Ah, the 1980s. Between hair bands, stonewashed jeans, new wave, neon everything, Devo hats…the style throughout that decade was showy and focused on decoration. What was modern at the time seems like a period of regret when people reminisce about their bad hair styles.
I thought of that when I came across Klaus Nomi while browsing documentaries on Netflix.
Klaus Sperber (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983), better known as Klaus Nomi, was a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.
Nomi was known for his bizarrely theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical music opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes”. He is perhaps best remembered by the general public as being one of David Bowie’s backing singers during a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.
The Nomi Song, a documentary of Nomi’s life and stage persona, was released in 2005. This snippet from a review on Netflix describes just how far out this was at the time:
I used to give copies of Nomi’s first album to friends as gag birthday gifts just because it was so funny to watch their faces when they put the LPs on the turntable and tried to figure out what they were listening to. They often tilted their heads in the same manner dogs do when they look confused. We became aware of Nomi when various performance clips started popping up on late night rock television programs. Then he showed up in the bizarre “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video” as well as that infamous “Saturday Night Live” performance backing up David Bowie. We belonged to the cult of Bowie at that time, and couldn’t believe that in Nomi, here was a character that almost made Bowie’s Ziggy alter ego look suburban.
In a way, I wish that kind of influence would come back in today’s popular music and shake things up a little bit. Perhaps it already has. The Klaus Nomi / Lady Gaga comparisons don’t seem that far off.