30 Years From Nomi

Thirty years ago my good friend Klaus Sperber aka Klaus Nomi passed from this world.

This photos hang on my wall.

He is never far from my thoughts as well as my many friends and family missing from the Here-Now.

Catch him in the following URL of YOU DON’T OWN ME, please go to the following URL

He certainly was free.

Watch The Steps / Hurrah Nightclub

Throughout the late 1970s Hurrah was New York’s premier punk/new wave dance hall with DJs filling in between the live bands such as the Damned, Buzzcocks, Dead Boys, Klaus Nomi along with Divine in the off-Broadway exploitative prison play WOMEN BEHIND BARS. Jim Fouratt hired me to work the front door. Haoui Montaug handled the guest list, while George Wrage collected tickets at the top of the stairs, since Hurrah was located in a second-story renovated dance studio. Getting up them was much easier than getting down, especially after drinking and drugging like it was 1978.

The stairs were dark and steep.

The deep-throated security man working with George was renown for his parting advice.

“Watch the stairs.”

Most people succeeded in reaching the bottom of the steps, but not all.

On more than one occasion John Phillips warned customers and then a clatter of heels signaled the tumble of a body down the stairs. If they were lucky, the mezzanine landing stopped their descent. A few
made it to the bottom. No one ever needed to go to the hospital, but New Yorkers were tougher in the 70s.

A lot tougher.

“Watch the steps.”

Man Or Beast

The bedroom in my old East Village apartment faced an air-shaft.

One summer evening I had to listen to a woman in the throes of pleasure for hours. My hillbilly girlfriend hollered for her to shut up. She was more the quiet type.

The same scenario repeated itself night after night.

Moving into the living slightly eased the noise. My girlfriend and I figured the woman was living two stories above us and my friend was giving her the business.

My girlfriend wanted me to speak with him and the next morning I confronted Bill on the stairs.

“We need to talk.”

“Yeah, we do.”

“Can you do something about your girl’s screaming?”

“My girl’s screaming? I thought it was you.”

“No, it’s not me.”

“Well, if not you, then who?”

The door opened for the fourth floor apartment and out stepped two very content-looking females. One was petite and the other was three times the man Bill and I would ever be in this lifetime.

We moved out of their way.

Even back in the 70s a man knew his place amongst his betters.


A blizzard struck Manhattan on February 4, 1978. The snowstorm closed the city within the first hours. The streets became impassable for cars soon afterwards, as 100 mph winds buried the sidewalks under 5-foot drifts. My hillbilly girlfriend and I were trapped in our East Village apartment for days. The gas stove’s four burners prevented our freezing to death and we lived on bagels from the corner bodega and Chinese take-out. Those deliverymen saved our lives. After a week the sanitation department cleared the avenues, then the streets, and finally Manhattan approached normalcy.

Our cabin fever ran in the 100s and I suggested to my hillbilly girlfriend that a drink at Max’s Kansas City might cure our too-much-homesickness. Alice agreed with this plan. The Heartbreakers were the headliners that night. and the West Virginian had moved to the city after seeing the covers of the New York Dolls LP. I could’t blame her. Johnny Thunders was punk’s Jimi Hendrix.

Our only winter clothing was ski jackets. Max’s was the antithesis of après slope, so we dressed in black leather. I was lucky enough to wear engineer boots. Alice had no option other than high heels. She was thin. Her skin was polar white. Many of our friends said that she looked like Shirley MacLaine. Alice hated hearing that comparison, but I had fallen in love with Warren Beatty’s sister in THE APARTMENT. It was a long-running obsession.

That winter I was working at the New School registering students. Alice was acting in an ensemble theater. Her money came from her parents. My salary barely covered room and board. She paid for the taxi. We arrived Max’s minutes before the opening song. The door person let us in for free. I had saved him from a beating at Disco Donut. The upstairs was packed with punks and Heartbreakers fans. The stars of the scene sat up front.

The band took the stage and Johnny Thunders shouted into the mike, “One two three.”

The Heartbreakers performed an extraordinary set.


The two hundred of us wanted more and they gave us TOO MUCH JUNKIE BUSINESS. Our applause was the appreciation of a thousand, but I understood how a single record company didn’t wanted to risk their reputation on the Heartbreakers. They personified trouble.

The crowd divided like an amoeba in two directions. Groupies and Heartbreakers fan headed for the dressing room. Alice regarded the stage with an unnatural yearning. I nodded my release. She was only 21. We had all come to New York to be free. Within two steps toward the dressing room I was history. Alice wanted bright lights and fame. Same as any actress straight out of Appalachia.

