If XTC is one of the most electrifying performances in URGH! A Music War, Klaus Nomi is the most liberating.
Liberating because – what else would you call it? A man in his 30’s in white makeup with black accents, almost Kabuki-style, adorned in a geometric costume, backed by a tight band in white jumpsuits, Vogue-ing in the middle of the song along backup dancers in black spandex, all the while singing the choruses in a soaring operatic countertenor? It certainly liberated my conception of what music and art could be. I’m sure at the time I thought it was weird, but who doesn’t like the weird when you’re a kid? Especially a kid in a mountain town in the early 80’s.
It sounds like I’m making myself out to be some yokel who’s walking down the streets of New York City with mouth wide open, but that’s not really the case. My parents were pretty progressive – my father was an airline pilot who was paid to travel the world and experienced plenty of it. My mom was kind and permissive and allowed my sister and I to be who we were. I had done my share of traveling at that point – camping across the desert southwest on our way to Colorado, flying to Memphis on a regular basis, I’d been to Hawai’i, Washington D.C. – I’d seen a fair amount. And to top it off, I was from southern California, home of The Dream Factory.
But…none of that really prepares you for Klaus Nomi as a kid in 1982.
I wasn’t prepared. And I was liberated from any sort of cage that I might ever have put music and art into up to that point. Once you see and hear Klaus Nomi, you know that anything is possible.
The retro video channel VH-1 showed URGH! in the mid-2000’s and I recorded it to show my kids what art and music could be. Not just Klaus, but all of it – OMD, the Go-Go’s, Surf Punks, Gang of Four, Skafish, Dead Kennedys…and on and on. But I don’t think you forget seeing and hearing Klaus. I wanted them to know that liberation of spirit and freedom to create and be who or whatever they wanted to be.
Where URGH! They Now?
Sadly, within a year of me seeing him in URGH! in 1982, Klaus Nomi (born Klaus Sperber) had died at the age of 39 from complications of AIDS.
His legacy was fairly well cemented by then, having appeared nationally not only in URGH! but as a backup singer for David Bowie on Saturday Night Live – all three male singers in dresses, no less.
The Nomi Song, a well-regarded documentary about Klaus, was produced in 2004 and is available from Netflix if you have the DVD option, or you can purchase from the usual places.
Last ThURGHsday! – XTC – “Respectable Street”