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A film about Klaus Nomi, who dressed like an alien and sang like an angel
February 3, 2005 9:21 AM   Subscribe

"His voice was otherworldly — you couldn't believe the sound". Everyone who ever heard Klaus Nomi's voice had the same comment: "It can't be real." You hear that response throughout "The Nomi Song," the documentary about the obscure German-born artist who was a fixture on the New York music scene in the late '70s-early '80s, and a legitimate pop star in Europe. He was also a mystery, even to those who knew him. The film primarily covers the years between his 1978 New York club debut - which was captured on film - and his AIDS-related death in 1983 at age 39. Nomi never had an album officially released in the U.S. but was wildly popular among New York clubgoers as well as in France and his native Germany. More inside.
posted by matteo (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
With his black spider lipstick, shock-treatment hair and chiaroscuro outfits, Nomi looked like an escapee from a German expressionist movie. That he sang in a castrato-like, operatic falsetto in the thick of the original punk scene made him a freak among freaks.
"He was the wrong person, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing," explains director Andrew Horn. "Yet somehow it worked."

posted by matteo at 9:23 AM on February 3, 2005


Ah, so this is where Dieter is from.
posted by taumeson at 9:29 AM on February 3, 2005


i found a flash tribute to Nomi. Just in case you want to hear his voice.

i am so glad the 80's are over.
posted by Merik at 9:29 AM on February 3, 2005


Rush Limbaugh used his music in the 1990's for one of his segements, I think..."You don't know me..."
posted by ParisParamus at 9:34 AM on February 3, 2005


Nomi's voice doesn't sound unreal to me. He does sound like a woman, but otherwise it sounds pretty normal.
posted by orange swan at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2005


Oh. Rush used the song for his "gay news" segments.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:40 AM on February 3, 2005


Oh, man, is that song ever awful!

Thanks for the link, Merik.
posted by BoringPostcards at 9:46 AM on February 3, 2005


Klaus Nomi doing "Total Eclipse" is included in the film Urgh! A Music War.

It's the weirdest thing in a film with performances by Toyah Wilcox, 999, Oingo Boingo, and Gary Numan driving around stage in a little car singing "Down in the Park".

It's also great.
posted by gramschmidt at 9:48 AM on February 3, 2005


I watch URGH! about once a week and always fast-forward through the Klaus Nomi part.

"He was the wrong person, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing," explains director Andrew Horn. "Yet somehow it worked."

For about .5% of the world's population, it worked.
posted by dhoyt at 9:48 AM on February 3, 2005


jinx...
posted by dhoyt at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2005


Oh, come on, dhoyt.

"It's a TO-TAL E-clipse, of the suh-huh-huh-huh-hun."

Gold, man, gold.

Although you're right that it's guaranteed to confound 99.5% of humanity.
posted by gramschmidt at 9:58 AM on February 3, 2005


I'll never forget Klaus backing David Bowie on SNL. They did "Boys Keep Swinging" in drag...possibly one of the coolest moments of my life.
posted by black8 at 10:03 AM on February 3, 2005


More torture music for interrogations!
posted by ParisParamus at 10:03 AM on February 3, 2005


This may be a tad hyperbolic, but...

More than any two people in the past fifty years, Klaus Nomi and George W. Bush share equal responsibility, symbolically, for widening the cultural chasm between the United States and Europe. There, I said it.
posted by dhoyt at 10:13 AM on February 3, 2005


Why is it so many music listeners can't accept the really weird? Don't people like variety? I mean, I think it unimaginably beautiful that Klaus Nomi inhabits the same planet as James Taylor. The very existence of Klaus Nomi does not challenge the rest of music.
posted by bingbangbong at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2005


I for one, will be at the Nomi Song screening here in LA and I too remember seeing him and Bowie on SNL, although at the time, and still to this day I remember it as something nearly incomprehensible to the naive Louisville, Kentucky suburban str8 mind.

It was probably six or seven years ago now that some friends and I began talking about Nomi, and since then I have managed to find inexpensive used copies of his first lp and Simple Man. To most of these responses I could say "Well, everthing can't be Velvet Revolver or the latest sad-boy WB tie-in", but part of my interest in Nomi is just how far out his records are; that is, you gotta want it, it can be an intense ride.

In addition to the freaked out super gay camp, there are also some amazing other tunes on the first lp, "The Cold Song" and an bit from an aria, and I'd bet if any of you naysayers were pilled up and feeling all contempo with the latest Coldplay or what-not and the DJ busted out some of these grander songs, you'd be flattened in the best way.