My happiness was a little easier to achieve and I descended to the downstairs bar for a drink. The bartender put a vodka-tonic in front of me. We played pool at Julian’s on 14th Street. I pushed $5 across the bar. The tip covered my drinking for the rest of the night. The staff at Max’s and CBGBs knew how treat the regulars.

I nodded to several other drinkers. Some were musicians. Others were artists. We liked liquoring on our own. Across the bar a raven-haired punkette was staring at me. A vintage leather catsuit covered her zombie-lime skin. Her eyelids were smeared with raccoon mascara. Chains hung from her neck. She was a working girl slumming for trash. A hotel room was too good for her. She had seen plenty of those with her johns. She blew a kiss and glanced back to the bathrooms. This was going to be a short romance.

I looked over to the stairs. They were empty. Everyone upstairs was upstairs. Everyone downstairs was downstairs. Five minutes were more than enough. I checked the bar. A thin man in black leather was watching the girl and me. He could have passed for Josef Goebbels’ nephew. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me and I walked over to him.

“You have a problem?”

“Me a problem?” His accent was German.

I had struggled with the language in high school and college. My best grade was a C+. My worst was a couple of Fs, but I retained more than a rudimentary grasp on the language and spoke to the young man in German.

After a few exchanges it was obvious that he was gay, but he laughed at my apprehension.

“Don’t worry. You are not my type. Ich mochte niche Neanderthal menschen.”

It wasn’t the first time that someone had mentioned my resemblance to homo sapiens’ predecessor. My family hailed from the Picts. We were an ancient race. Alice called me a caveman. She said that I grunted when we made love.

“Viele danke. Ich nicht bin ein Schwanzlutscher.”

The German punk threw back his head and laughed like Goethe on amyl nitrate.

“That is very good. Where did you learn such language?”

I explained that my Bavarian teacher in high school chain-smoked during class and swore at us in two languages. He failed me twice. My Boston accent ran roughshod over umlauted German. “Bad as I was as a student. Bruder Karl still sends me a Christmas card.”

“You are probably the only one of his students still speaking Deutsche.”

“Verleicht.” Perhaps was a good word in every language.

We discovered that the both of us had worked at Serendipity 3, the famed gay ice cream shop on East 60th Street. The waiters gave everyone a woman’s name. The German had been Marlene. My monicker was Bam-Bam.

“Like the Flintstones.”

“Yes, they thought I was Missing Link.”

“An animal.” The German looked over to the girl waiting by the bathroom door. “Perhaps you like this Strichmadchen. The whore looks like she is Sado.”

“More Maso than Sado.” I had read THE STORY OF O dozens of times.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught the approach of Alice. The warmth of her smile smacked of guilt. I introduced her to the German. His name was Klaus. He told us his life story.

“My father disappeared in Stalingrad. I was raised an only child in Essen.”

“A steel town.” I had read about the bombing of the Saar Valley in numerous WWII books. The factory town had been reduced to ashes.

“And not a very fun town for someone like me. I had two choices at age 18. Berlin or New York.

“New York won?”

“No place better to sing opera. High alto.”

“Like the castradi.” The emasculated opera singers were capable of a wider range than normal males.


“They were the craze in 18th Century Italy.” Alice knew her theater. I had seen her in a play. THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN. Most directors thought of her as an ingenue. They were dead wrong. She played the Las Vegas chorus girl Fran Walker to the hilt. Alice turned on her charm. “I would have loved to see the Divine Farinelli.”

“At one time there were over 100,000 castradi in Europe.” The German introduced himself as Klaus. His native country had rejected his efforts to sing the first eunuch soprano since the middle of the 19th Century. Spurned he chose New York over Berlin and professed to be practicing to break into the punk scene by singing Lou Christie’s LIGHTNING STRIKES ME AGAIN.

“I love Lou Christie.” Alice was Klaus’ newest convert to castradism. Their conversation swirled into the demise of the genre. Klaus cursed the Italians for banning castration for musical purposes in 1861. His discourse about the actual method of gelding a man was a little too graphic for even my prurient tastes and my eyes strayed to the green-skinned punkette. Two members of a relatively known band bracketed her at the bar. She toyed with the heavy chain around her neck. I ordered another drink and contemplated my chances of getting her phone number without Alice noticing my philandering.

The answer was zero.

It was almost 2 AM when Alice yawned for the second time. She possessed the amazing ability to fall asleep a half-minute after the third yawn. I motioned that it was time to go and she got up from her stool. I was surprised by her saying, “If you want to stay with Klaus, I understand.”


