It wasn’t only his space-punk-waiter look that mesmerized people, it was his beautiful otherworldly voice. Klaus Nomi, a trained opera singer from Germany, fell to earth in the late 1970s, landing in New York at a time where disco was dying or at least needed to be killed.
Like most artists of the day, he began waiting tables to pay the rent. But after late night shifts, he would belt out stunning arias for the tired staff. News of the impromptu space operas spread and Nomi soon landed a gig at Irving Plaza’s New Wave Vaudeville show, where freakishness was de rigueur. A promotional flyer at the time advertised for “acts like Egyptian slaves, B-girl hostesses, robot monsters, geeks…and emotional cripples”. Klaus had found his home.
It was here that Klaus Nomi debuted an outfit that a late-night news reporter would describe as a “Weimar tuxedo spaced out in future shock.” But time and again, it was Nomi’s falsetto voice that out-shocked his physical presence. So much so, an announcer would often come on stage to remind the audience that his singing was real.
Nomi’s amazing act spread when David Bowie, the original frontier spaceman, used Nomi as a back-up singer on a Saturday Night Live show in 1979. (Bowie wore a Tristan Tzara-inspired tuxedo that closely resembled what would become Nomi’s signature look). The universe suddenly expanded and Nomi found himself performing alongside New York’s most beautiful vagrants, artists and musicians, which at times included Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf.
After releasing just two albums, “Klaus Nomi” and “Simple Man,” he became one of the world’s first celebrities to die of AIDS. 1n 1983, at just 39, his ashes were rocketed into the sky and scattered over New York City.
Text by Howard Collinge