This post comes from the Dangerous Minds archives and was originally published on August 8th, 2010, the 27th anniversary of Klaus Nomi’s death.
I met Klaus in the fall of 1977 in the lobby of the Cinema Village after a midnight screening of Eraserhead. We struck up a conversation about the movie and immediately hit it off. Wearing a black leather jacket, black jeans, black lipstick, black eye shadow and jet black, slicked back, widow-peaked hair, Klaus looked like an elegant punk vampire. But despite his dramatic appearance, Klaus was low-key and somewhat shy. I don’t know why we hit it off, but we did. He invited my girlfriend and me over to his apartment for the following night. He told us he was a pastry chef and wanted us to taste his creations. We readily accepted.
The next night when we arrived at Klaus’s apartment on St. Mark’s Place, he greeted us at the door wearing a chef’s apron. The smell of fresh baked pastry filled his small but impeccably neat home. We ate his delicacies and swooned. They were delicious. And while I felt comfortable in his presence, I also felt as if Klaus was not of this planet. There was something strange and alien about him, but benignly so. Klaus was an unusual being…which he would soon confirm.
While my girlfriend and I sipped wine, Klaus excused himself and disappeared into his bedroom. After about 15 minutes or so, he reappeared with a theatrical flourish in semi- drag, looking like a diminutive Diva: face made-up and wearing a red satin robe. He walked over to his stereo equipment, put a record on the turntable and started singing to an instrumental backing track, some kind of opera. He was stunning. His voice was sublime. I was witnessing something very special. His performance also explained why there were so many photos and paintings of Maria Callas in his apartment.
Later that night I told Klaus that I wanted to help him develop as a performer. I encouraged him to take the next step. The first thing I suggested was that he get a guitar and learn some basic chords. Singing to backing tracks was fine, but he needed to write original material and try to bridge the gap between high culture and rock and roll. I really believed he had the potential to be a star. I invited him to come to some of my band’s rehearsals and try his hand at singing with a rock group. It wasn’t a good fit, but it did loosen him up and point him in a direction that he would later follow.
One day Klaus called me and asked me to help pick out an electric guitar. I was thrilled. He was going for it. We went to Manhattan’s music district and after several hours of shopping around, Klaus settled on a dark blue Fender Jaguar. He bought it and we went back to his pad and I showed him some basic chords. It didn’t take Klaus long to get the hang of E, A and D. When I left, he was already humming the beginnings of a song.
I never heard from Klaus again. No phone calls, nothing. I made a few attempts to contact him, but with no success. The next and last time I saw him was on Saturday Night Live singing back-up with Joey Arias behind David Bowie. Klaus was on his way to brief stardom. I felt sad to have lost my connection to him, but happy that I had managed to contribute in some way to his development as an artist.
Klaus died of AIDs five years after I met him. He was the first person that I knew to die of the disease. Tragically, the first of many.
A few months ago I asked Joey Arias about the blue Fender Jaguar. Was it still around? Joey told me it had been sold after Klaus’s death. I was disappointed. I would have liked to have bought it myself as an Earthly memento of a friend who seemed to be visiting from another world, a world that perhaps he’s returned to.
Cold Song is a powerful live performance shot after Klaus was well into his illness. The second video is Klaus and Joey at work and play at Fiorucci in 1979.