“Ja.” Klaus rattled off several sentences in his native tongue. My German was about as good as Colonel Klink from HOGAN’S HEROES, but I caught the drift of his guttural suggestion to lose Alice and pick up the punkette across the bar. He said her name was Nina and she liked it rough. “Same as me.”

“Not tonight.”

Alice came from the hicks. The East Village was dangerous. Our street was one of the worst. The snow was waist-high. She could disappear into some of the deeper drifts. “I have to take her home.”

“Really it’s all right. I can a taxi myself. You stay with Klaus.” Alice was a little too eager and I turned my head. A good-looking rocker was waiting in the cold. Alice wasn’t the type to fool around with another man, but she liked her fun, so I said, “Be careful.”

“It’s only a taxi ride.” She pecked my cheek and ran outside with a skip in her walk.

Klaus said nothing and signaled for Nina to join us. He told her that I was from Berlin . I spoke with a German accent. She took me back to her place. Klaus waved good-bye and said to come over his house to tell me everything.

“I’ll make you a strudel.”

“It’s a deal.”

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Klaus passed away of AIDS in 1983. I was living in Paris. Every time someone mentions his name I think of that night.

There was a lot of snow.

15 SECONDS WITH ANDY WARHOL by Peter Nolan Smith

When I was a kid, Campbell’s Tomato Soup tasted home-made, especially if milk was added as suggested by the directions. Everyone ate it in 1964; the rich, the poor, the in-between, and twelve year-old boys like me, so I was pleased to read in LIFE Magazine that a New York artist had painted large portraits of the popular soup can. My mother thought that Andy Warhol’s works were funny. My father wasn’t as appreciative of his reproductions.

“I bet you could do better with your crayons.” My father had said the same about Hollywood movies without ever letting me touch his Bell & Howell movie camera, but adults have a funny way of never remembering anything bad that they tell their children.

That next weekend my father bet our next-door neighbor that I could replicate Warhol’s painting with my crayons.

“$5 says he can’t.” Mr. Manzi shook his head with bemused conviction.

“$5 says he can.” My father looked at me for assurance. The priests had awarded my entry to Boston Parochial Art Contest with an honorable mention and the sisters of our Lady of the Foothills had given me an A grade in Art.

“I think I can.” The LIFE article stated that Warhol’s big soup can paintings cost $1500 and an autographed can of the real soup was priced at $6.

“Think isn’t good enough.” $5 was a tank of gas for his Delta 88.

“I can do it.” I had $2 saved from my paper route. “I’ll bet $5 too.”

Winning $5 from this bet had me thinking that I could afford my very own Warhol. The supermarket at the South Shore Plaza had to sell them. The Stop and Shop offered all kinds of weird foods in the specialty aisle.

“Good boy.” My father was gambling that my nascent skill could translate into money.

“He has to complete the drawing in one hour.” Mr. Manzi put ten dollars on the kitchen table.

“More than enough time.” My father handed me a soup can from the pantry and sat with Mr. Manzi to watch the Red Sox game. “Go get your art stuff.”

I went upstairs to my bedroom to fetch my crayons, several sheets of white paper, a ruler, and a compass, then hurried back to the living room.

“Two minutes are gone already.” Mr. Manzi tapped his watch.

“I know.” I pulled apart the curtains. Sunlight swarmed through the windows and I took out my crayons. I examined the soup can for several minutes and then sketched its outline onto a clean sheet of paper.

Andy Warhol had used five colors to copy the soup cans; red, black, white, silver, and gold. Getting the curve of the top and bottom right required the aid of the compass. Coloring the bottom half was simplified since it was the same color as the paper. The font of the lettering was tricky and the gold fleur de lis required a glib hand, yet I copied the symbol of the Bourbon Monarchy with guillotine precision.

“Only five more minutes.” My father yelled from the kitchen.

“I’m almost done.” I rushed through the gold medallion.

Rendition in hand I reached in the kitchen with 20 seconds to spare. I showed my father the image. I was certain that my effort would pass their inspection.

My father shook his head and gave Mr. Manzi $5.

“Close, but not close enough.” My father was an honorable man.

“I don’t know.” Mr. Manzi reached for the paper. “Let me be the judge.”

“What for? No son of mine is going to be an artist.” My father had much more austere goals set for his second son and threw the paper into the trash.

“My son the artist.” He was pushing me to be a doctor. My mother was praying for a priest. “You owe Mr. Manzi $5.”

