Nico iTunes Tracks

Nico


Apart from her well-documented musical liaison with The VELVET UNDERGROUND in 1966/67, model/actress/sultry singer NICO was a reluctant solo artist in her own right, delivering a raft of doom-laden albums for acolytes of the avant-garde.
Born Christa Paffgen (Pavolsky), 16th October 1938 in Cologne, Germany, NICO’s early life was rather troubled: her father died in a concentration camp, and as a young girl she travelled throughout Europe with her mother. Developing a fondness for opera, she learned to play classical piano and harmonium. In 1959, while vacationing in Italy, she was introduced by new friends to film director Federico Fellini; following a part in La Dolce Vita, she became a top model, appearing in Vogue magazine. In the early 60s, while working mainly in films, she became the girlfriend of French actor Alain Delon; she later give birth to his son, having already borne a daughter to actor/dancer Eric Emerson.
During a spell in 1963, she fell in love with up and coming folk-star BOB DYLAN, who wrote a song for her, `I’ll Keep It With Mine’ (her rendition appeared on her debut LP). In 1965, at Bob’s suggestion, she moved to London and signed for Andrew Loog Oldham’s new label, Immediate. A single, `I’m Not Sayin’’ (written by GORDON LIGHTFOOT) was issued, although the record subsequently flopped, even after an appearance on Ready Steady Go.
She then moved to New York, where she met Pop artist Andy Warhol, who featured in an avant-garde film, `Chelsea Girls’, also asking her to join Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker in his group project, The VELVET UNDERGROUND. Together they made one glorious, groundbreaking eponymous album, `The Velvet Underground And Nico’ (1966); NICO left soon afterwards for solo work. Described as “the Edith Piaf of the Blank Generation”, she was an avant-garde diva, anti-pop music in every sense of the phrase.
After a liaison with Brian Jones of The ROLLING STONES, she became the opposite number of teenager and new-pensmith-on-the-block JACKSON BROWNE. He wrote a handful of songs (notably `These Days’, `Somewhere There’s A Feather’ and `The Fairest Of The Seasons’) for her debut album CHELSEA GIRL (1967) {*8}. Regarded as an artistic triumph, she nevertheless disagreed with producer Tom Wilson’s orchestral string arrangements, while the “unplugged” VU members Reed, Cale and Morrison were behind her in the studio and half the writing credits. Apart from the aforementioned JB classic `These Days’, the VU connection came up with beauts like `Little Sister’ and `It Was A Pleasure Then’ (JC & LR), the autobiographical `Chelsea Girls’ (LR & SM), `Winter Song’ (JC) and `Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams’ (LR), while the LP’s finale `Eulogy To Lenny Bruce’ came from the pen of folkie troubadour TIM HARDIN.
A move to Los Angeles and her signature for Elektra Records led to decidedly gothic experiments for the chanteuse’s sophomore, JOHN CALE-produced album, THE MARBLE INDEX (1968) {*6}. Brooding, bleak and brutally sombre and stark, the folk-rock of her debut was conspicuously absent from this lyrical, neo-classical initiation. Accompanied at times by only her harmonium, each of the ten “songs” unveiled a doom-laden, deadpan diva on such morose meanderings as `Frozen Warnings’, `Julius Caesar’ and the brightest star of them all, closing piece `Evening Of Light’.
While the uncompromising NICO travelled constantly between America and Europe, starring in another underground film, La Cicatrice Interieure, she reunited with JOHN CALE again for album number three, DESERTSHORE (1970) {*8}. Produced and arranged by the ex-VU icon, John made inroads into the mind of the poetic princess. Opening the set with `Janitor Of Lunacy’ – her tombstone tribute to her former lover Brian Jones – extinguished her demons from the get-go, while at the other end of life’s evolutionary spectrum lay with her son’s reading of `Le Petit Chevalier’. Avant-rock’s female equivalent to LEONARD COHEN (Leonard was a bundle of fun in comparison), NICO was nevertheless true to her feelings on `The Falconer’, `Abschied’ and the almost-a cappella `My Only Child’. Clocking in at around half an hour, she leaves the best to last by way of the viola-veneered/VU-like `All That Is My Own’.
