Remembering Klaus Nomi, the madman genius who changed New York nightlife

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It’s Thursday, so let’s do a throwback, shall we? 

Klaus Nomi was a Bavarian performer who first came to mainstream attention singing backup for Bowie during a 1979 Saturday Night Live appearance. It was an electric combination: Nomi’s theatrical stage persona and unusual operatic vocals complemented Bowie’s own androgynous mystique.

Despite his underground celebrity—Nomi performed at legendary nightclubs including the Pyramid Club, the Mudd Club, Max’s Kansas City, and Danceteria, sometimes featuring guests such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat—Klaus Nomi is a bit of a historical curiosity now. The New Wave songster died from complications of AIDS at age 39 in 1983.

Whether you know his work or not, Nomi left behind plenty of visionary music. Here’s a primer for your listening pleasure. 

Hopefully, the irony of the title isn’t lost on you.

The only thing that really can distract you from Nomi’s vanishing hairline is his heavenly vocal range…and perhaps the gratutious guitar solo. 

The HD quality of this 1981 performance is somewhat jolting when the camera zooms in on Nomi’s painted face. The emphasis on certain parts of the backup dancers’ bodies around 2:24 is also an interesting experiment in camera focus/fade.

Nomi was famous for covering hit songs with innovative twists, such as this rendition of “You Don’t Own Me.”

This reads very retro futuristic opera. But assume that was intentional. 

This video showcases how serious Nomi’s talent was, and hints at what might have been had he lived longer.

Unfortunately, Nomi’s performance with Bowie is unavailable, but Andrew Horn’s wonderful 2004 documentary, The Nomi Song, is available on Youtube and features an excerpt. 

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