Nomi performing in 1977
|Birth name||Klaus Sperber|
|Born||January 24, 1944|
|Died||August 6, 1983 (aged 39)|
New York City, 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), known professionally 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.
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, and at one point was involved in the "rampant promiscuity" that earned John Sex his surname.[failed verification]
Illness and death
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.
In 2001 German pop duo Rosenstolz and English singer Marc Almond recorded a cover version of "Total Eclipse". 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.
Klaus is one of the Sovereign's bodyguards in the Adult Swim series The Venture Bros. The Sovereign is the leader of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and often takes the form of David Bowie.
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