Thanks for the post.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 10:23 AM on February 3, 2005


Why is it so many music listeners can't accept the really weird?

I'd bet if any of you naysayers were pilled up and feeling all contempo


Dang, y'all... get off the cross, we could use the wood.

Disliking one song or artist isn't a rejection of the avant garde, gay camp, and variety in music, nor is it an embracing of corporate rock. It's just disliking one song or artist. A difference of tastes, is all.
posted by BoringPostcards at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2005


Hot. Googling for vinyl posthaste.
posted by 31d1 at 10:56 AM on February 3, 2005


"Oh, man, is that song ever awful!"

No, that was fucking great! That's the coolest song I've heard in a long time. I want more.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2005


Nifty, although it'd be rough to take more than ten minutes of this. Nomi was name-checked recently in the last Other Music update, as a comparison to the heavenly Antony of Antony & the Johnsons. One, for me, inspires "hunh, there you go," whereas the other actually haunts my CD player. And so it goes...

Dang, y'all... get off the cross, we could use the wood.

Firewater. Now there's a band!
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:05 AM on February 3, 2005


So I wonder if the folks in Scissor Sisters are fans of this guy? Theirs seems to be a similar approach, at first listen anyway.
posted by BoringPostcards at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2005


Kind of like a renegade Comedian Harmonist with a Eurobeat behind it.
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2005


Merik (and others), there's a danger in lumping Klaus Nomi in with his label-created, throwaway, pastels-and-neon contemporaries and then being glad that the time period they coincidentally inhabited is over.

It's instructive to compare Klaus Nomi to someone like Divine. They're both odd. They're both visually arresting. They both had huge dance hits in Europe. Does Nomi really belong in the same proficiency group as Divine, though? Nope.

Granted, Divine wasn't attempting anything but the trivial. That was the point. This is immediately evident from the music, which is Divine's whiskey-and-cigarettes brogue over stolen New Order synths. It seems to have served a purpose in the German nightclub scene in the 80s, but it's really not worth puzzling over. The best of Klaus's stuff is at least that.

It'll be interesting to see to what extent the film addresses this.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:23 AM on February 3, 2005


Antony of Antony & the Johnsons.

I was surprised (if delighted) when I heard they'd been signed to Secretly Canadian. I thought they'd linger forever on impossible to find EPs. Anyone who likes anything about Nomi at all--and maybe if you don't, too--should seek out Antony & the Johnsons.

(I haven't heard it yet, but Antony apparently performs "Candy Says" on Lou Reed's Animal Serenade.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:33 AM on February 3, 2005


Oh man, I was always fascinated by Klaus Nomi, even (like asparagus_berlin) if I couldn't quite comprehend what exactly he was doing. I can't wait to see this -- thanks, matteo!
posted by scody at 11:41 AM on February 3, 2005


Thanks Matteo! Nomi is definitely an acquired taste but he is a compelling & interesting character. When the movie plays in my town I will most certainly be there. With my Rubber Band Laser.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2005


this music is the soundtrack of my fever dreams.
posted by NationalKato at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2005


Why is it so many music listeners can't accept the really weird? Don't people like variety?

To most of these responses I could say "Well, everthing can't be Velvet Revolver or the latest sad-boy WB tie-in", but part of my interest in Nomi is just how far out his records are;



Disliking Klaus Nomi != Preferring mainstream pap

What Klaus Nomi did is just not everyone's preferred flavor of Weird. His flavor, to me, was always of the Dorky-Eurotrashy-Pretentious variety (there's a reason taumeson referenced "Dieter" earlier). Take bands like Wolf Eyes, Lightning Bolt, Merzbow or Nautical Almanac who are more of the Menacing-Arresting-White Noise variety. That stuff is just as jarring & avant-garde as anything Nomi did, and it sure ain't Velvet Revolver.

I guess the fact that we're all still talking about him twenty years after his death says something about his impact, though. Looking forward to "Nomi Song", despite my reservations.

posted by dhoyt at 12:03 PM on February 3, 2005


I thought that I had dreamt that "Boys Keep Swinging" moment! I must go dig around my old tapes and see if I can find that again, thanks for the reminder and post. :)
posted by dabitch at 12:15 PM on February 3, 2005


Y'all are right on. You'd think I'd know by now that what I think is good natured sassin' comes across as nasty label spotting when written out on the internets.

I retract the sass and stand behind my interest of the freaky.

I too am looking forward to the film, with reservations as well. As it stands, I have a mythical image of Nomi - who knows what the film will portray, or even if it will be any good.

