With the Canal Pride weekend commencing here in Amsterdam, I’ll cast an eye back three decades to the birthplace of today’s gay movement, New York, and offer a playlist featuring the work of one of that era’s personalities.
At the end of the nineteen-seventies and in the early eighties, one of the most striking denizens of the New York underground was Klaus Nomi, who first got himself noticed, amidst voluble incredulity and puzzlement, with a rendition of “Mon Cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” – this countertenor could do a very striking falsetto – delivered in outlandish or otherworldly garb, before flashing lights were set off, smoke poured in, and he vanished off stage. And, with that performance during one of the first events of the New Wave, he made his grande entrée onto the scene.
Nomi (Klaus Sperber, 1944-83), was a Bavarian transplant to New York (by way of Berlin) whose musical range was extensive, running from New Wave to opera – Purcell was one of his favourites, it seems – and nor did he neglect to pay homage to the most well-known German chanteuse of all or to one of the most famous of American popular singers. And, even after thirty years, his renditions seem nearly as evergreen as the originals themselves.
But much of his original material should not be overlooked, either. From his own unfinished opera Za Bakdaz I’ve included a couple of songs in the playlist: more can be found on the website dedicated to that project. And there’s another more general website devoted to him that’s worth perusing as well.
In 2012, Nomi’s music and his style remain alive. To vary what a famous German once wrote of a famous American: wir wissen es schlechterdings nicht, wie alt sie schon sind und wie jung sie noch sein werden.