Today’s weird band…or rather, weird artiste…was suggested by a reader named Aaron, who notes that New Wave opera singer Klaus Nomi was “most defiantly a awesome weird guy.” True dat, Aaron! Even if you meant to say “definitely,” there was also something defiantly weird about Mr. Nomi, too.
Klaus Nomi was an opera-obsessed gay kid from Bavaria, which is sort of the German equivalent of being from Alabama. He moved to Berlin as a teenager to attend a music conservatory and work at the Deutsche Oper where, legend has it, he gave impromptu concerts for his fellow ushers while they were sweeping up after the shows. But he didn’t really fit in with either the Berlin opera community or the gay nightclub scene (which wasn’t used to drag queens singing arias), so like many of the world’s great freaks, he finally washed up in New York City. The year was 1972.
By 1978, Nomi was finally making a name for himself in the East Village art scene, performing arias in a melodramatic counter-tenor and even more melodramatic costumes, engulfed in smoke bombs and sci-fi sound effects. His reputation eventually caught the ear of David Bowie, who invited Nomi and one of his backup singers, Joey Arias, to perform with him on Saturday Night Live in 1979. You can watch clips of the performances over on this site, and marvel at how much tamer pop music is these days (yes, even you, Lady Gaga).
The SNL appearance changed Nomi’s life. Not only did he borrow the oversized plastic tuxedo look Bowie sported and make it his signature outfit, he also scored a record deal and released two albums, Klaus Nomi (1981) and Simple Man (1982), before his AIDS-related death in 1983. He was 39.
Nomi’s music was a bizarre and totally unique mix of original pop tunes done in a campy, New Wave style, avant-garde covers of oldies like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and operatic pieces–his set closer was an aria from the 19th century French opera Samson and Delilah. You could call him a trail-blazer, but really, no one’s quite followed the trail he blazed. Everyone from Morrissey to Jean Paul Gaultier has acknowledged him as an influence, but really, there just ain’t that many pop/New Wave opera singers in the world. Klaus Nomi was probably a one-time deal.
Here’s a clip of him performing his most famous tune, “Nomi Song,” on French TV. Purists might prefer the original “Nomi Song” video, but the picture and sound quality are a little better on this version.
- Klaus Nomi ZABAKDAZ (official site for posthumous Nomi album, Za Bakdaz)
- Klaus Nomi on MySpace (unofficial)
- The Nomi Song (official site for Klaus Nomi documentary, released in 2004)
- The Klaus Nomi Tribute Page (fan site)
- Klaus Nomi Keys of Life (fan site)
- A weird little Klaus Nomi Flash animation tribute site