As some of you are aware, I often become temporarily obsessed with a subject, research it to death, then a day later move on to something new.
This past week, those subjects have included Dada-ism, World War I, the fictional character “Black Bolt”, and the enigmatic New Wave operatic singer Klaus Nomi.
Nomi’s rush to fame happened when he was one of the two backup singers for David Bowie in 1979. It’s a famous performance, notable for Bowie’s costume, which became the basis for Nomi’s famous otherwordly outfit. Here’s the first of three SNL performances:
I just love the audio of that performance. Listen to the backing vocals, how they somehow manage to upstage even David Bowie!
And here is Nomi in his largeness, performing a New Wave version of Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes”:
Yes, it seems kitchy and weird-for-weird sakes. But that was sort of the nature of late-70s and early-80s New Wave: everything was sort of new, and there were no rules. What made Nomi special was his operatic training and extraordinary vocal range. And then there was his profound vulnerability and utter sweetness, which is really hard to hide.
Here’s a news report back from the era, which was about a New York fashion store that featured dancers in the window. The news crew was clearly unaware that Klaus Nomi was one of the random “cool kids” hanging around. He shows up at around 1:50.
I particularly like this performance, made on French TV, just months before Nomi’s death. It’s sad to look back and realize he was dying of AIDS right in front of our eyes:
Klaus Nomi was the first somewhat famous person on the New York scene to die of AIDS. That’s sad enough. The extent of the sadness of his final days is depicted in this fascinating documentary, called “The Nomi Song.” You can view the entire thing here:
Nomi’s music isn’t for everyone. It took me a while to appreciate it, as well. But now I’m a fan. Before he died, he was working on a so-called New Wave space opera called Zabakdaz. In 2007, his friends completed it without him, almost 3 decades after his death. This excellent sample, called “Valentine’s Day“, is a taste of what we’ve been missing:
Most people are probably most familiar with Nomi’s voice from Rush Limbaugh’s mocking feature called, “the gay update”, which is introduced by Nomi’s version of “You Don’t Own Me.”
In the words of Mick Foley, Rush Limbaugh is invited to apply suction to my groinal area.
Nomi lives on, in of all things, a cartoon. That’s right, he (or at least his image) was used in The Venture Brothers, as a vampire who, along with versions of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, were foils to the heroes. I think he might have approved:
UPDATE: I just found a particularly weird Nomi-related gem. There’s an old Nomi song called “After the Fall”. The following “cover version” is actually done using Kaito, a “vocaloid synthesizer”. You’d sort of need such a thing to simulate Nomi’s range But what makes Kaito particularly weird is that it’s based on the very Japanese voice of Naoto Fūga. Check it out: