How do you know Klaus Nomi? Maybe you know him as one of David Bowie's cohorts back in the '70s. Maybe you know him for his kitschy covers of old pop standards. Maybe you know him for his bizarre costumes and facepaint. Or maybe you just know that he was one of the first celebrities to tragically pass away from AIDS.
Nomi died in August 1983 at only age 39, but were he still alive today would be his 69th birthday. Who knows where he would be, or what he would be wearing? Given his late-career aspirations, he most likely would be singing opera somewhere. Maybe he'd be performing a brief operatic piece based on Bowie's new album The Next Day.
Unfortunately, we'll never know what he would be up to now, but we can look back on what amazing things Nomi did accomplish in his life. Whatever you probably know about Nomi -- which isn't much, in the case of most people -- few realize what an artist the man was.
While he had a stunning sense of humor that filled up the two studio records recorded in his lifetime with campy New Wave-inflected pop songs like "Simple Man" and "Lightnin' Strikes," Nomi was a brilliant operatic singer with an amazing vocal range.
When approaching opera, he took it completely seriously. He was passionate about it to that extent. Some may be shocked to hear him performing in such a way if they're only familiar with his sillier work. To those who know though, they recognize him. Morrissey has cited him repeatedly as a favorite, for instance, and included his more serious works on compilations.
Nomi was also a visionary designer. His bizarre and eye-catching outfits were perhaps kitschy in their own way, yet they clearly inspired incoming fashionistas of the 1980s. David Bowie was blown away by Nomi's designs and took many of them for himself, making them much more famous than their creator. And without Nomi's strange suits, which seemed almost too large for his body, would there have been David Byrne's "big suits" in Talking Heads?
More than anything, though, Nomi did exactly what he wanted with his life and his art, with no aspirations other than creation and inspiration. He had an unparalleled zest for life and his work and believed in the future happening right now, in his own words.
Even while suffering from complications of AIDS, at the time a relatively unknown and unidentified disease, Nomi was hard at work completing an opera of his own. While that opera, Za Bakdaz, went unfinished in his lifetime, it was released as complete as it will ever be in 2007 and showed itself to not only be a beautiful work of art, but a testament to Nomi's enduring talents.
But for those who have never heard of Nomi before or are unfamiliar with his works, perhaps it would be best to watch the 2004 documentary based on his life and work, The Nomi Song, directed by Andrew Horn. That's available to watch for free on YouTube.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.