Sunday, December 10, 2017


By Madeline Bocaro

(An excerpt from my story, Klaus Nomi – Riding The New Wave)

The transitional period between decades is highly charged with the excitement of things to come, and with nostalgia for an era coming to an end. The 1970's ended with punk rock stomping out Disco. By 1979 the new wave was already upon us. Simmering beneath the deliberate crudeness, realism and rage of Punk was a brightly colored, cosmetic, futuristic fantasy world. The movement's forerunners were fans of British Glam rock, especially of David Bowie. They had an ironic affection for the danceability of Disco, hoping to replace it with a more whimsical, eccentric and sardonic genre. It was time for some fun. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was back in town!

New York City had a healthy club scene in 1979. CBGB still hosted local bands like Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads. Hurrah! was the New Wave dance spot. Danceteria and the Mudd Club hosted rock bands. Discos were booming. Studio 54 and Max's Kansas City were still in business. Music was becoming more synthesized and Euro-flavored, ever since the Giorgio Moroder-produced Donna Summer hit, 'I Feel Love' (1977) inspired electronic experimentation within dance music. This new sound was known in Europe as New Romantic. The dawn of MTV forced musicians to be more concerned with visual appearance.

Meanwhile, a strange looking, brilliant futuristic fellow from a distant galaxy (Germany) had been living quietly in New York City since 1972. His name was Klaus Sperber. Klaus developed an act and fashioned an eccentric persona to complement his extraordinary operatic singing talents. He transformed into Klaus Nomi. His story is short, but sweet. The musical climate was perfect for what he had to offer. Klaus could see the future clearly – in fact, he was already living in it. French TV Interview: It was said about you that you were either the 8th wonder of the world, or a tragic accident of the nature. Klaus: 'Oh it's wonderful, it's extraordinary. I hope it's true!'

Soon our paths would cross. In 1978, I was a regular shopper at the trendy NYC fashion spot, Fiorucci specializing in colorful Day-Glo clothing made of leather, plastic, rubber and vinyl. It was not just a store. Fiorucci was a whole new synthetic scene. They sold clothing by new cutting edge designers, and their own Fiorucci brand. Andy Warhol frequented the store. The newest, coolest music was always played there; Kraftwerk, The B-52's, Blondie, Devo, Bowie, and they had lots of in-store dance parties, which spilled over into the 59th Street storefront windows.

I bought a new Fiorucci outfit each week. My hair was purple (Manic Panic's Crazy Color brand in Aubergine) with flaming pink streaks. Fiorucci manager, Joey Arias (the now world-famous diva!) would outfit me in some fabulous clothes.

At Christmas time in 1979, Fiorucci sold a postcard with a picture of a bizarre looking fellow, which read, "Klaus Nomi". Thinking it meant 'Merry Christmas' in German, I bought the card.

On December 15, 1979 David Bowie was the musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night (Live), a live TV show taped in New York City. This performance is now legendary. It was impossible to get tickets. My friend's dad (a VP at WNBC television) apologized for not getting us a seat inside the studio, but we could stand near the control room. This was even better, since it was right outside the dressing rooms! We attended the afternoon run-through rehearsal at 4:00 pm, and went home that night to watch the live TV broadcast.

I felt Bowie's presence as we went up the elevator. Something was actually different about the air! The studio was buzzing with excitement. The Saturday Night Live cast members were jumping around yelling, "BOWIE IS IN THE BUILDING!!" When we exited the elevator on the 8th floor, everything was glowing! When we walked by Bowie's dressing room door I got chills, and when he came out I had tears in my eyes!

I suddenly recognized Joey from Fiorucci (also a member of Nomi's band) in the hallway. Joey excitedly explained that Bowie had asked them both to sing back-up vocals on the show. Bowie stood with a peculiar little guy dressed in black, and proudly introduced his new friend 'Klaus Nomi'. I was excited to see the postcard photo come to life, and to meet Bowie, who was stunningly ethereal, yet very sweet! Bowie came over and smiled at me unblinking with those crazy eyes of his, and kissed my hand – OH GOD!! Bowie is not human! He is made of wax! He smiled again as he passed me by and I felt neon rays beaming into my eyes! He should be in a glass case lit by a bright white light in a wax museum as a space specimen!  These three stunning creatures in exquisite makeup enraptured me. I asked who did their fabulous makeup (the meticulous details were not visible on TV). They boasted that they had decorated each other, "Joey did mine and I did his, and we did David's!" Boys will be girls!