I remember going into "End of the Century" kinda dreading it, knowing the end and being ready to come away disliking Johnny. My mind was changed though, as he was portrayed, I thought, sympathetically, if brutally honest. With him you seemed to know where you stood, take it or leave it. I don't have to agree with his way of life to appreciate that.
A week later: gone.

Hmmm, you'd think I'd be awake enough here at the saltmine to apply what I learned from Johnny to this Nomi discussion.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 12:27 PM on February 3, 2005


He was no Heino...
posted by AJaffe at 1:16 PM on February 3, 2005


I'll never forget Klaus backing David Bowie on SNL. They did "Boys Keep Swinging" in drag...possibly one of the coolest moments of my life.

Was that the same show where they sang "TVC 15", and Nomi and some other dude carried Bowie out? Bowie's skirt was too tight to allow walking.

T'was good. Nice Expressionist outfits. Bowie was one of the few guys who looked good in a skirt. Doubt he can still carry it off now, though.

I saw Nomi perform at some NYC club (China Club? Hurrahs? Who knows.) in the early `80s. All I recall was him doing a stilted-disco version of Falling in Love Again. (He was the opening act, but for the life of me I can't remember who that might have been.)
posted by Ayn Marx at 1:22 PM on February 3, 2005


Was that the same show where they sang "TVC 15", and Nomi and some other dude carried Bowie out? Bowie's skirt was too tight to allow walking.
wow, that is one my childhood memories; being that it was the first time I saw Bowie perform & also the SNL show. To this day, I still say Bowie never blinked his eyes once during that performance.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2005


So is this what Dame Edna was doing in the 80's?

(Wait. Dame Edna was doing Dame Edna in the 80's... hmmm...)
posted by crunchland at 2:54 PM on February 3, 2005


Jeff Buckley is both otherworldly and beautiful, voice-wise. And he can play guitar.

Klaus Nomi just sounds like me singing falsetto gibberish in the shower because I like the echo noise.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 3:10 PM on February 3, 2005


P.S. matteo, still a very interesting FPP, mind you.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 3:11 PM on February 3, 2005


FYI: the footage of Bowie and Nomi on SNL is out on peer to peer networks; I'm downloading it right now. YMMV, however.
posted by Calast at 3:19 PM on February 3, 2005


two words ... Tiny Tim...
posted by HuronBob at 3:34 PM on February 3, 2005


I saw "The Nomi Song" and it has some cool stuff about The Bowie SNL performance in there. They do Boys, TVC15 and another song I think.

Ayn Marx: The Too Tight Skirt is actually a duplicate of some outfit from an old movie but it had no opening at the bottom. It was pretty much a rubber piece he got into with a head and arm holes so he had to be carried up to the Mic. That was part of the performance.

Also, during the TVC15 clip, they had some sort of robo dog that Nomi was walking.

The movie was fantastic, no matter what you think of Nomi, it is a great historical document. The director was at our screening in Chicago and we all talked for about 40 minutes afterward. He said that he had set out to clearly make a documentary and not a performance movie, so if you don't like the guys music, you could still make it through the film and be entertained.

My favorite Nomi fact from the movie is that he supplemented his income with baking. Seriously, he sold baked good or bartered them to get by. They talked for almost 5 minutes about what a great cook he was. The even have a segment of him in his Nomi get-up on some local NYC show (what would be public access today) explaining some pie recipe.
posted by Jeffy at 3:52 PM on February 3, 2005


The two guys in dresses backing Bowie on that SNL were Frank and George Simms.

The artist Pat Keck has made a life size Klaus Nomi puppet. He is in repose in his plastic tuxedo thing and rises from a plinth a la Dracula when a foot pedal is pressed. It was funny to see that someone else remembered him.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:03 PM on February 3, 2005


Hey, no one mentioned the cover version of Total Eclipse by Rosenstolz/Marc Almond/Nina Hagen. It rocks!

I think for Nomi, what's weird for him would be NOT being able to wear the blackspider lipstick and the out-worldly space suit! haaaaaa!

Nomi Lives!
posted by mrhappysad at 4:09 PM on February 3, 2005


well, there seems to be some debate about who it actually was backing bowie up on SNL, but for those that want to see it, i'll host it for a while here for a few days. They seem to have replaced Bowie's body with a puppet. Some bizarre form of censorship?
posted by Calast at 4:11 PM on February 3, 2005


kind of cheesy, really ... smokey robinson has nothing to worry about
posted by pyramid termite at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2005


Wow, Urgh!. It's such an icon to my circle of friends that I forget that other people have seen it too. The Gang of Four performance in it is just killer (Andy Gill is just so cool) and The Cramps' song (more directly, Lux Interior, his worryingly low-slung leather pants, and his "relationship" with the microphone). /derail

Klaus Nomi's death will always be a milestone in my life. He was the first famous person that I felt any connection to (via Urgh!) to die of AIDS, and I have a snapshot memory of reading about his death in the newspaper. I can't say I ever really liked his voice or his music, but I sure respected the fact that he was brave enough to just do his own thing the way he did. Good post matteo.
posted by biscotti at 4:51 PM on February 3, 2005


Klaus Nomi is good. Aggressively artsy and real. He is who he is, and who cares what his critics or detractors say?

