Klaus Nomi

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Klaus Nomi
Background information
Birth nameKlaus Sperber
Born(1944-01-24)January 24, 1944
Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany
DiedAugust 6, 1983(1983-08-06) (aged 39)
New York City, New York, United States
GenresNew Wave, synthpop, experimental, baroque, opera, disco
OccupationsSinger-songwriter, actor
Years active1977–1983
LabelsRCA, Heliocentric
Associated actsDavid Bowie, Joey Arias, Man Parrish, Kristian Hoffman
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Klaus Nomi
Background information
Birth nameKlaus Sperber
Born(1944-01-24)January 24, 1944
Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany
DiedAugust 6, 1983(1983-08-06) (aged 39)
New York City, New York, United States
GenresNew Wave, synthpop, experimental, baroque, opera, disco
OccupationsSinger-songwriter, actor
Years active1977–1983
LabelsRCA, Heliocentric
Associated actsDavid Bowie, Joey Arias, Man Parrish, Kristian Hoffman

Klaus Sperber (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983), better known 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 which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical music opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker's "The Twist" and Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". He is remembered in the US as one of David Bowie's backup singers for a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.[1]

Nomi died in 1983 at the age of 39 as a result of complications from AIDS.[2]


Early life

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. Around that time he also sang opera arias at the Berlin gay discothèque Kleist Casino.[citation needed]

Nomi moved to New York City in 1972.[3][4] He began his involvement with the art scene based in the East Village. According to a documentary film made by Andrew Horn,[citation needed] Nomi took singing lessons and supported himself working as a pastry chef.


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.[5][6]

Nomi 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 clear plastic cape, Klaus sang the aria Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix ("My heart opens to your voice") from Camille Saint-Saëns' 1877 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." The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that he was invited to perform at clubs all over New York City.[7]

At the New Wave Vaudeville show Klaus 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 in the Contortions, suggested Klaus and Kristian form a band. Hoffman became Klaus' 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 Klaus choose his pop covers, including the Lou Christie song "Lightning Strikes." Hoffman wrote several pop songs with which Klaus 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 Klaus engaged led to a dissolution of this band, and Klaus continued without them.

In the late 1970s while performing at Club 57, The Mudd Club, The Pyramid Club, and other venues, Nomi assembled a group of up-and-coming models, singers, artists, and musicians to perform live with him, which at times included Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf.[7] He also appeared on Manhattan Cable's TV Party. David Bowie heard about Nomi's performances in New York and soon met him and Joey Arias at the Mudd Club. Bowie hired them as performers and backup singers for his appearance on Saturday Night Live which aired 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 to be made for himself. Nomi can be seen wearing 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. Klaus Nomi released his second album titled Simple Man in November, 1982 Simple Man (Klaus Nomi album) which during this time was focusing more on operatic pieces and was becoming increasingly ill with AIDS-related illnesses, including Kaposi's sarcoma, he wore a Baroque era operatic outfit complete with full collar.

Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish. He appeared 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.[8]

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 as the music for the closing credits.

666 Fifth Avenue was listed as the contact address in the liner notes of Nomi's 1981 self-titled record.

Illness and death

Nomi died on August 6, 1983 at the Sloan Kettering Hospital Center in New York City, one of the first celebrities to die of complications from AIDS.[9] His ashes were scattered over New York City.[10]

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.

Pop, Bowie, and Nomi as depicted in The Venture Bros

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 (Italy) 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 from a variety of up and coming European musicians, among these the singer who is considered by many Nomi's heir, Ernesto Tomasini.[11]

In 2001 German band Rosenstolz, featuring alternative pop stars Marc Almond and Nina Hagen, covered "Total Eclipse" for a maxi single CD release.

British pop icon Morrissey used the song Wayward Sisters as an introduction prior to appearing on stage to begin a concert for his Kill Uncle tour. He used the song After the Fall in the same way during his 2007 American tour. Morrissey included Nomi's song Death in his compilation of influential songs titled Under the Influence, after selecting it in 1984 as the last track for his appearance on the BBC radio show 'My Top 10'. Morrissey also chose Nomi's version of Schumann's "Der Nussbaum" ("The Walnut Tree") as one his selections on BBC Radio 4's "Desert Island Discs" in November 2009.

On television, a fictionalized version of Klaus Nomi appears in a two-part episode of animated comedy/adventure series The Venture Bros. This version is a super-villain and bodyguard for David Bowie (who in the Venture Brothers universe, is also a shape-shifting super-villain known as "The Sovereign") and possesses sonic scream powers. The episode also implies that Klaus, in the Venture Brothers universe, never contracted AIDS and is still an active musician.

