The first part is from chapter two "New Wave Vaudeville"; this chapter concerns the performance scene in New York's East Village centering around a series of events known as the "New Wave Vaudeville".
"Toward the end of the show, the lights dimmed and the room was filled with a thundering musical ovation. The curtains opened and the spotlight fell on a strange, unearthly presence wearing a black gown, clear plastic cape, and white gloves. As the orchestral refrain from Saint-Saens' 'Samson And Delila' was played, this strange Weimar version of Mickey Mouse began singing in an angelic voice. "I still get goose pimples when I think about it," remembers Joey Arias, who was in the audience that night. "Everyone became completely quite until it was over." The act was billed "Nomi by Klaus," but the man's real name was Klaus Sperber and he was McDermott's only true competion as star of the show.
After Sperber finished the aria, smoke bombs where lighted, strobe lights began to flash, and the sound of a spaceship launching was played at an ear-shattering volume. Sperber bowed and stepped backward. The crowd stood and screamed for an encore, but Sperber just kept backing up into the cloud of smoke. "It was like he was from a different planet and his parents where calling him home," says Arias. "When the smoke cleared, he was gone."
An only child who was raised by a single mother in the German Alps, Sperber worked as an usher at the Berlin Opera in the late sixties, where he'd entertained the maintenance crew with his Maria Callas imitations. He had a stiking puppet like face, with a high forehead and sharply pointed nose. He heightened these features by plucking his eyebrows, wearing dark lipstick, and combing his hair into a crown with three points. He moved into an apartment on St. Mark's Place in 1972 and appeared in a camp production of Das Rheingold with Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater Company.
A self-taught chef as well as a self-taught singer, Sperber took a job as a pastry chef at the World Trade Center and later formed a freelance baking company with Katy Kattleman. "I met Klaus at an Uptown disco," says Kattleman. "He was wearing a beret and a woman's jacket from the forties. I'd never seen anyone quite like him. He was so shy and quite. We both had two different lives: a straight day job and a real nutty night life. We Started going to Max's and CBGB together."
Magnusen lured Sperber into New Wave Vaudeville after hearing him sing on the way home from Max's one night. Sperber was friends with a young dancer named Adrian Richards, who had perfected a mimelike robot dance. Orignally scheduled to perform with Sperber, Richards backed out at the last minute, leaving only the name he'd invented for the act, an anagram of his favorite magazine, OMNI. Later on, Sperber took the name Nomi for himself.
In two short years, Nomi went from his position as a poor pastry chef to become New York's leading New Wave performer. He created a cabaret style that is still being imitated today and assembled a group of promising young artists and performers around him, a list that at various times included Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring, Jean-Micheal Basquiat, John McLaughlin, and Joey Arias. (It was during a period of rampant promiscuity that Arias renamed McLaughlin "John Sex.")
(about three paragraphs deleted about Kenny Scharf's arrival from the west coast)
Scharf was friendly, handsome, and incredibly naive. Having recently arrived from the University of California at Santa Barbara (where he'd studied art for one year), he was studying illustration at SVA and was obsessed with television, Pop Art, and outer space. He talked insessantly about his favorite TV show, "The Jetsons." He had also invented his own religion in which he worshiped the element hydrogen as god. Nomi was impressed with Scharf's paintings, particularly with a large one of a Cadillac flying through space. "You and I are working on the same thing," he told the young artist.
"I could tell Kenny was baffled by Klaus," recalls Arias. "We were getting really stoned and Kenny said: 'I want to be like you guys.' So we gave him a Nomi hairdo, with triangle ears and a triangle back. We took photographs of it and Kenny was so excited. He felt like a Nomi person. I put on shoulder pads under my shirt and Kenny put on a space helmet. Klaus thought it was great. He wanted us to be in his next show."
The next scheduled performance was a Max's Kansas City, where Nomi had been invited to open for the Contortions. Arias and Scharf appeared as go-go dancers. "We painted our faces green," says Arias. "We were completely puffed up with green helmets and shoulder pads. Klaus sang, 'The Twist', 'Falling In Love Again', and his aria. I was into the robot dance, while Kenny was more into just go-going. People went completely crazy over the act."
Arias introduced Scharf to the managers at Fiorruci, who organized an exhibit titled Fiorruci Celebrates the New Wave, which combined an art show by Scharf with a performance by Nomi. Scharf created a series of paintings detailing the misadventures of a jet-set woman of the future named estelle. The next to last painting showed estelle seated seated inside a spaceship, loking at a TV set that showed the earth exploding from a nuclear bomb. "She looked really pleased because she was the only survivor," recalls Scharf.
"Around this time Klaus and I decided we were the future," says Arias. "We formed the Nomi family. We lived as if we were on the spac shuttle. We ate little bits of food- space food." The lifestyle added alot to the shows, which where becoming an increasingly stylized mixture of New Wave, Kabuki, and Bauhaus. Scharf's dancing no longer fit in with the style and he was booted out of the group. One night at the Mudd Club, Nomi met his idol, David Bowie. After discovering that they had mutal friends in Germany, Bowie invited Nomi and Arias to appear with him on "Saturday Night Live." Soon afterward, Nomi signed a record deal with RCA.
"Then Klaus and I had a falling out," says Arias. "I was writing songs on my own and Klaus got pissed about that. He said,'You're starting to do your own thing and I think you should move out.'" As his self-importance increased, Nomi beganing alienating many of his former friends. He dissolved his group and hired a professional band to back him. His first album was released in 1981, and it sold poorly.
from chapter 6, "Fun Gallery":
Unfortunately, in 1982, another plague appeared, one even more deadly than heroin. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, had been spreading anonymously for several years, primarily through the gay population. The disease was barely identified when Klaus Nomi was diagnosed and hospitalized.
"They made me wear a plastic bag when I visited him," recalls Arias. "I Wasn't allowed to touch him. After a few weeks, he seemed to get better. He was strong enough to walk around. So he left the hospital and went home. His manager was making him sign all these papers, Like we'll give you $500 if you sign your life away one more time. He developed kaposis [lesions associated with Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare skin cancer linked with AIDS] and started taking Interferon. That messed him up real bad. He had dots all over his body and his eyes became purple slits. It was like someone was destoying him. He used to make fun of it. He'd say 'Just call me dotty Nomi.' Then he got real weak and was rushed back to the hospital. He couldn't eat for days because he had cancer in his stomach. Herpes popped out all over his body. He turned into a monster. It hurt me so much to see him. I talked to him on the night of August fifth. He said, 'Joey, what am I going to do? They don't want me in the hospital anymore. They pulled all the plugs. I have to stop all this stuff because I'm not getting any better.' I had this dream of Klaus getting strong and singing again-only he's be a little deformed, so he'd have to stay behind a screen or something. 'You'll be the phantom of the opera,' I told him. 'We'll do shows together again.' 'Yeah, maybe,' he said. But Klaus died in his sleep that night."
In retrospect, it's unfortunate that Nomi's career began before the rise of MTV. At the time of his death, he was just getting established in Europe and the the help of MTV videos, he certainly could have pushed into the American market. His first album contained an interesting mix of sixties pop, opera, and ethereal space music, but it fell between so many stylistic cracks that it had difficulty finding an audience. (A year after Nomi's death, however, Malcolm McLaren succcessfully released a dance rock version of an aria from Madam Butterfly.)
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