Loving the Alien: The Very High Notes of Klaus Nomi
The first time I saw Klaus Nomi perform was in the 1981 punk/new wave concert anthology Urgh! A Music War where his unusual collage of styles – electronic space opera with a touch of Cabaret ( I remember being reminded of some of the Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine as well)– stood out even among the self-consciously trend setting New Wavers. That one brief appearance wasn’t enough to make it clear if Nomi was a put-on or a genuine avant-garde crossover, but a great new documentary The Nomi Song (now in theatres and coming to DVD on June 14th) makes an indisputable case for the latter. Andrew Horn’s excellent account of Nomi’s brief career (he died of AIDS in 1983) on the fringe of art/pop tells the story of a lonely, slightly eccentric young German man with a distinctive falsetto voice and a love for opera who came to New York, fell in with the punk crowd and grew into an unusual and unclassifiable performer of highly theatrical operatic techno-pop. Of course, the pop music industry rests on its ability to pigeonhole performers, so Nomi remained a minor figure for most of his brief life, his widest public exposure being a guest slot as back-up singer for David Bowie on “Saturday Night Live”. With personal recollections from his band members and friends and a generous assortment of musical performances, The Nomi Song suggests that his work deserves reassessment, but also offers a strong look at the art-meets-punk cultural landscape of the early 80s.