Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #6: Klaus Nomi - st (1982)

Don't get too excited. I'm sure all of you run out and buy my recommendations as soon as you read them (how can you help yourself?), but wait a sec on this one. It's too weird for words.

Klaus was a performance artist in NY in the early 80s who was making a name for himself in the underground and gay clubs for his otherworldly shows and appearance. Decked out in a plastic tuxedo shaped like a V, kabuki make-up, black balding hair spiked up, and operatic voice, Nomi looked and acted like an alien plopped in the middle of Manhattan (by way of Germany) to observe the behavior and activities of earthlings. His shows got some buzz, record labels came calling, and then he died of AIDS in 1983, making him one of the very first entertainers to succumb to the disease.

His self-titled debut is a trip. With only one original song, it's mostly weird versions of standards we all know, but with his freak opera flag flying. Take his version of "The Twist" for instance. His version is slowed way down and run through the Flux Capacitor. "Lightning Strikes" and "You Don't Own Me" sound like those karaoke booths they used to have in the mall. Remember those? Imagine some smalltown wannabe who sings in the local choir coming to the mall in like '82 and recording a couple faves with the idea that he's going to mail them to some label and become a big star. That's what this sounds like. Only, it's for real! Klaus wasn't a wannabe, he was actually paid money to sing and act this way!

If you click on only one link from this, make it "Total Eclipse". Your jaw will hit the floor. Keep in mind, this plastic androgenous alien opera singer act was for real! I guess everyone has to have an angle and he had several. This clip is from the indispensible 1981 doc Urgh! A Music War. This priceless bit of music history should be required viewing for everyone everywhere, as it's a valuable peek into the styles and cultures of the early 80s. VH1 Classic plays it every few months, look for it.

I find this stuff fascinating. I'm not going to pop on Klaus Nomi very often, if ever, but I find the story and ideas mind blowing. Check out those links and see for yourself. Also, if you want to dig more, there's a pretty good doc film about him called Nomi Song that fleshes out the story. It's on Sundance every now and again.

The Nugget - "Total Eclipse". 99% of this stuff is just for the curious, but you may listen to "Total Eclipse" more than once. Have fun with this!


Marilyn said...

I've never heard of him, but I watched Total Eclipse and for some reason it made me want to cry for him - the vulnerability of it all, I guess. He reminds me of a combination of Joel Gray in Cabaret and Freddie Mercury. You are such a great writer - I love your blog! You need to be paid really big money for what you write! Love you, Mom

Brooke and Jake said...

So awesome! I put The Nomi Song in my netflix queue.