Swapping New York for France after she was involved in an alleged bottle fight with a female Black Panther member, NICO subsequently resurfaced at the Rainbow Theatre, London on June 1st 1974, alongside new Island Records buddies CALE, ENO and KEVIN AYERS; her version of The DOORS’ `The End’ was used for the resultant “Various Artists” LP; that year, she also contributed vocals to AYERS’ `Confessions Of Dr. Dream’.
ENO’s synths, PHIL MANZANERA’s guitar and CALE’s multi-session/production work finally bore fruit later in 1974 with the release of her long-awaited comeback set, THE END… {*6}; the sleeve shot photo is a still from Philippe Garrel’s 1974, NICO-vehicle, Les Hautes Solitudes. Re-kindled by the tragic loss of former beau Jim Morrison (the track `You Forgot To Answer’ told of her attempts to phone the singer during the throes of his mysterious death), the record’s high-spot was undoubtedly her macabre meditation of Jim’s immortal classic `The End’. Relegated to the penultimate track (that honour was given to her hymnal reading of her country’s former national anthem, `Das Lied Der Deutschen’), one could forgive her for a little self-indulgence – however long and drawn out. But for the pumping power of her harmonium and the ethereal soundscapes of her interstellar backers, stark songs such as `It Has Not Taken Long’, the excellent `Secret Side’ (first heard on an early 1971 John Peel session) and `Valley Of The Kings’ might’ve been the property of a distant parallel universe.
Unceremoniously dropped by Island in 1975, heroin addict NICO retired from music to live between Berlin, Los Angeles and Barcelona, while she renewed her thespian interest through appearing in further director Garrel exploits including a part in his Le Berceau De Cristal; her music had already featured in his movies, Le Lit De La Vierge (`The Falconer’) and the aforementioned La Cicatrice…
Belatedly spurred on by the advent of the new wave/punk and a comeback concert at CBGBs at the turn of the decade, NICO was tempted to return to her rock-centric roots. The appropriately-titled DRAMA OF EXILE (1983) {*5} – recorded back in May ’81 – was given the thumbs-down by most critics; a couple of ill-advised alt-pop covers of BOWIE’s `Heroes’ and LOU REED’s `I’m Waiting For The Man’ were best suited to the likes of GRACE JONES. Augmented by reggae-funksters Philippe Quilichini, Muhammad Hadi, Steve Cordona, Davey Payne and Andy Clark, tracks like `Genghis Khan’ and `The Sphinx’ lent a mystical, worldbeat fusion to the set if nothing more; `Purple Lips’ and `Orly Flight’ fared better and were live faves. Disappointed by the original mix of the record, she was afforded another, re-vamped and re-recorded version a few years later, Meanwhile, after a poor audience response on a SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES support slot, NICO again went awol, shacking up in Manchester, England with her live-in-boyfriend and poet JOHN COOPER CLARKE. Marking time for the needy collector, and featuring Martin Bramah and Una Baines’ post-FALL outfit The BLUE ORCHIDS, most of NICO’s best brooders were enveloped on definitive live cassette-album DO OR DIE (1982) {*6}.
After another fairly dismal vinyl return in 1985 as NICO + THE FACTION (aka James Young and Graham Dids), she again retired, only to reappear at a 1987 Warhol tribute. Of the JOHN CALE-produced record itself, entitled CAMERA OBSCURA {*4}, there was little compromise to her unbending claustrophobia. European dance and gothic-punk (think DANIELLE DAX or DEAD CAN DANCE) had now displaced her foray into rock, while there was space for two Dietrich-esque pre-WWII back-to-back covers:- Rodgers & Hart’s `My Funny Valentine’ and Robert Gilbert’s `Das Lied Von Einsanen Madchens’. There were bright moments of transcendental escapism by way of `Win A Few’ and `Konig’, but it seemed
Released on obscure indie labels with a penchant for the odd and the offbeat, concert documents BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN (1986) {*6} and NICO IN TOKYO (1987) {*5} put paid to an almost-forgotten artist. Tragically, on the 18th of July 1988, while on a holiday with her son in Ibiza, she fell off her bike and consequently died of a cerebral haemorrhage. The posthumous HANGING GARDENS (1990) {*5} – featuring a handful of her most recent recordings, including `I Will Be Seven’ and the title track – marked the first of many exploitative releases. Her musical legacy would inspire many future alternative singer-songwriters, SIOUXSIE, BJORK, MARIANNE FAITHFULL, ELLIOTT SMITH and PATRICK WOLF among them.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2012

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