TV Party’s “The Sublimely Intolerable Show” featured futurist countertenor Klaus Nomi

By on August 13, 2018

On January 8, 1979, Glenn O’Brien’s public access program TV Party — originally airing on Manhattan cable access Channel D and Channel J between 1978 and 1982 — featured a rare live performance by the futurist countertenor Klaus Nomi, during an episode that Blondie‘s Chris Stein explains “isn’t chaos, it’s art.”

Watch this episode — titled “The Sublimely Intolerable Show” — on Night Flight Plus.

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This early black & white episode, directed by legendary New York filmmaker Amos Poe, also features appearances by Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chic’s Nile Rodgers (who both join in to take bizarre, abusive phone calls from viewers watching at home); the Patti Smith Group’s reefer-smoking Richard Sohl; singer-songwriter Compton Maddux; and Andy (a.k.a. “Adny”) Shernoff of the Dictators, playing the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” with some additional help from pom-pom girls Tish and Snooky, the Manic Panic designers.

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This episode gets off to a rocky start with “technical difficulties” of the audio kind, which is the kind of thing you just don’t see much on broadcast TV anymore, but that’s what makes watching a vintage cable access show like TV Party kinda fun.

The roughshod “D.I.Y.” production — often jerking back and forth between cameras — is one reason Debbie Harry referred to the show’s editing style as “toxic” in an interview she did for the 90-minute TV Party: The Documentary, which we also have streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Nomi performs one of his signature post-modern arias, the “Delilah” part of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,” from Camille Saint-Saëns’s opera Samson & Delilah.

This same aria would also be the last track on Klaus Nomi’s self-titled debut album (that version was recorded live at Merlyn’s in Madison, Wisconsin, on September 20, 1980).

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Here’s a video we found of Nomi — wearing a plastic raincoat stolen from Howie Pyro’s mother — performing the very same aria for the first time onstage at The New Wave Vaudeville Show in 1978:

Steven Hager’s Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene (St. Martin’s Press, 1986), describes Nomi’s performance this way:

“Toward the end of the show, the lights dimmed and the room was filled with a thundering musical ovation. The curtains opened and the spotlight fell on a strange, unearthly presence wearing a black gown, clear plastic cape, and white gloves. As the orchestral refrain from Saint-Saens’ ‘Samson And Delila’ was played, this strange Weimar version of Mickey Mouse began singing in an angelic voice. ‘I still get goose pimples when I think about it,’ remembers Joey Arias, who was in the audience that night. ‘Everyone became completely quiet until it was over.'”

Read more about Klaus Nomi below.

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Klaus Nomi — born Klaus Sperber on January 24, 1944, in Immenstadt, Germany — was noted for his remarkable vocal acrobatics and his unusual stage persona, appearing with his face painted white, Kabuki-style, with black lips. His clothing and hairstyle were both inspired by the Cubism art movement.

Nomi had discovered his love for opera (as well as pop) as a teenager, and in the 1960s worked as an usher at Deutsche Oper Berlin in West Berlin — where he sang arias for the other ushers and maintenance crew on stage in front of the fire curtain after performances — as well as performing arias at Berlin’s gay discothèque Kleist Casino.

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Nomi moved to New York City in 1972, where he found many like-minded opera, art & pop-loving friends in the East Village music and arts scene.

There, he began combining opera and New Wave music together to create an otherworldly blend that was uniquely his own, performing in elaborate stage shows that were reminiscent of retro-futuristic sci-fi visions of the 1920s.

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His pseudonym/surname “Nomi” was actually an anagram of the Latin word “omni,” which means “all” or “every,” but was also apparently also an allusion to the Bob Guccione-published science magazine Omni.

In 1978, David Bowie discovered Nomi and invited him to join him onstage for a taping of Saturday Night Live on December 15, 1979.

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Bowie was himself entering a new phase of his own career, having left behind the music he created in Berlin with Brian Eno (which had resulted in the so-called “Berlin Trilogy” of albums, Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger).

For the “SNL” performance, Bowie had Nomi and flamboyant New York performance artist Joey Arias accompany him onstage for three songs: “The Man Who Sold the World,” “TVC 15,” and “When You’re a Boy,” a track from Lodger.

Bowie appeared wearing a life-size marionette costume, with puppeteers offstage (or perhaps Bowie himself) operating the costume’s oversized arms.

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Nomi was so impressed with the costuming that he adopted the huge plastic tuxedo Bowie wore during the first song as his own, wearing it on the cover of his debut album (Bowie had helped him get signed to his label, RCA Records).

In 1981, Nomi performed his song “Total Eclipse” in concert, which you can see in the film Urgh! A Music War.

His performance of the aria “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” was used for the concert film’s closing credits.

Klaus Nomi’s musical career was cut short, unfortunately and quite sadly, when he was diagnosed with AIDS, which was still not widely known about in those days.

He died in New York City on August 6th, 1983, at the age of 39, two years before Rock Hudson’s death raised public awareness of this deadly new illness. His ashes were scattered over New York City.

Watch “The Sublimely Intolerable Show” and other episodes of TV Party on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.