Format: CD, Digital Download


Album Year Album information
Encore 1983
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: LP, Cassette, CD, Digital Download
The Collection 1991
  • Released in Europe and Japan
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: Cassette, CD
Klaus Nomi 1994
  • Released in France and Germany
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: Cassette, CD
Eclipsed: The Best of Klaus Nomi 1999
  • Released in the United States
  • Label: Razor & Tie
  • Format: CD
Nomi 2023
  • Box set containing LP reissues of Klaus Nomi, Simple Man, Encore and In Concert
  • Released: 16 June 2023
  • Label: Sony Music
  • Format: 4LP
  • Released: September 29, 2023
  • Label: Legacy
  • Format: LP, CD, Digital Download
Remixes: Volume 2
  • Released: December 15, 2023
  • Label: Legacy
  • Format: LP, CD, Digital Download


Album Year Album information
In Concert 1986
  • Recorded in 1979
  • Includes cover of "I Feel Love"
  • Label: RCA
  • Format: LP, Cassette, CD, Digital Download


Single Year Single information Album
"You Don't Own Me"
b/w "Falling in Love Again"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB-8783
  • Released in France and Spain
Klaus Nomi
"Total Eclipse"
b/w "Falling in Love Again"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB-8885
  • Released in Germany
"Nomi Song" / "The Cold Song"
(Double A-side)
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB-8864
  • Released in France
"Lightning Strikes"
b/w "Falling in Love Again"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: RCA 173
  • Released in the United Kingdom
"Simple Man"
b/w "Death"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB-9947
  • Released in France and Spain
Simple Man
"Ding Dong"
b/w "Death" (Germany/UK)
b/w "ICUROK" (France)
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB 61005 (Germany)
  • Released in Germany, United Kingdom and France
"Just One Look"
b/w "Rubberband Lazer"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB-50733
  • Released in Canada
"ICUROK" / "Simple Man"
(12" single)
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: KD-10005
  • Released in Canada
"The Cold Song"
b/w "Wasting My Time" (France)
b/w "Keys of Life" (Japan)
  • Used in the film A Nos Amours
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB 61268
  • Released in France and Japan
Klaus Nomi
"Ding Dong"
b/w "Samson and Delilah"
(12" single)
  • Includes extended version of "Ding Dong"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PC 61535
  • Released in France
"I Feel Love"
b/w "I Feel Love" (Live)
  • Rare studio version of "I Feel Love"
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: PB 40943
In Concert
"Za Bak Daz" / "Silent Night"
(CD single)
  • Archival recordings from c. 1980
  • Label: Heliocentric
Za Bakdaz: The Unfinished Opera
"Total Eclipse" (Remake) 2011
  • Released April 1, 2011
  • Remix by Man Parrish
  • Digital single
"Cold Song 2013" 2013
  • Released July 15, 2013
  • Remixes by DJ Hell
  • Formats: 12", Digital Download
  • Released in Germany
Remixes: Volume 2
"Simple Man" (Agar Agar Remix) 2023
  • Digital single
"The Cold Song" (Arnaud Rebotini Remix)
  • Digital single
"Nomi Song" (Vince Clarke Remix)
  • Digital single

Promotional releases[edit]

Title Year Information Tracklist
You Don't Own Me 1981
  • 12" Promo for the album Klaus Nomi
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: DC 8812
  • Released in France
  1. "You Don't Own Me"
  2. "The Cold Song"
  3. "Lightning Strikes"
Wayward Sisters 1982
  • 12" Promo for the album Simple Man
  • Label: RCA
  • Cat. No.: DC 9948
  • Released in France
  1. "Wayward Sisters"
  2. "Ding Dong"
  3. "Simple Man"
  4. "Death"
The Nomi Song: Remixes 2005
  • CD Promo released in conjunction with The Nomi Song documentary
  • Label: Palm Pictures
  • Cat. No.: PRCD31102
  • Released in the United States
  1. "Total Eclipse" (The Atomic Party Mix)
  2. "Mon Coeur" (L.H.O.O.Q. Mix)
  3. "Total Eclipse" (The Man Parrish Mix)
  4. "Coeur Total" (Dremstat's 22 Year Remix)
  5. "Mon Coeur" (Moog Cookbook Mix)

Music videos[edit]

