Evoking a Particular Bohemia


Framed with bits of It Came From Outer Space (1953), Andrew Horn’s portrait of Klaus Nomi (1944-83) takes for granted the notion of this no-wave performance artist as an inexplicable alien. Nomi’s white Pan-Cake makeup, black bee-stung lips, alarmingly sculpted coiffure, and hilariously geometric outfits suggested a constructivist Pierrot or a Weimar android or perhaps an imploded one-person version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A trained countertenor, the German-born Nomi sang pop songs as if they were grand opera. His affect, however, was blatantly artificial. More wistful than campy, The Nomi Song is not without a certain showbiz drama, supplied mainly by the story of the star’s not quite making it. As much as anyone in the early ’80s, Nomi was ready-made for MTV crossover. But as an early AIDS casualty, he would be part of another, less fortunate vanguard. Generous with Nomi performances, including his trademark covers of material originally made famous by Lou Christie and Marlene Dietrich, The Nomi Song is better at evoking a particular bohemia than at getting inside its subject’s head. This humanoid music box was, somebody says, “one of the loneliest persons on earth.”