Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Nico, A Beautiful Liar

"Holy Popism, Nico!" -- Nico with Andy Warhol, one of her famous mentors.

I just read Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon (1992) by Richard Witts. Nico (1938-1988), born as Christa Päffgen, was a German model turned iconic chanteuse, who appeared in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, gave birth to an unrecognised son of Alain Delon, flourished The Velvet Underground's legendary debut album with her Teutonic vocal stylings which were described as "an IBM computer doing an impression of Greta Garbo", created her own self-penned gloomy (if not to say proto-Goth) and 19th century Romantic poetry-inspired solo albums The Marble Index and Desertshore (both enjoying a considerable posthumous reputation and immortalising Nico as a musical artist in her own right, not merely as a footnote to the Velvets), sadly became a heroin addict in the 70s, and died a miserable death in Ibiza in 1988: after finally having managed to get rid of smack, she fell off bicycle and hit her head (some hospitals even refused to admit her first, thinking she was another beatnik that have occupied this island for decades).

Witts' excellent biography paints a picture of a woman both determined and confused, whose romantic ideals failed to meet reality; an incurable mythomaniac who compensated for her humble and traumatic origins without a father in the wartime Germany by creating endless fantasies and downright lies about her imaginary encounters with surrogate father figures like Ernest Hemingway. One can just wonder why because her real life in the world of fashion, cinema, music and art was not less than extraordinary: with people like Andy Warhol being her mentors; with romantic (albeit short-lived) affiliations with such luminaries of the 60s rock as Bob Dylan, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Iggy Pop of The Stooges, Jackson Browne...

Nico: an Aryan Übermensch Moon Goddess of Teutonic gloom? More like a sad and confused woman, albeit one with a fast-burning talent going beyond her once photogenic features. The accounts of Nico's junkie escapades towards the end of Witts' book and her life are not exactly glorified reading, but nearly 20 years after her death, the blood and piss-stained details can hopefully be pushed aside as Nico gets her apothesis as one of the most original recorded voices of the 20th century music.

The Velvet Underground & Nico: "A Symphony of Sound" (1966). Featuring Nico with her son Ari and the band doing an instrumental jam.

Nico: 'Frozen Warnings' (1969)

Nico: 'Evening of Light' (1969). An annoyingly brief excerpt of my favourite Nico solo track, also from The Marble Index. This clip features Iggy Pop and perhaps also other members of The Stooges, probably filmed during the time Nico spent with the band in Michigan.

Nico: 'Femme Fatale'. A 1972 "unplugged" version of The Velvet Underground song, accompanied by Lou Reed(?).

A 1972 Nico interview for French television (10:00). Featuring Nico playing her harmonium and performing 'Janitor of Lunacy' (off Desertshore, 1971) and 'You Forget To Answer' (off The End, 1974).

La Cicatrice Intérieure (1972) trailer. La Cicatrice Intérieure ("The Inner Scar") was a film directed by Philippe Garrel, another lover of hers; with Nico co-starring alongside the director. [Another clip from the film, again with 'Janitor of Lunacy'.]

Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs & Nico at Chelsea Hotel, NYC, 1980. Warhol and Burroughs share a meal, and Nico (after heroin use had already had its toll on her) sings her 'Chelsea Girls', accompanied by Joe Bidewell.

Nico: 'Heroes'. A rendition of David Bowie's song, from a 1982 performance in England. Nico had supposedly shot some heroin just a moment before. It's some disturbing watching, to say the least.

Nico, Femme Fatale (41:36). An Italian documentary film by Gabriele Lunati.

Other clips:

  • Nico appearing in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960)
  • Nico appearing in Strip-Tease (1963) by Jacques Poitrenaud, a film which she was later embarrassed of: clip 1 & clip 2
  • I, A Man. A 1967 Andy Warhol-produced film where Nico starred with Tom Baker, Jim Morrison's actor friend who replaced Morrison, the first choice for the film.

    Listen to Nico @ MySpace:

  • Icon Nico
  • Nico The Marble Index
  • Nico 1234
  • Nico Tunes
  • These Days Nico
  • Nico Velvet Underground