“I only have $2.”

“Then give him those.”

“Yes, sir.”

“This wasn’t so bad.” My mother rescued the drawing from the garbage. Her father had worked as a trolleyman out of the Forest Hills yards. She had a great singing voice and art meant more to her than my father.

“Maybe someday this will hang in a museum.”

I hugged her and retreated upstairs to my bedroom, where I tore the picture into pieces. Art wasn’t as easy as my father said. It took skills to be a Warhol, although many magazines vilified his paintings as copies of reality. He laughed at this criticism and said, “Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

His fame lasted longer and The Factory was the rage in the mid-60s. His bohemian entourage shot movies about nothing. Sometimes the girls were naked. Other times the men. One long-haired poet wielded a whip, while dancing to electronic music. None of their films appeared at the South Shore Drive-In and I conspired to join his circus, as did many of other Catholic school students, for teenagers were rejecting the ethics of church-work-family-heaven.

It didn’t matter to us that tough kids called Andy Warhol ‘queer’. He was something else. None of us were sure what, but I knew Andy could use me for his movies. There was only one problem and it wasn’t that I was only 13.

The sad truth was that Andy Warhol was never coming to the South Shore. His kingdom was in Manhattan, which was more than 200 miles to the south.

Boston remained off Warhol’s beaten track throughout 1965, 1966, or 1967, but in May 1968 the Velvet Underground were booked to perform at the Boston Tea Party. Warhol was filming his protégés’ concert and I planned getting my share of fame.

“Let’s go see the Underground,” I suggested to my girlfriend, Kyla Rolla. She was probably the prettiest girl in my hometown.

“I’d like to go but the Doors are playing at the Uptown Bus.” Kyla was in love with the lead singer.

“Yeah, but I really like the Velvet Underground.” My ambition to be a star without any reason for fame was a secret, which I had never confessed to Kyla.

“Jim Morrison’s sexy, but if you want to see the Velvets, then I can go see the Doors with my girlfriends.” Kyla unbuttoned her shirt. She was well-developed beyond her age. The boys in town were enough competition without opening up the field to hippies in Boston and I said, “I’ll go with you.”

That night the Doors performed to about 40 girls and me. Everyone else was at the Boston Tea Party, although Warhol never showed up to film the set.

Less than a month later Valerie Solanas tried to assassinate Warhol and the Factory disbanded for security reasons.

Kyla and I broke up in 1969.

I became an anti-war college student with long hair. Beer replaced pot. I graduated sin laude from university and taught at South Boston High School during the Busing Riots of 1975. The students fought daily, despite the presence of the State Troopers in every classroom. The purgatory of the present was mirrored by the limbo of my future, then on a trip to New York I fell in love with a young painter from Brooklyn. Our love was destined to forever.

I quit my job and drove to New York in a stolen car. Ro and I made love three times that night. The next day she left to study art in Paris.

My heart was shattered to shards, but not enough to force me back to Boston. I moved into a SRO hotel on West 11th Street and found a busboy job at Serendipity 3 on East 60th Street. The restaurant was decorated with Tiffany lamps and the menu offered frozen chocolate ice cream sodas. Mr. Bruce, the owner, took one look at my semi-Neanderthal features and said, “Our clientele likes rough trade.”

Rough trade was not really a compliment, then again Mr. Bruce wasn’t Bruce Lee. His mustache curled upward like scimitars and his lisp hissed like an over-boiled tea pot. He was looking south of my waist.

“I’m not gay.”

“No, neither are all the boys on 53rd Street.” The block was famous for hustlers.

“I’m not that type.”

“Too bad.” Mr. Bruce sighed as if he was used to playing a waiting game with young men. He was barely 40. “You have trouble with famous people?”


“We were the first people to show his work in the 50s.” Mr. Bruce blushed at the thought of revealing his age. “Warhol comes here from time to time. He likes our double chocolate frappes.”

“Warhol?” My misery was erased by the momentary hope for fame.

“Yes, but you’re not his type. He likes prep school boys, but you never know. When can you start?”

Ten minutes later I was in a white shirt, black tie, and black pants. All the waiters and busboys had female nicknames. Mine was Pebbles. I kept making for Warhol to show at the ice cream parlor. He would make me famous as Joe Dallesandro, who played a street hustler in FLESH. I just needed one chance.

One afternoon Mr. Bruce caught me checking the reservation book.

“Why are you looking in the book?” Everyone had their place at Serendipity 3 and mine was not where I was at the moment.

“I was curious. Someone said that Warhol was coming today.” It was a hope-filled lie.

