Nico (born Christa Päffgen; 16 October 1938 – 18 July 1988) was a German singer-songwriter, lyricist, composer, musician, fashion model, and actress who became famous as a Warhol superstar in the 1960s. She is known for her vocals on the Velvet Underground's debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), and her work as a solo artist. She also had roles in several films, including Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966).
Nico was born Christa Päffgen in Cologne. When she was two years old, she moved with her mother and grandfather to the Spreewald forest outside of Berlin to escape the bombardments of Cologne. Her father Hermann, born into a dynasty of Colognian master brewers, was enlisted as a soldier during World War II and sustained head injuries that caused severe brain damage and ended his life in a psychiatric institution; according to an unproven rumor, he was variously said to have died in a concentration camp,or to have faded away as a result of shell shock.
In 1946, Nico and her mother relocated to downtown Berlin, where Nico worked as a seamstress. She attended school until the age 13, and began selling lingerie in the exclusive department store KaDeWe, eventually getting modeling jobs in Berlin. At five feet ten inches and with chiseled features and porcelain skin, Nico rose to prominence as a fashion model as a teenager.
At the age of 15, while working as a temp for the U.S. Air Force, Nico was raped by an American sergeant. The sergeant was court-martialled and Nico gave evidence for the prosecution at his trial; he was later sentenced to death and shot.Nico's song "Secret Side" from the album The End makes oblique references to the rape.
In 1965, Nico met the Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones and recorded her first single, "I'm Not Sayin'" with the B-side "The Last Mile", produced by Jimmy Page for Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label. Actor Ben Carruthers introduced her to Bob Dylan in Paris that summer. In 1967 Nico recorded his song "I'll Keep It with Mine" for her first album, Chelsea Girl. Dylan had written the tune for Judy Collins in 1964, according to her own liner notes from the Geffen Records' album Judy Collins Sings Dylan (she was the first artist to release the song, in 1965).
After being introduced by Brian Jones, she began working in New York with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey on their experimental films, including Chelsea Girls, The Closet, Sunset and Imitation of Christ.
When Warhol began managing the Velvet Underground he proposed that the group take on Nico as a "chanteuse". They consented reluctantly, for both personal and musical reasons.The group became the centerpiece of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a multimedia performance featuring music, light, film and dance. Nico sang lead vocals on three songs ("Femme Fatale", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "I'll Be Your Mirror"), and backing vocal on "Sunday Morning", on the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). Nico's tenure with the Velvet Underground was marked by personal and musical difficulties. Violist and bassist John Cale has written that Nico's long preparations in the dressing room and pre-performance good luck ritual (burning a candle) would often hold up a performance, which especially irritated band member Lou Reed. Nico's partial deafness also would sometimes cause her to veer off key, for which she was ridiculed by other band members.The album went on to become a classic, ranked 13th on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,though it was poorly received at the time of its release.
mmediately following her musical work with the Velvet Underground, Nico began work as a solo artist, performing regularly at The Dom in New York City. At these shows, she was accompanied by a revolving cast of guitarists, including members of the Velvet Underground, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Jackson Browne.
For her debut album, 1967's Chelsea Girl, she recorded songs by Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and Jackson Browne, among others. Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison contributed to the album, with Nico, Reed and Cale co-writing one song, "It Was a Pleasure Then."Chelsea Girl is a traditional chamber-folk album, which influenced artists such as Leonard Cohen, with strings and flute arrangements by producer Tom Wilson. Nico was not satisfied with it and had little say in its production. She said in 1981: "I still cannot listen to it, because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. I asked for more guitars, they said no. And I asked for simplicity, and they covered it in flutes! ... They added strings, and— I didn't like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute."
Nico performing with Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1966
In California, Nico spent time with Jim Morrison of the Doors. Morrison encouraged her to write her own songs.
For The Marble Index, released in 1969, Nico wrote the lyrics and music. Accompaniment mainly centered around Nico's harmonium, while John Cale added an array of folk and classical instruments, and arranged the album. The harmonium became her signature instrument for the rest of her career. The album has a classical-cum-European folk sound.
A promotional film for the song "Evening of Light" was filmed by Francois de Menil. This video featured the now red-haired Nico and Iggy Pop of the Stooges.
Returning to live performance in the early 1970s, Nico (accompanying herself on harmonium) gave concerts in Amsterdam as well as London, where she and John Cale opened for Pink Floyd. 1972 saw a one-off live reunion of Nico, Cale and Lou Reed at the Bataclan in Paris.
Nico playing harmonium at Free Concert, Hyde Park, 29 June 1974
Nico released two more solo albums in the 1970s, Desertshore (1970) and The End... (1974). She wrote the music, sang, and played the harmonium. Cale produced and played most of the other instruments on both albums. The End... featured Brian Eno on synthesizer and Phil Manzanera on guitar, both from Roxy Music. She appeared at the Rainbow Theatre, in London, with Cale, Eno, and Kevin Ayers. The album June 1, 1974 was the result of this concert. Nico performed a version of the Doors' "The End", which was the catalyst for The End... later that year.
