Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You Don't Nomi: Martian Music/Venusian Vocals


The Internet Movie Data Base lists performance artist Klaus Sperber's birthday and birthplace as January 24, 1944, somewhere in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. But the late Sperber, who redubbed himself Klaus Nomi, professed to be from a futurist time and place other than the planet Earth. Indeed, with a visage suggestive of Klaatu in white-faced Kabuki makeup, personal contact with Nomi was an experience beyond that of a close encounter of the third kind. Nomi lived the fictional intimations of other artists, such as the German synth-pop band Kraftwerk, and set the standard for a brief sci-fi androgyne phase in the career of music icon David Bowie.

With the 2004 release of film director Andrew Horn's Nomi Song, a cosmically crafted documentary focusing on Sperber's brief life, viewing audiences can meld with the virtual unreality of Nomi's ethereal presence and transport themselves back to the New York East Village New Wave club era of the late '70s/early '80s. Whether transmuting pop tunes, such as multi-ranged '60s superstar Lou Christie's Lightning Strikes, effecting a shattering counter-tenor flight through traditional opera, or robotically warbling an original number, such as Simple Man, Nomi eschews enigmatic loneliness and an other-worldly persona that proved him anything but a simple man.

Like his misunderstood 1950s counterpart space emissaries, such as Klaatu, who brought an edict of peace through pacifism in the 1951 blockbuster film The Day The Earth Stood Still, or The Stranger From Venus, who romanced Klaatu's human girlfriend (Patricia Neal) during his 1954 peace pilgrimage to earth, Nomi emerged from the earthly veneer of Sperber, to bring a message of salvation through song. Yet as awed as audiences were by Nomi's Orwellian oddness, most treated his concerts as surrealist spectator sport, failing to grasp the quavering pleas for intimacy which fluttered and sparked beneath the Dietrich dominance and Garboesque aloofness.

In the end there was no Gort to this alien's minstrel Klaatu. No giant robot which could return mortal life to the dead or enforce the rules of sane behavior via threatening rays from a faceless countenance. Nomi himself, or perhaps the vestigial traces of the human Sperber, succumbed to yearnings for earthly fame and abandoned his backup band and co-performers for the commercial artifice prescribed by recording companies which sterilized his originality. At the nadir of Nomi's public appearances he even opened for the camp-metal band Twisted Sister during a particularly degrading outing at a New Jersey nightclub. And having split his persona in two, Nomi the nebulous shooting star became the victim of Sperber, the gourmet pastry chef, the spurious sex-a-holic, who contracted AIDS during one of his truckstop outings. With knowledge of the new disease scant, and the panic induced by the term "Gay Cancer", friends avoided contact with Sperber, who spent his last days
in the isolation of a hospital ward.

Black-glossed beestung lips, space vampire facade, geometrical plastic tuxedos, angularly coiffed hair, mechanically darting glances, this coy Mephisto with a bit of The Devil Girl From Mars, inaccesible to human definition, escaped the dreary annals of MTV stereotypification, but only by leaving the earth via a profoundly nihilistic death.