Mr. Bruce shut the book.

“Andy doesn’t need a reservation, Pebbles. Why you looking anyway? I told you before that Andy like preppy boys. They wear blue oxford shirts, navy blue blazer, khakis, and penny loafers. But I like black leather.”

Mr. Bruce was a sucker for punks in leather and I refused his offer to visit the back room.

“You want to be a bus boy the rest of your life?”

“It’s a living.” Busboy wages barely paid the weekly nut for my room, but life was cheap in the Village.

After work the pastry chef and I went to CBGBs and Max’s. Klaus Nomi wasn’t Andy Warhol’s type either.

The thin German singer and I wore black leather and torn jeans to the wild bars of the West Village. Unlike Candy from the Velvet Underground’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, Klaus was far too perverse to be anyone’s darling.

One night some gay-bashers tried to attack some queers on West Street. I stopped their assault with a broken beer bottle. A nightclub owner heard about the incident and asked if I wanted to work the door at Hurrah’s, a punk disco. The pay for a bouncer was $100/night and all I could drink. Opening night featured the Ramones and the Police.

I gave my notice at Serendipity and told the boys to come visit me. They liked straight boys just like Andy Warhol. Hurrahs owner found out that Klaus sang rock like castrati and promised him a gig.

“I have to think about it.”

Hurrahs was not Studio 54, but big names from rock and cinema came on big nights.

I was too common to catch the eye of anyone powerful enough to rescue me from being a doorman.

Klaus on the other hand attracted attention from photographers, fashion designers, record execs, and talent agents. Each contemplated on how to make money from a Josef Goebbels lookalike with a voice of Maris Callas. Few were smart enough to see the obvious.

Klaus was offered the opening act for Divine at Hurrah. His repertoire was two songs; Lou Chrystie’s LIGHTNING DOESN’T STRIKE TWICE and a classic aria from Mozart. He showed up wearing in a pink suit with stark make-up on his face.

“Here’s my list.” Andy Warhol’s name was at the top.

“You really think he’ll show.”

“Divine said he would.” Divine was the most famous transvestite in America. She was fat too, but funnier in John Waters films than the Flintstones or anything on TV.

“I’ll make sure he knows you personally put him on it.”

“Viele Danke.” His Nazi salute was very discreet.

Andy Warhol had never visited Hurrah, however Divine and Klaus were his kind of people and I scrounged through the cloakroom to change my leather jacket for a Jaeger blazer forgotten by some preppie the week before. It was a tight fit, but as close as I could get to Warhol’s ideal. Everyone working at the club was surprised by my wardrobe and asked if I was going to court.

“No,” I lied hoping to score a position at Warhol’s monthly, INTERVIEW. I wrote poetry.

Klaus laughed at my changed appearance.

“You clean up real good. Why the change?”

I couldn’t tell him about my aspirations. This was his night and I wished him luck. My anxiety rose, as it appeared like Andy Warhol wasn’t going to show up at the club. Studio had a big party. Maybe Klaus and Divine weren’t enough of a draw.

I helped Klaus to the stage and returned to the door with a beer. Drunkenness was my favorite cure for disappointment, but as I lifted the Heineken to my lips a Lincoln Town Car stopped at the curb. Three blonde boys got out of the back. They looked like Groton seniors on holiday. Andy emerged after the Waspish trio. His wig shone as white as a full moon on a smoky sky. People stopped on the sidewalk to gawk in awe. Cars braked on 62nd Street and I broke out of my star-struck paralysis to put down my beer.

Everyone in the foyer opened a path for the White Mole of Union Square. No one said a word. Andy ignored everyone, but the three boys. His eyes fell on me and he said, “I’m on the list.”

“Plus three.” I opened the velvet ropes. “Klaus put you on it.”

“Thanks.” He walked inside. The three boys followed him.

The entire incident lasted 10 seconds.

After the show Klaus exited with Andy, the three boys, and Divine. Everyone at the entrance exuded raw jealousy. Andy Warhol saw none of them. I was the only person with something to say.

“Mr. Warhol, I painted your soup can as a kid. It wasn’t easy.

“Really.” He regarded me with a plastic lock of hair blocking one eye, then left the club.

Total time with Andy.

15 seconds and I remained a nobody, but I was good at being a nobody too and that skill has lasted more than 15 seconds. I still like Campbell’s Tomato Soup too. Without Andy Warhol’s autograph it’s less than a dollar and I can always afford that price.

Andy Warhol quote: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

Oh Andy, when you’re right you are so right.