I'd like to sentence certain republican war criminals to listen to him 24/7 for consecutive life sentences.
posted by VP_Admin at 5:16 PM on February 3, 2005


fwiw, here's an onion review :D

"In the histories of music and New York performance art, he remains a footnote, but he's the kind of footnote that makes those histories worth exploring in the first place. Horn doesn't leave him in the past, either. Without coming out and saying it, The Nomi Song creates the sense that its subject might simply have been a few hundred years ahead of his time."

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:00 PM on February 3, 2005


This guy needs a therapeutic beating.
posted by neuron at 7:03 PM on February 3, 2005


I was always lukewarm on Klaus, but another shout out for Urgh! A Music War.

There exists no more accurate a record of a time and place in (non-jonmc) music history. As a junior in high school, my local boring suburban NJ video store inexplicably had a copy, and I'd rent it over and over as the tape degenerated into nothing. I still treasure my LP version of the soundtrack, even though it's missing a number of tracks from the film. Check it out if you get a chance.
posted by jalexei at 7:55 PM on February 3, 2005


neuron, he's dead. that's not very courageous of you, is it?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:03 PM on February 3, 2005


and--as long as we're doing punk concert shout-outs, don't forget Decline of Western Civ. i only wish the two could be combined into an all-powerful Master Film! Hahahahaahaaaah! OK. But the comparisons of K.N. to Divine and Jeff Buckley are completely WTF!
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:07 PM on February 3, 2005


I am a a naif here among experts, but I find Nomi in Merik's link mesmerizing. It was Robert Palmer though who had my beat.
posted by semmi at 8:18 PM on February 3, 2005


Great post, matteo, thanks - this is definitely on my "to see" list. And Merik, I loved the clip you posted ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 8:35 PM on February 3, 2005


I believe that it was Joey Arias and Nomi that backed Bowie up that one night.. and Martin Sheen was the host. I have all the footage actually. Bowie played Boys Keep Swinging, TVC 15 and The Man Who Sold The World and the 'goodbye' credits.

Here's The Nomi Song in mpg [22.5MB, ouch!]. Yeah thanks matteo.
posted by mrhappysad at 9:38 PM on February 3, 2005


By far my favorite (performed by) Nomi song is "The Cold Song" (written by Henry Purcell, 1691). I'd post a clip if I didn't worry that RCA or BMG would release the hounds on me. If you get a chance to hear it, I recommend skipping the cheesy first minute and get directly to that incredible voice. A stirring vocal performance.
posted by Rattmouth at 11:42 PM on February 3, 2005


Okay, here's a 30 second clip of The Cold Song (Real Media). Sorry, its the best I can find right now.
posted by Rattmouth at 11:56 PM on February 3, 2005


Excellent! Klaus Nomi was considered a gentle freak back then -- those where the days.

Music and video effect courtesy of the Commodore Computer Corporation.
posted by NewBornHippy at 12:35 AM on February 4, 2005


The first time I heard Klaus Nomi was back in the 8th grade in a industry town in the interior of BC (think beer, mac jackets, loverboy and you get an idea of what was "cool" there at the time) It was the end of the school year and I was in my art class and one of the teachers brought in a tape of music recorded from MTV. The two artists that I can remember being played where Nina Hagen (which I thought was really cool) and Klaus Nomi (all I can remember is the hair and the red top he was wearing). The rest of the students were bitching about "the crappy music" which hurt the teachers feelings who thought this stuff was really cool.

Thus began my adventures in punk, new wave and other fringe music, Klaus was never a part of that though - he was just tooo weird :)
posted by squeak at 1:48 AM on February 4, 2005


*video tape of music
posted by squeak at 1:48 AM on February 4, 2005


Interesting thread. I saw Klaus Nomi on TV in the early 80s performing 'Total Eclipse', and never forgot either the song or his name.


Truly a one-off

Wow, Leigh Bowery and Klaus Nomi in one day, lol.
posted by essexjan at 9:24 AM on February 4, 2005


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