We stood in the studio and it was the closest I ever got to heaven! It looked like a weird space ritual! First they performed 'The Man Who Sold The World'. Joey and Klaus had to carry David on-stage because his bizarre sculpted Dadaist costume encased his legs. Klaus and Joey sang backing vocals. You could clearly hear Nomi's authentic, immaculate countertenor - a wondrous gift that would evoke emotion and astonishment in any listener. Back to the dressing room…

Bowie emerged for his second song 'TVC 15' – in drag! It was a drab gray Communist China style airline stewardess suit with a long calf-length skirt. David's look was inspired by a work by the father of photomontage, Jon Heartfield. David's outfit was accessorized with hideous gray suede sling-back shoes. If I had not been leaning on a wall, I surely would have fallen over backwards and fainted! It was delightful to see that Bowie was back to his old glam/drag tricks!

The trio then rehearsed their 'macho' dance moves for 'Boys Keep Swinging' in the hallway. For the broadcast, Bowie's torso was replaced by a puppet's body, which he wore over a green leotard. Bowie manipulated the puppet's dancing arms and legs, with his body blocked out by the use of green-screen effects. Although a 'questionable' lyric was muted ('other boys check you out') the censors did not notice the puppet's 'excitement' below the belt at the song's climax, which David cunningly reserved for the live broadcast!
The suit that Bowie wore during 'The Man Who Sold The World' was based on a costume designed by Sonia Delaunay and worn by 1920s Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara for the play Le Cour a Gaz (The Gas Heart). The hard plastic sculptural silhouette, mimicking a tuxedo completely encased David's legs. It was accented by an oversized striped bowtie. The costume was designed by Bowie, with Mark Ravitz of Brooks-Van Horn Costume Company. Bowie's written instructions to Ravitz read, "Access into and out of to be easy. (back-door/gate?)"

Replicating Bowie's monochrome Dadaist outfit would cost $1,500, which Klaus could not afford. However, the costumer was so moved by Nomi's passion that he agreed to make him a triangular plastic tuxedo bodice.

Bowie's and Nomi's pointed monochromatic outfits became popular decades later - adapted by director Tim Burton for Johnny Depp's look in the film Edward Scissorhands, used as the basis of Jean-Paul Gaultier's Spring 2009 couture runway show, and endlessly pillaged by Lady Gaga.

In SNL's popular skit Sprockets, Mike Myers played the character Dieter, a bored, disaffected German expressionist / minimalist who would apathetically interview celebrities. Although the character's monkey was named Klaus, Myers has stated that Klaus Nomi inspired his Dieter character.

Nomi's now legendary TV appearance with Bowie secured a record deal with RCA records in 1980. A European tour ensued. In Paris, the entire fashion community was intrigued by Nomi's angular, polished and glossy look. Everybody who was anybody wanted to meet him.

I accepted Mr. Nomi's invitation to his concert at Hurrah! and was honored to see him perform many times thereafter.

Nomi's amazing stage visuals depicted a Kabuki-Cabaret. Klaus descended from outer space in a cloud of smoke (dry ice actually, showering the audience with a cool heavenly mist). The Nomi character and his evocative vocals brought warmth to the synthetic sound - Kraftwerk with personality.

Each highly theatrical performance begat gasps and rapturous applause. Anyone could appreciate his pop-operatics. His songs were keyboard-laden with melodic guitar, and Nomi's stunning vocals. The classical arias were captivating, especially with the freaky visual juxtaposition. This was something else completely - something special!

For his final performance ever, on German TV (an intensely stunning and regal rendition of 'Cold Song' with a full orchestra), Klaus wore an ornate Baroque outfit with a grand ruff collar. Then he suddenly and mysteriously disappeared forever. Klaus Nomi died of AIDS at age 39 on August 6, 1983. Joey Arias remembers: "I still get goose pimples when I think about it…It was like he was from a different planet and his parents were calling him home. When the smoke cleared, he was gone."

It's tragic that it all started and ended so quickly. Nomi's ashes were scattered in New York City. I will always remember his sincere, sweet smile and the twinkle in his eyes. He was so happy to finally be on the road to success with the big thrust that Bowie had given his career. His golden voice lives on.

Klaus Nomi is still admired by countless musicians, artists and designers worldwide, such as Morrissey who still plays Nomi recordings prior to his own gigs. ("Nomi sang like a man trapped in the body of a dead girl.")

