< Presumably in line with his reception as unidentifiable and otherworldly, many biographical accounts of Nomi aestheticize his death as his "departure." Page Wood and George Elliott, the "living authors" of Za Bakdaz, a Nomi-themed opera, talk of August 6, 1983, as the day when "Klaus Nomi left the Earth." (36) The British periodical Attitude summarizes his career as a heavenly event: "Like a shooting star, he exploded into the world then fell from the heavens after a glittering, all-too-brief career." (37) The Nomi Song, Andrew Horn's documentary, presents a more elaborate version of the same narrative. The film, whose subtitle reads "He Came from Outer Space to Save the Human Race," opens with a clip from Jack Arnold's 1953 science-fiction picture It Came from Outer Space, which features the landing of aliens on Earth. The clip is then reinterpreted as Nomi's "arrival" on Earth and followed by his contemporaries' descriptions of him as "alien," "artificial," and the like. Jack Arnold's film does not return until the very end of the documentary, when another clip, this time showing the aliens' departure from Earth, serves to allegorize Nomi's death.
In this way Horn's film achieves a neat formal closure and an overall elegant arc structure, but only at the price of aestheticizing Nomi's death and presenting it as logical, even inevitable, while the voice-over in Arnold's film informs us that the aliens are leaving because humanity was not yet ready for them. But, of course, Nomi's death was neither logical nor inevitable, nor was there anything in it worth rescuing through aestheticization. Because he was suffering from an unfamiliar disease, most of Nomi's friends were, perhaps understandably, too afraid to visit him in the hospital. One of the few who were not was his friend and collaborator Joey Arias, whose written account of Nomi in his last days focuses on the visible manifestations of AIDS on Nomi's body rather than on the man himself:
He developed kaposis [Kaposi's sarcoma] and
started taking interferon. That messed him real bad. He had dots all over his body and his eyes became purple slits. It was like someone was destroying him.... Then he got real weak and was rushed back to the hospital. He couldn't eat for days because he had cancer in his stomach. Herpes popped out all over his body. He turned into a monster. (38)
|Unfortunately, such dehumanizing accounts of people suffering and dying of AIDS were by no means rare at the time. In a visualization of that dehumanization, Horn's film ends with footage of a visibly emaciated, dying Nomi's performance of "The Cold Song," an air from Purcell's King Arthur, in Munich shortly before his death. As though to confirm my critique of the film's treatment of Nomi's death, the footage is combined with an interview with Tony Frere, another Nomi collaborator, who comes dangerously close to rationalizing and justifying Nomi's death:|
It was definitely a very dramatic ending, and you don't wanna say it was appropriate, but--at the time it was extremely surprising--but now, thinking about it, it was perfect, you know, sort of like a perfect coda to everything. You know, just like "Wow," it was like an ending to this crazy, lavish opera in a way.
|The alien, the unrecognizable, the unidentifiable|
then simply had to go, the film seems to tell us;
as such, he was never sustainable anyway.
Frere's words, heard over the last chords of
Purcell's somber air and Nomi's leaving the stage
bedecked in a seventeenth-century aristocratic
costume, provide for a suitably poignant operatic
exit. The most useful conclusion that I have been
able to draw from studying the reception
ofKlaus Nomi is that such a radical refusal to identify
with any normative identities cannot ultimately rescue
us from the exigencies of identification.
Having to identify with already existing
identity norms in order to achieve both
a recognized identity of our own and the
cultural recognition of others can and often
does feel stifling.
Yet the radical alternative that Nomi
embodied is not a viable answer, because cultural recognition
will be withheld from those refusing
to sufficiently adhere to a recognizable
identity. What is needed for a
more livable life is probably a third way,
winding between a slavish
identification with normative identities and a radical
nonidentification that results in the loss of recognizability.
(This passage is taken from