(Image courtesy of the Klaus Nomi website.)
Nomi’s landing on Earth and on his music career was at New York’s East Village music scene, where his first recorded performance at the New Wave Vaudeville variety show landed. It’s positively one of the most beautiful and heavenly introductions for Klaus Nomi. Most popular in the east coast and France, he did pick up a record deal after extensive touring, which would later become the seminal introduction to Klaus Nomi to a wider audience.
The story of Klaus Sperber as a German boy, living with a loving mother who didn’t particularly like rock ‘n’ roll, is both tragic and inspirational. While he has been martyred as a pop culture icon today, he was also one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS back when it was still a severely misunderstood disease. If there is a better interpreter for his work, I would suggest reading up on Pitchfork’s short article on Klaus Nomi, which will provide most of the videos here. There is also a 2004 documentary by Andrew Horn titled The Nomi Song, which does a remarkable job in compiling footage from his live performances and providing context for his music career and personal life.
Footage of “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie, with Klaus Nomi as backup singer, courtesy of Vimeo.
Nomi’s debut is a self-contained legacy to his live performances onto digital recording, some of which are popular covers. Yet, they feel often so unique from their original source that it’s hard to believe they were ever traditional numbers. One of the more popular tracks played at live shows is a cover of Lou Christie’s 60’s pop single “Lightin’ Strikes,” which at first listen is much plainer in tone than Nomi’s commanding falsetto and avant-garde instrumentation. One of the more impressive covers is the stretched-out, down-tempo oddness of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” While the original has its meaning in youthful fun and dance, Nomi has a seductive sense for instrumental twisting that makes the lyricism sound like body contortion.
Considered to be staples of his music are the tracks “The Nomi Song” and “Total Eclipse.” The former is a sort of battle cry and manifesto that starts as a gentle lullaby, later soaring into a dramatic performance of voice and music. The latter does well to fit into the new wave sound that was so popular at the time, and with his signature countertenor in the mix, it transforms the track into a semi-operatic number.
“The Nomi Song” by Klaus Nomi, courtesy of Youtube.
There are signs of Nomi’s fascination with the opera, mostly due to his mother’s stubborn distaste for rock music in favor of classic opera. The last track in particular is none other than a recording of the reading of an aria from Saint-Saens’ classical work of ‘Samson and Delilah,’ the very song that launched his cult fame in East Village. Being the last track in the album serves a succumbing finisher as the epic explodes near the end as a prophetic capsule.
While the rest of the album may come off as fun, quirky, and entertaining, “The Cold Song” would prove a bleaker moment if there ever was one. A performance of “Cold Genius” from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur, this piece entails the waking of an old creature from slumber, yet wishing to return to his resting place from weakness of the bitter cold. This would serve as the last song Nomi would ever perform live before passing away months after, and that context really makes this song blossom into something morbid and disturbingly fitting.
“The Cold Song” by Klaus Nomi, courtesy of Youtube.
Klaus Nomi is a one-of-a-kind release, as nothing would come as close and affectionate to the blend of new wave and falsetto ranges as our dear friend Nomi. It is not a release for everyone, and it takes some time of getting used to his vocal and musical style, but deep down lies a genuinely kind yet mysterious man under that big black-and-white suit and make-up.
Physical purchases of the album can be found on Amazon HERE.