(All three of Bowie's SNL costumes, along with the pink poodle prop, are on tour with the David Bowie Is exhibit worldwide, which debuted in 2013 at the V&A in London!)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins John Lennon & Yoko Ono

By Madeline Bocaro

…and then as the sun rose we made love and that was Two Virgins.
- John Lennon, 1980

John and Yoko's first recording together in May 1968 (released in November) was an unprecedented sound collage. The idea was inspired by Yoko Ono's conceptual book of instructions to be completed in the mind -  Grapefruit (1964). John and Yoko believed that sound is in the mind of the listener, not in the grooves of a record. Lennon described the record; "Saying whatever you want it to say. It is just us expressing ourselves like a child does, you know, however he feels like then. What we're saying is make your own music. This is Unfinished Music."

The album's title arose from the couple's feeling that they were "Two innocents, lost in a world gone mad." After making the recording on their first night alone together, the pair consummated their relationship at dawn. 

Two Virgins is the sound of two avant-garde artists falling in love, noodling around with tape loops and wordless vocals, experiencing a rebirth...on acid. The recordings were made in May 1968 in the attic at Kenwood, Lennon's house in Weybridge, Surrey while John's wife was away. The sounds include an amalgam of vocalizations, birdsong, sound effects, feedback, random musical instruments, nursery rhymes, music hall songs and novelty tunes.

In an amusing clip of playful outtakes, Yoko instructs John on the musical direction for the recording. She exuberantly laughs, as John jokingly counts-in the start of her timeless wailing vocal, "With a one two, one two, one two three…"

Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins was released by Apple Records in the US in stereo on 11 November 1968 and in the UK in mono / stereo on 29 November 1968. The mono version was available only in the UK by mail order. 

The First Nude Selfie
John and Yoko were the Adam and Eve of our generation. John took a bite of Yoko's Apple upon their first meeting in London at Indica gallery in November 1966, two years prior to recording Two Virgins. When they shocked the world in their birthday suits on the album cover, all hell broke loose. In 1980, John continued to innocently proclaim, "Even before we made this record, I envisioned producing an album of (Yoko's) and I could see this album cover of her being naked because her work was so pure. I couldn't think of any other way of presenting her. It wasn't a sensational idea or anything."

In late October '68, for the album's cover art, John took a series of nude photos of himself with Yoko using a time-delay camera in Ringo Starr's basement a 34 Montagu Square. Lennon: "It just seemed natural for us. We're all naked really." On the front cover John and Yoko face the camera naked. (Yoko was pregnant at the time – she lost the baby). The back cover shows the couple from behind.

Paul McCartney contributed a quote for the back cover of the album's UK pressing: "When two great Saints meet, it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint." Bible quotations from Genesis Chapter 2 (chosen by the Beatles' press officer Derek Taylor) were used on the back of the brown covering which hid the couple's backsides.

"The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy. If we can make society accept these kinds of things without offence, without sniggering, then we shall be achieving our purpose." – John Lennon

"What we did purposely is not have a pretty photograph; not have it lighted so as we looked sexy or good. There were a couple of other takes from that session where we looked rather nice, hid the little bits that aren't that beautiful; we looked good. We used the straightest, most unflattering picture just to show that we were human." - John Lennon (Anthology)

EMI pressed the record in Britain while the cover was printed by Technic and released on the Beatles label, Apple Records. Apple scruffs (Beatles fans) were hired to insert the vinyl into the covers in the basement of Apple's office at 3 Savile Row.  EMI refused to distribute the album in the UK, so it was distributed instead by Track Records. The nude cover photo was hidden with a brown paper sleeve. Two Virgins did not chart in the UK. Only 5,000 British copies were pressed.

The album was first released on Tetragrammaton Records in the USA, a short-lived label founded in 1967 by Bill Cosby and his then manager Roy Silver. (Ironically, the definition of Tetragrammaton is "The unspeakable four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel.")

Two Virgins reached No. 124 in the USA (25,000 sold) although the cover was regarded obscene by authorities. The records were impounded in many states (including 30,000 copies in New Jersey in January 1969).

If not for the restrictions in availability due to censorship of the cover and unreported sales, Two Virgins would have certainly risen much higher in the charts. The album's back cover art was featured on Rolling Stone's one-year anniversary cover (doubling sales) with another Bible quotation: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."

The avant-garde sound collage concept of Two Virgins crept into John's current work on The Beatles (white album) with 'Revolution 9'. Two more 'Unfinished Music' albums by John & Yoko followed; Life with the Lions and, after their marriage in 1969, Wedding Album.

Two Virgins was reissued on LP, CD, and digitally by Secretly Canadian on its USA anniversary, 11th November 2016 with bonus tracks and rare photos.

Yoko Ono's Film No. 5, also titled Two Virgins was made at Kenwood in June 1968, one month after recording the album. John and Yoko's smiling celluloid faces are superimposed against the sky, twirling and uncannily merging perfectly into one.