Between 1970 and 1979, Nico made about seven films with French director Philippe Garrel. She met Garrel in 1969 and contributed the song "The Falconer" to his film Le Lit de la Vierge. Soon after, she was living with Garrel and became a central figure in his cinematic and personal circles. Nico's first acting appearance with Garrel occurred in his 1972 film, La Cicatrice Intérieure. Nico also supplied the music for this film and collaborated closely with the director. She also appeared in the Garrel films Anathor (1972); the silent Jean Seberg feature Les Hautes Solitudes, released in 1974; Un ange passe (1975); Le Berceau de cristal (1976), starring Pierre Clémenti, Nico and Anita Pallenberg; and Voyage au jardin des morts (1978). His 1991 film J'entends Plus la Guitare is dedicated to Nico.
On 13 December 1974, Nico opened for Tangerine Dream's infamous concert at Reims Cathedral in Reims, France. The promoter had so greatly oversold tickets for the show that members of the audience couldn't move or reach the outside, eventually resulting in some fans urinating inside the cathedral hall.The Roman Catholic Church denounced these actions, ordered the rededication of the cathedral and banned future performances on church property.
Around this time, Nico became involved with Berliner musician Lutz Ulbrich (Lüül), guitarist for Ash Ra Tempel. Ulbrich would accompany Nico on guitar at many of her subsequent concerts through the rest of the decade. Also in this time period, Nico let her hair return to its natural color of brown and took to dressing mostly in black. This would be her public image from then on.
Nico and Island Records allegedly had many disputes during this time, and in 1975 the label dropped her from their roster.
Nico had an affair with French actor Alain Delon and from this relationship conceived a son, Christian Aaron Boulogne, whom Nico called "Ari." Delon denied paternity and Nico had difficulty raising Ari, so the boy was raised by Delon's parents. Ari became a photographer and actor, and had a son in 1999.
Nico saw herself as part of a tradition of bohemian artists, which she traced back to the Romanticism of the early 19th century. She led a nomadic life, living in different countries. Apart from Germany, where she grew up, and Spain, where she died, Nico lived in Italy and France in the 1950s, spent most of the 1960s in the US, and lived in London in the early 1960s and again in the 1980s, when she lived intermittently between London and Manchester.
During the final years of her life, she was based around the Prestwich and Salford area of Greater Manchester. Although she was still struggling with addiction, she became interested in music again. For a few months in the 1980s, she shared an apartment in Brixton, London, with punk poet John Cooper Clarke.
Nico was deaf in one ear.
Nico was a heroin addict for over 15 years. In the book Songs They Never Play on the Radio, James Young, a member of her band in the 1980s, recalls many examples of her troubling behaviour due to her "overwhelming" addiction – and also that Nico claimed to have never taken the drug while with the Velvets/Factory scene but only began using during her relationship with Philippe Garrel in the 1970s.She also introduced her son to heroin consumption. Shortly before her death, Nico stopped using heroin and began methadone replacement therapy and began a regimen of bicycle exercise and healthy eating.
Nico was described by some friends and colleagues as racist. Her friend Danny Fields, the American journalist who helped her sign to Elektra Records, described her as "Nazi-esque", saying: "Every once in a while there'd be something about Jews and I'd be, 'But Nico, I'm Jewish,' and she was like 'Yes, yes, I don't mean you.' She had a definite Nordic Aryan streak, [the belief] that she was physically, spiritually and creatively superior", a view she appears to have continued to maintain throughout her later years. According to Fields, Nico once attacked a mixed-race woman in a restaurant with a smashed wineglass, saying "I hate black people". During a performance in Berlin, the audience rioted after Nico performed the German national anthem "Deutschlandlied", including a verse omitted since 1945 for its nationalist associations.
On 18 July 1988, while on vacation on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza with her son Ari, Nico had a heart attack while riding a bicycle, and she hit her head as she fell. A passing taxi driver found her unconscious, and he had difficulty getting her admitted to local hospitals. She was misdiagnosed as suffering from heat exposure, and died at eight o'clock that evening. X-rays later revealed a severe cerebral hemorrhage as the cause of her death.
In the late morning of July 17, 1988, my mother told me she needed to go downtown to buy marijuana. She sat down in front of the mirror and wrapped a black scarf around her head. My mother stared at the mirror and took great care to wrap the scarf appropriately. Down the hill on her bike: "I'll be back soon." She left in the early afternoon on the hottest day of the year. – Ari Boulogne
Nico lies buried in her mother's plot in Grunewald Forest Cemetery in Berlin. A few friends played a tape of "Mütterlein", a song from Desertshore, at her funeral.
Informaton and Photo Credit: wikipedia.org