Why, hello there! Come on in and have one of our World Famous margaritas. Salt or no salt, Mary? What’s that? What’s this new post? Well, welcome to our newest Filthy Dreams series Party Out of Bounds. Every Friday–if we can remember what day it is (no promises, kweens!), we will bring you a fun and filthy post about queer nightlife history. As you, dear readers, already know, we originally conceived of Filthy Dreams as a decadent, confetti-filled nightclub and so we’re going to keep this failed nightclub act going and bring you a weekly captivating glimpse into our nightlife-obsessed psyche. What a way to start the weekend!
Do you need a refill? Make sure you grab one before you enter our first Party–The Klaus Nomi Video Lounge!
One of my personal favorite nightclub performers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Klaus Nomi always seemed as if he was beamed down from a far-away planet, a planet full of opera and New Wave. Unmistakable and completely striking, Nomi cut a singular and unique figure on the Downtown scene with his pointed hair, Weimaresque white makeup and triangular suits–not to mention his gorgeous operatic voice.
Born Klaus Sperber in Germany, Klaus Nomi was always torn between his love for opera and rock music. After working as an usher at the Berlin Opera in the late 1960, Nomi moved to New York, making his living as a pastry chef. Before his big nightclub break, Nomi performed in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company’s campy version of Das Rheingold.
However, Nomi’s jaw-dropping break into the Downtown scene began with his performance at artist David McDermott’s “New Wave Vaudeville” in 1978.
As Steven Hager writes in his book Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene:
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 Delilah was played, this strange Weimar version of Mickey Mouse began singing in an angelic soprano voice. “I still get goose pimples when I think about it,” remembers Joey Arias, who was in the audience that night. “Everyone became completely quiet until it was over”…
After Sperber finished the aria, smoke bombs were ignited, strobe lights began flashing, 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 his parents were calling him home,” says Arias. “When the smoke cleared, he was gone” (30).
After Nomi’s “New Wave Vaudeville” performance, he began performing regularly at Downtown mainstays such as Club 57, the Pyramid Club and the Mudd Club, where he would meet David Bowie who invited Nomi and his frequent collaborator, friend and fellow Downtown performance luminary Joey Arias to perform as his backup singers on Saturday Night Live in 1979.
Sadly, Nomi’s incredible performance career was cut short after he was diagnosed with AIDS during the early panic-stricken years of the epidemic. Still referred to as a “gay cancer” with little-to-no information about the spread of the disease, many of Nomi’s friends and colleagues were, understandably, terrified by Nomi’s illness, as heart-breakingly documented in the powerful film The Nomi Song.
As his collaborator Page Wood remembers in the film, “I remember seeing him at dinner and usually I’d go over and give Klaus a hug, and give him a European kiss on each cheek. And, I was just afraid to. I didn’t know if this was contagious. I sort of went up to him and I hesitated, and he just put his hand on my chest and said ‘It’s alright, don’t worry about it,’ which made me start to tear up and I think that was the last time that I saw him.”
Nomi died from complications from AIDS in 1983, making him one of the first public figures to die from the disease.
Thankfully, Nomi’s important and influential legacy lives on in these following spectacular videos. Nomi and his performances were sublime in all the senses of that word: otherworldly, beyond comparison or apt description and at once hilariously absurd and utterly beautiful.
So sit back, grab another margarita and enjoy the rest of our Klaus Nomi Video Lounge: