January 24, 2017

20,000 Vinyl LPs 76: Klaus Nomi

photos by Styrous®

Klaus Nomi vinyl lp
front cover photo by Michael Halsband

Klaus Nomi, was born, Klaus Sperber on this day, January 24, in 1944, in Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany. He was a countertenor who had an astounding vocal range and whose stage persona was visually elegant and ethereal. He only produced two studio albums but they are stellar in their unique interpretations of standards and rarely heard music. His second album was called, Simple Man. More on that album in a future article.   

Klaus Nomi vinyl lp
  back cover

This is the first album I bought by Nomi and it is my favorite of the two albums he produced. One of my favorite songs on it is his interpretation of The Cold Song from the Baroque opera, King Arthur, by Henry Purcell. Purcell wrote the song for a bass, but numerous countertenors have performed the piece in homage to Nomi. Sting recorded it on his 2009 album, If on a Winter's Night... (links below to music on YouTube).   

 Side 1

Another one of my favorites is his rendition of the aria, Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix ("My heart opens to your voice"), from the Camille Saint-Saëns 1877 opera, Samson et Delilah. In interviews with Page Wood, Ann Magnuson and Kristian Hoffman, from "The Nomi Song" (2004), they describe about Nomi performing the song. (links below).   

                            Klaus Nomi vinyl lp
                                       side 2       

His take on Lightning Strikes by Lou Christie is striking (pun intended) and his version of, The Twist, written by Hank Ballard and made famous by Chubby Checker, is, well . . .  twisted.    

Then there is the powerful song, Wasting My Time ("I'm wasting my time on you, on you!") What a terrific song this one is! It has a moderate-speed but determined beat that thrusts with force his statement about, well, the title says  it.  

Of course, there has never been anything like, Keys of Life! VERY short and VERY weird, it is slow, dreamy and scary, as it could describe what is happening today. The lyrics . . .

From ancient worlds I come
To see what man has done
What's fact and what is fiction
To judge the contradictions

The future has begun
Much work has to be done
You're running out of time
Beware the silent sign

Exploring new dimension
New lifestyle my intention
Do not ignore advice
You hold the keys of life 

Klaus Nomi

Klaus Sperber, ca 1960
photographer unknown

In the 1960s, Nomi 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 discothèque Kleist Casino. The Kleist Casino, often abbreviated as KC, was a gay bar in Kleiststrasse in Berlin. It was founded in 1921 and existed until October 2002, interrupted only from 1933 to 1950 as a result of the closure by the national socialists. During its existence, the KC room offered the opportunity to live out gay sexuality and was also the meeting place for prominent guests such as Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler and Stefan Wolpe.    

Nomi moved to New York City in 1972 and his big break came in 1979 when David Bowie caught him and fellow NYC performance artist, Joey Arias, at the Mudd Club in TriBeCa. Bowie was so impressed with them that he hired them as his back-up singers for his December 15, 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live (link below). Bowie, flanked by Klaus and Arias, performed three songs that ultimately marked a turning point in Bowie's career. New wave was the genre du jour, so Bowie was keeping up with the times. It was time to get weird(er), and Klaus' eccentric aesthetic was perhaps the greatest entrée (and cosign) for Bowie into that world.   

December 15, 1979
video still

It was a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted just one evening. Klaus was enamored with the giant plastic tux Bowie wore during the performance, and later made it his own. The exposure also garnered him a record deal with Bowie's label RCA. As for Bowie, he had a new muse, but the adoration would come from afar. Convinced that Bowie would deliver upon a loose promise to work together after their first and last time on stage, Klaus waited for his call. His phone never rang.  

photographer unknown 

The Nomi Song is a 2004 documentary about the life of singer Klaus Nomi, written and directed by Andrew Horn. The film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2004, where it won a Teddy Award for "Best Documentary Film."

The Nomi Song poster 

Lady Gaga drew fashion inspiration from Nomi

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

Klaus Nomi vinyl lp label details  
sides 1 & 2

Track listing:

Side one:
  1. "Keys of Life" (Klaus Nomi) – 2:26
  2. "Lightning Strikes" (Lou Christie, Twyla Herbert) – 2:59
  3. "The Twist" (Hank Ballard) – 3:10
  4. "Nomi Song" (Kristian Hoffman) – 2:47
  5. "You Don't Own Me" (John Medora, David White) – 3:39
Side two:
  1. "The Cold Song" (Henry Purcell, John Dryden) – 4:03
  2. "Wasting My Time" (Klaus Nomi, Scott Woody) – 4:16
  3. "Total Eclipse" (Kristian Hoffman) – 3:29
  4. "Nomi Chant" (Man Parrish) – 1:53
  5. "Samson and Delilah (Aria)" (Camille Saint-Saëns) – 3:43


Klaus Nomi on the net: 
After the Fall: Klaus Nomi 30 Years Later    
The Curious Career of Klaus Nomi      
"The Nomi Song" (2004) interviews               
Links to music on YouTube:    
Henry Purcell - The Cold Song       
Henry Purcell - The Cold Song (concert film)
Henry Purcell - The Cold Song (TV video)       
Nanette Scriba sings The Cold Song             
Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila  
                                    (TV broadcast with interview)    
After The Fall (concert video)      
After The Fall (1981 video)                    
Wasting my time         
Keys of Life       
The Twist        
Lightning Strikes          
David Bowie, December 15, 1979, Saturday Night Live   


photographer unknown

"Elvis Presley is my spiritual father and 
Maria Callas is my spiritual mother.” 
                    - Klaus Nomi

Styrous® ~ Tuesday, January 24, 2017 

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