  • 1982: "Simple Man" (directed and edited by John Zieman)
  • 1982: "Lightning Strikes"
  • 1982: "Nomi Song"
  • 1982: "Falling in Love Again"

Film appearances[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Klaus Nomi | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  2. ^ Felder, Rachel (July 4, 2022). "Overlooked No More: Klaus Nomi, Singer With an Otherworldly Persona". New York Times. p. D7. Retrieved July 5, 2022 – via nytimes.com.
  3. ^ Aston, Martin (2016). Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out. Unknown Publisher. ISBN 978-1472122438.
  4. ^ Gdula, Steven (September 14, 1999), "Eclipsed: The Best of Klaus Nomi (Review)", The Advocate
  5. ^ Smith, Rupert (July 1994), "Klaus Nomi", Attitude, vol. 1, no. 3
  6. ^ a b Landoli, Kathy (December 10, 2015). "The Curious Career of Klaus Nomi". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e Hager, Steven (1986), Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-04976-8, OCLC 939928152
  8. ^ Boch, Richard (2017). The Mudd Club. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House. p. 77. ISBN 978-1-62731-051-2. OCLC 972429558.
  9. ^ Hoban, Phoebe (1998). Basquiat: A Quick Killing In Art. New York: Viking. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-670-85477-6.
  10. ^ Arias, Joey (January 11, 2016). "My Saturday Night (Live) With Bowie". www.out.com. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  11. ^ Whatley, Jack (July 4, 2020). "When David Bowie performed on Saturday Night Live, 1979". Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  12. ^ Internet Movie Database: The Long Island Four
  13. ^ "Interview: Man Parrish on "Hip Hop Be Bop," Klaus Nomi and (Not) Sleeping With Madonna". daily.redbullmusicacademy.com. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  14. ^ Behgtol, LD (January 8, 2008). "Resident Alien Klaus Nomi is Back From Outer Space—25 Years After His Death—With a Wondrous New Disc". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 5, 2022 – via villagevoice.com.
  15. ^ Smith, Rupert (July 1994), "Klaus Nomi", Attitude, vol. 1, no. 3, London, England.
  16. ^ Rosenzweig, Leah (November 30, 2018). "Cause of Death: Uncovering the hidden history of AIDS on The New York Times obituary page". Slate.com. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  17. ^ King, John Paul (December 10, 2019). "Queer icon Joey Arias donates archives to Harvard". Los Angeles Blade: LGBTQ News, Rights, Politics, Entertainment. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  18. ^ Cvejić, Žarko (2009). "Do You Nomi?: Klaus Nomi and the Politics of (Non)identification". Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. 13 (1): 66–75. doi:10.1353/wam.0.0016. S2CID 170189568.
  19. ^ "The Advocate". The Advocate: The National Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine. Here Publishing: 56. February 15, 2005. ISSN 0001-8996. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  20. ^ Clare, Lenora (2008), "Naked City: Informer (article)", Frontiers, vol. 27, no. 2, archived from the original on May 31, 2008
  21. ^ "Man Parrish on the Angie Bowie Show, 2014". blogtalkradio.com. December 11, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  22. ^ Diana, Barbara (2008), "Ladies and Gentlemen Ernesto Tomasini (article)", Il Giornale della Musica, no. April 28
  23. ^ M, G (2011), "OTHON: Digital Angel (article)", African Paper, no. August 31
  24. ^ Köhnlein, Stephan (October 8, 2001), "'Wir hassen Schlager'" Archived August 10, 2014, at the Wayback Machine (in German), Rhein-Zeitung
  25. ^ "Rosenstolz – Marc Almond – Nina Hagen – Total Eclipse – swisscharts.com", Hung Medien
  26. ^ "Derf Backderf a écrit une BD géniale sur la scène punk d'Akron, Ohio". www.vice.com (in French). April 16, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  27. ^ "Melisurgo, Len (June 02, 2010)". June 2, 2010.
  28. ^ "Music Theater Review – Klaus from Space, Theaterkrant". www.theaterkrant.nl (in Dutch). May 18, 2023. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  29. ^ Klaus Nomi – List of Songs heard in Movies & TV Shows, retrieved November 22, 2021
  30. ^ "The Sovereign Returns to the Venture Brothers". November 23, 2009.
  31. ^ "Out". Out: America's Best Selling Gay and Lesbian Magazine. Here Publishing: 82. June 2005. ISSN 1062-7928. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

External links[edit]