Most of the time I feel distanced from the classic opera singers. Some of the reasons lay in this, part ignorance and part the actual lack of interest. Like most genres, Opera is now completely assimilated by the comforts of pop-industry. Mash-up duets appear every once in a while, ever since “Barcelona” (even though that one is a milestone in kitch-delight). Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe did something of a gorgeous experiment (just like Malcolm McLaren succeeded with a masterpiece travesty of his, called “Madam Butterfly”). Of course the pop-opera travesty don’t always work for the better – the height of this sickneningly-sweet melody affair being a series of those “nightmare-before-Christmas” concerts with the popular (read: brainwash) aria-repertoire, courtesy “The Three Terrors”.
But then again, there remain “terrors” that are absolute king and gorgeously flamboyant as their flirt with the opera beast suggests: Florence Foster Jenkins and Yma Sumac pre-dating post-punk innovations by Nina Hagen, Klaus Nomi – and yes, the wild and lonely – Billy Mackenzie. Of the gorgeous threesome, Nina is still alive and kicking, while Klaus and Billy are sadly no longer gracing this world with their physical presence. Their voices, however, remain. The year 2013 will be 30 years since Klaus Nomi left this planet, sadly falling victim to complications associated with what would a little later become “popularly” abbreviated under the name of AIDS. Watching the amazing documentary about his life and work (and a truly sad death) – called “The Nomi Song”, it’s just impossible not to shed a tear at the very end. Klaus performed opera in the weirdest sense of the word – the most memorable moments on record being the touching “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” (an aria from “Samson and Delilah”) that kickstarted one of the most unusual careers in pop music history, and a pre-epitaph performance of “Cold Song”, which continues to leave listeners completely breathless. Nomi remains the lone example of the actual divine marriage of opera, its avant-garde aspects and pop-accessibility, forever rooted in the New Wave scene. His voice and persona were at such contrast to make the perfect match – as someone called Klaus “a cross between Mickey Mouse and the Tin Man”.
The most obscure of his obscure deliveries is undoubtedly a bizarre cover version of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. Performed live at one point, this version was kept on record (and ever since long sought after). In a way Grace Jones steered away from the original template of “Warm Leatherette” to create a tasty dark chocolate reflection of a funky song, Nomi perverted the ultimate disco hit by choice of Italian – resulting in unique and definitely the finest-ever rendition of an otherwise mass-overexploited Giorgio Moroder disco-hit (for the record, divine mass-overexploitation continues in this issue’s physical variant).
And then, there was a certain Billy Mackenzie. One of the ultimate mavericks of post-punk. As Marc Almond describes him in “The Glamour Chase” documentary – “A voice to die for”. Although, I cannot tell what attracted me to The Associates at first listen – their debut single, which was actually raw take of a Bowie standard (“Boys Keep Swinging”) certainly didn’t. I felt annoyed listening to it but the beauty of songs that annoy you, happens to grow on you – and The Associates’ version of “Boys Keep Swinging” takes time to be loved. And is. But two of the songs that stuck right into the head were undoubtedly “White Car In Germany” and “Message Oblique Speech”. Not that I ever understood, what these songs were about in the first place. Which can be somewhat disrespectful to both – Alan Rankine and Billy, making a cover of their song and at the same time being unable to understand the context of it.
But loving these particular songs, one couldn’t help from feeling tempted and try and sing along to them. Billy’s voice being so perfectly theatrical on every level, makes The Associates (especially their early body of work) so fascinatingly scary (and one other moment of pitch perfect vocal slide that is particularly thrilling, remains on “A Girl Named Property”; the second time the refrain line hits the roof with “No managerial tax, no managerial talks..:”) – a mixture of cabaret, violent avant-garde noise, expressive singing so perfectly balanced into operatics, chanson and hysterics, soul and synthdrums, all added into a cocktail of timeless taste of plain gorgeous. Both, Alan and Billy’s sense of perfection gained them notoriety but also an astonishing catalogue; sadly, Billy is no longer around – for 15 years, new songs that never will be sadly miss his voice but the earlier ones will never grow old. Graphically perfect. Totally intact.
Forever remain in the living memory: Klaus Nomi (1944 – 1983), Billy Mackenzie (1957 – 1998), Donna Summer (1948 – 2012). “White Car In Germany” written by Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine, originally released as a single on Situation Two (SIT11, 1981).