Nomi's cover of Lesley Gore's 1964 hit "You Don't Own Me" has been featured on the nationally broadcast The Rush Limbaugh Show as the "Gay Update Theme".

Nomi's visual aesthetic has been noted as an influence on women's fashion such as Boudicca, Givenchy, and Paco Rabanne,[12] as well as men's fashion designers such as Gareth Pugh and Bruno Pieters for Hugo Boss.[13] Jean Paul Gaultier's Spring 2009 couture was influenced by Nomi[14] and he used Nomi's recording of Nomi Song in his runway show.[15]

Kazakh-American tenor[16] Timur Bekbosunov,[17] profiled in LA Weekly's Best of LA People 2011 issue as 'The Reform Tenor',[18] recorded Total Eclipse and performed it on America's Got Talent Season 10 [19] with his dark glam opera band, Timur and the Dime Museum,[20][21] and composer of the song, Kristian Hoffman, at the piano. According to Kristian Hoffman, "Timur sang Total Eclipse to the utter befuddlement of the panel of judges, with the exception of Sharon Osbourne who gave some encouragement".[22]

A biographical musical titled You Don't Nomi is in development by French playwright Baptiste Delval and director Nicolas Guilleminot. The title role is assigned to singer Matthieu d'Aurey who will share the stage with actor Denis d'Arcangelo. The play was presented in Paris on June 10, 2011 during a public reading. The team is looking for producers.[23][24]




Music videos

  • "Simple Man" (directed and edited by John Zieman)
  • "Lightning Strikes"
  • "Nomi Song"
  • "After the Fall"
  • "Falling in Love Again"
  • "The Cold Song" (from Henry Purcell's 1691 opera King Arthur)

Movie appearances


  1. ^ AllMusic biography entry for Klaus Nomi
  2. ^ Smith, Rupert (July 1994), "Klaus Nomi", Attitude (London, England) 1 (3), http://pagesperso-orange.fr/klaus.nomi/biography.html. 
  3. ^ Gdula, Steven (September 14, 1999), "Eclipsed: The Best of Klaus Nomi (Review)", The Advocate 
  4. ^ Smith, Rupert (July 1994), "Klaus Nomi", Attitude 1 (3) 
  5. ^ Hager, Steven (1986), Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene, St. Martin's Press 
  6. ^ Kaufman, David (2005), Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, Hal Leonard Corporation, p. 263, ISBN 978-1-55783-637-3  (excerpt)
  7. ^ a b c Hager, Steven (1986), Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-04976-8, http://www.psychotica.net/evb/nomi/scene.html 
  8. ^ Internet Movie Database: The Long Island Four
  9. ^ Kort, Michele (February 15, 2005), "Klaus and effect", The Advocate, archived from the original on 2008-02-12, http://web.archive.org/web/20080212135139/http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2005_Feb_15/ai_n9538132, retrieved 2007-11-02 
  10. ^ "Klaus Nomi at 'Find A Grave'". http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=12508120. 
  11. ^ Clare, Lenora (vol 27 issue 02, 2008), "Naked City: Informer (article)", Frontiers (magazine), 
  12. ^ Limnander, Armand (2006-08-27), "Alien Status", New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/27/style/t_w_1507_remix_nomi_.html?_r=1 
  13. ^ Limnander, Armand (2009-01-26), "Men’s Fashion: The Ghost of Klaus Nomi", New York Times, http://themoment.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/mens-fashion-the-ghost-of-klaus-nomi/ 
  14. ^ WWD Staff (2009-01-28), "Jean Paul Gaultier Couture Spring 2009", Women's Wear Daily, http://www.wwd.com/fashion-news/jean-paul-gaultier-spring-couture-2009-1953783?gnewsid=01a257b00d9ffa784aea12ef602e0494 
  15. ^ Reddy, Sameer (2009-01-29). "Klaus! Kylie! Inès! JPG Loves The Eighties". Style.com. http://www.style.com/stylefile/2009/01/klaus-kylie-ins-jpg-loves-the-eighties/. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  16. ^ http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/philpedia/artist-detail.cfm?id=3225&
  17. ^ http://www.theoperaoftimur.com
  18. ^ http://www.laweekly.com/2011-05-19/la-life/timur-bekbosunov-the-reform-tenor/
  19. ^ http://blogs.laweekly.com/westcoastsound/2010/06/live_review_timur_dime_museum.php
  20. ^ http://www.timurandthedimemuseum.com
  21. ^ http://www.hitsdailydouble.com/news/newsPage.cgi?news08294m01
  22. ^ http://www.kristianhoffman.com/whatsnew.htm
  23. ^ "You Don't Nomi English page on Facebook". Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/youdontnomi.english. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  24. ^ "You Don't Nomi French page on Facebook". Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/youdontnomi. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 

External links