KLAUS NOMI -
RIDING THE NEW WAVE
The transitional period between decades is always highly charged with the excitement of things to come, and of an era coming to an end. The 1970's had their final burst of energy with Punk rock, but by 1979, the New Wave was already upon us. Simmering beneath the deliberate crudeness, realism and rage of Punk was the slick, brightly coloured, cosmetic, futuristic fantasy world of New Wave. The movement's forerunners were fans of British Glam rock, especially of David Bowie and of American disco music. It was time for some fun. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was back in town!
New York City had a healthy club scene in 1979. While CBGB's still hosted local bands like Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads, Hurrah! was the New Wave dance spot. Danceteria and the Mudd Club were also thriving, and discos like Xenon were going strong. Even Studio 54 hung on by a thread. Music was becoming more synthesized and Euro-flavored, ever since the Giorgio Moroder produced Donna Summer hit, "I Feel Love" (1977) inspired experimentation within dance music. This was usually reserved for New Age, Jazz or space-age music, but now dance music could be taken to the outer limits as well. This new sound was known in Europe as New Romantic. The dawn of MTV forced musicians to be more concerned with visual appearance, and even Heavy Metal became Hair Metal! Soon came the wrath of Madonna.
Meanwhile, a strange, brilliant fellow from Germany had been living quietly in New York City for a few years, developing an act and a persona to compliment his extraordinary singing talents. That persona became Klaus Nomi, and his story is short, but sweet. Had he lived, the 80's surely would have been more noteworthy. The musical climate was perfect for what he had to offer. Nomi could see the future clearly in fact, he was already living in it.
Soon our paths would cross. In 1978, I became a regular shopper at the trendy fashion spot, Fiorucci where the Day-Glo colored clothing was made of plastic and vinyl. Fiorucci was not just a store, but a whole new scene. They sold clothing by new cutting edge designers, and their own Fiorucci brand. Andy Warhol designed the window displays and frequented the store, which also sold the latest fashion magazines. The newest music was always played there; the B-52s, Blondie, Devo, Bowie, etc.
I bought a new Fiorucci outfit each week, and my hair was eggplant purple with flaming pink streaks. A sales person named Joey admired my clothes, so we would trade off. He would loan me his Fiorucci clothes. Joey's hair was a different florescent color each week, and once it was stenciled in leopard print!
At Christmas time in 1978 I spotted a strange looking guy on a Fiorucci postcard, which read, "Klaus Nomi." I figured it meant "Merry Christmas" in German and bought the card.
In December of 1979, I was in the studio for Bowie's Saturday Night Live rehearsal. My dad (a VP at NBC) apologized for not getting me a seat inside the studio, but in the control room instead. This was even better, since I was right outside the dressing rooms!
The studio was buzzing with excitement. Jane Curtin and Larraine Newman were jumping around yelling, "Bowie is in the building!!!" I suddenly recognized Joey from Fiorucci in the hallway. He excitedly explained that Bowie had asked him to sing back-up on the show! Bowie stood with a weird little guy dressed in black, and introduced him to me as "Klaus Nomi!" (Joey Arias turned out to be a member of Klaus Nomi's band.) I was actually more excited to see my postcard photo come to life than to actually meet the legendary Bowie!
I was enraptured by this elfin creature in exquisite makeup, bizarre hair style and costume with a German accent. Klaus smiled sweetly and kissed my hand. He wore the softest leather elbow-length gloves -- quite glamorous!
I asked who did their fabulous makeup (the meticulous details were not visible on TV). They boasted that they'd done each other's makeup, "Joey did mine and I did his, and we did David's!" Boys will be girls.
First they performed "The Man Who Sold The World." Joey and Klaus carried Bowie on-stage because his plastic Dadaist costume (resembling something from Klaus' unique wardrobe) encased his legs, confirming Nomi's influence on Bowie. Klaus and Joey sang backing vocals and you could hear Nomi's authentic, immaculate soprano quite clearly. It was a wondrous gift that could evoke emotion and astonishment in any listener. Back to the dressing room
Bowie emerged for his second song -- in a dress! It was refreshing to see him back to his old glam/drag tricks. The trio performed "TVC-15," then rehearsed their "macho" dance moves for "Boys Keep Swinging."
I accepted Klaus' invitation to see his next concert, and saw him perform many times. Anyone could appreciate his pop/opera music. It's quite keyboard-laden with melodic guitar work, and Nomi's flawless vocals! The classical operatic arias are captivating, especially with the freaky visual juxtaposition. I was never an opera fan, but this was something else! It's rare to find a Nomi fan in the states. His following was mainly German and Japanese.
Klaus came to New York from Germany. He yearned to use his gifted operatic voice in the pop/rock arena. He would pose in the window of Fiorucci as a mannequin for hours, never blinking his eyes once. Klaus was an excellent mime and a rare talent. His range from baritone to soprano was beyond belief, coupled with his bizarre, spiked blue-black hair and matching lipstick, white painted face and his unblinking eyes. In his shiny monochrome plastic space suit, pointy elf booties, and leotards Klaus looked like a real life toy -- across between Mickey Mouse and the Tin Man. He was a really sweet guy. He would kiss my cheek and leave a black lipstick print every time! I'd see him walking down New York's St. Mark's place in his fuzzy electric blue coat and makeup in broad daylight.
Live shows were his strength; a sort of Kabuki-Cabaret, opening with Klaus emerging fresh from outer space in a cloud of smoke (dry ice actually, which would shower the audience with a cool heavenly mist). His band was hidden behind a curtain while Klaus and his mime troupe -- Joey and a couple of exquisitely made-up Martian girls - performed alien theatrics, churning out ditties like "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", "I Feel Love" (yes, the Donna Summer hit), Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" and "The Twist." Klaus' original songs were melodic Euro-pop tunes with other-worldly lyrics about outer space, death and the distant future. The Nomi character and his evocative vocals gave warmth to the otherwise cold synthetic sound. Nomi's music was like Kraftwerk with personality. Klaus closed each show with the operatic aria from Samson and Delilah -- astonishing the crowd every time. The phrase, "Is it live, or is it Memorex?" lingered on everyone's mind.
Nomi's performance at Xenon on February 25, 1980 was fabulous. The oblivious dancing crowd was unaware there would be a show at all, and when their precious disco music suddenly stopped and a curtain rose on-stage, they hissed and booed. Klaus immediately entranced them with his genuine vocal abilities and self-created character -- and at the end of the forty-minute performance, disappeared into the vaporous stratosphere from which he came. Everyone screamed for an encore! First there was the dead silence of disbelief, then a cry of, "What was that?!" then a loud burst of applause.
Nomi performed a stunning two-night engagement at Hurrah! on March 18th and 19th, 1980. Even the audience was quite glamourous! We all had the distinctive feeling that we had witnessed the beginning of something big.
I last saw Klaus at the Mudd Club in 1982, performing out of costume but still in full make-up. Then he suddenly disappeared from the scene, and my worst fears came true. Klaus died of AIDS in 1983. He is sincerely missed. It's tragic that it all started and ended so quickly. I always think of his sincere smile, of how much he loved parties, the sparkle in his eyes, and how happy he was to finally be on the road to success. His golden voice lives on.
Klaus Nomi, French RCA LP PL 37556, 1981
UK RCA LP 6026 (PL 37556)
Issued with two different back covers
Simple Man, French RCA LP PL 37702, November 1982
Klaus Nomi Encore! West German RCA LP PL 70180, 1983
In Concert West German RCA PL71145, 1986
Keys of Life, Falling in Love Again, Lightning Strikes, The Nomi Song, The Twist, Total Eclipse, I Feel Love, Samson and Delilah
"Total Eclipse" (live)/"Total Eclipse" (live)
A&M Promo-only 12" SP-17178, 1981
from: Urgh! A Music War! Soundtrack, A&M LP SP-6019, 1981
"You Don't Own Me"/"Falling In Love Again," French RCA 45 110, PB 8783, 1981
"Lightnin' Strikes"/"Falling In Love Again," French RCA 45 173, PB 8836, 1982
"Nomi Song"/"The Cold Song," French RCA 45 110, PB 8864, 1982
"Ding Dong"/"Death," French RCA 45 289, PB 61005, 1982
"Simple Man"/"Death," French RCA 45 xxx, PB 9947, 1982
"Ding Dong" / "ICUROK" French RCA 45 xxx PB 61033
"ICUROK" Canadian 12" RCA KD-10005
"The Cold Song"/"Keys Of Life," Japan JVC 45 VIPX-1798, 1984
"Ding Dong" (5:25 extended version)/"Samson and Delilah" (live), French RCA 12" PC 61535, 1985
Klaus Nomi guest vocal: "Six Simple Synthesizers" (5:37) on Man Parrish, Importe/12 LP MP-320, 1982
Tribute To Klaus Nomi video collection:
Japan Victor VTM-32, 1983: "Falling In Love Again," "Lightnin' Strikes," "Nomi Song" & "Simple Man."
Madeline Bocchiaro can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.