Nico performing at the University of Wales, Lampeter, 1985
|Born||16 October 1938|
|Died||18 July 1988 (aged 49)|
Christa Päffgen (16 October 1938 - 18 July 1988), known by her stage name Nico, was a German singer, songwriter, musician, model, and actress. She had roles in several films, including Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966).
At the insistence of Warhol, she recorded vocals for three songs of the Velvet Underground's debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). At the same time, she started a solo career and released Chelsea Girl. Nico's friend Jim Morrison suggested that she start writing her own material. She then composed songs on a harmonium, not traditionally a rock instrument; John Cale became her musical arranger and produced The Marble Index, Desertshore, The End... and other subsequent albums.
In the 1980s, she toured extensively in Europe, USA, Australia and Japan. After a last concert in Berlin in June 1988, she went on holiday in Ibiza to rest but died after having a stroke while cycling.
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 World War II bombardments of Cologne. Her father Wilhelm, born into a dynasty of Colognian master brewers, was enlisted as a soldier during the war and sustained head injuries that caused severe brain damage and ended his life in a psychiatric institution; according to unproven rumours, 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 pale 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. Nico's song "Secret Side" from the album The End... makes oblique references to the rape.
Nico was discovered at 16 by the photographer Herbert Tobias while both were working at a KaDeWe fashion show in Berlin. He gave her the name Nico after her ex-boyfriend, filmmaker Nikos Papatakis, and she used it for the rest of her life. She moved to Paris and began working for Vogue, Tempo, Vie Nuove, Mascotte Spettacolo, Camera, Elle, and other fashion magazines. At age 17, she was contracted by Coco Chanel to promote their products, but she fled to New York City and abandoned the job. Through her travels, she learned to speak English, Spanish, and French.
After appearing in several television advertisements, Nico got a small role in Alberto Lattuada's film La Tempesta (1958). She also appeared in Rudolph Maté's For the First Time, with Mario Lanza, later that year.
In 1959, she was invited to the set of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, where she attracted the attention of the acclaimed director, who gave her a minor role in the film as herself. By this time, she was living in New York and taking acting classes with Lee Strasberg.
After a role in the 1961 Jean Paul Belmondo film A Man Named Rocca, she appeared as the cover model on jazz pianist Bill Evans' 1962 album, Moon Beams. After splitting her time between New York and Paris, she got the lead role in Jacques Poitrenaud's Strip-Tease (1963). She recorded the title track, which was written by Serge Gainsbourg but not released until 2001, when it was included in the compilation Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg. In 1962, Nico gave birth to her son, Christian Aaron "Ari" Päffgen, commonly held to have been fathered by French actor Alain Delon. Delon always denied his paternity. The child was raised mostly by Delon's mother and her husband and eventually was adopted by them, taking their surname, Boulogne.
Nico's first performances as a singer took place in December 1963 at New York's Blue Angel nightclub, where she sang standards such as "My Funny Valentine".
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, a New York City quartet consisting of singer/songwriter/guitarist Lou Reed, violist/keyboardist/bassist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, he proposed that the group take on Nico as a "chanteuse", an idea to which 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, lighting, 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. 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 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 Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though it was poorly received at the time of its release.
Immediately 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, with strings and flute arrangements by producer Tom Wilson. Nico had little say in its production, and was disappointed with the result; 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." In California, Nico spent time with Jim Morrison of the Doors, who encouraged her to write her own songs.
For The Marble Index, released in 1969, Nico wrote the lyrics and music. Nico's harmonium anchored the accompaniment, 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.
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 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.
Around this time, Nico became involved with Berliner musician Lutz Ulbrich, 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.
In September 1978, Nico performed at the Canet Roc '78 festival in Catalonia. Also performing at this event were Blondie, Kevin Ayers, and Ultravox. She made a vocal contribution to Neuronium's second album, Vuelo Químico, as she was at the studio, by chance, while it was being recorded in Barcelona in 1978 by Michel Huygen, Carlos Guirao and Albert Gimenez. She read excerpts from "Ulalume" by Edgar Allan Poe. She said that she was deeply moved by the music, so she couldn't help but make a contribution. During the same year, Nico briefly toured as supporting act for Siouxsie and the Banshees, one of many post-punk bands who namechecked her. In Paris, Patti Smith bought a new harmonium for Nico after her original was stolen.
Nico returned to New York in 1979 where her comeback concert at CBGB (accompanied by John Cale and Lutz Ulbrich) was reviewed positively in The New York Times. She began playing regularly at the Squat Theatre and other venues with Jim Tisdall accompanying her on harp and Gittler guitar. They played together on a sold-out tour of twelve cities in the East and Midwest. At some shows, she was accompanied on guitar by Cheetah Chrome (the Dead Boys).
In France, Nico was introduced to photographer Antoine Giacomoni. Giacomoni's photos of Nico would be used for her next album, and would eventually be featured in a book (Nico: Photographies, Horizon Illimite, Paris, 2002). Through Antoine Giacomoni, she met Corsican bassist Philippe Quilichini. Nico recorded her next studio album, Drama of Exile, in 1981. produced by Philippe Quilichini. Mahamad Hadi aka Mad Sheer Khan played oriental rock guitar and wrote all the oriental production. It was a departure from her earlier work with John Cale, featuring a mixture of rock and Middle Eastern arrangements. For this album, in addition to originals like "Genghis Khan" and "Sixty Forty", Nico recorded covers of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" and David Bowie's "Heroes". Drama of Exile was released twice, in two different versions, the second appearing in 1983.
After relocating to Manchester, England, in the early 1980s, Nico acquired a manager, Alan Wise, and began working with a variety of backing bands for her many live performances. These bands included chronologically Blue Orchids, the Bedlamites and the Faction.
In 1981, Nico released the Philippe Quilichini-produced single "Saeta"/"Vegas" on Flicknife Records. The following year saw another single, "Procession" produced by Martin Hannett and featuring The Invisible Girls. Included on the "Procession" single was a new version of The Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties".
Nico toured in 1982 with post-punk band Blue Orchids as her backing band. At the time, her work impacted the emerging gothic rock scene. At Salford University in 1982, she joined Bauhaus for a performance of "I'm Waiting for the Man". That same year, Nico's supporting acts included The Sisters of Mercy and Gene Loves Jezebel. In September 1982, Nico performed at the Deeside Leisure Centre for the Futurama Festival. The line-up for this show also included The Damned, Dead or Alive, Southern Death Cult, Danse Society and The Membranes. After the end of her work with the Blue Orchids, she hired musical arranger James Young and his band the Faction for her concerts.
The live compilations 1982 Tour Diary and En Personne En Europe were released in November 1982 on the 1/2 Records cassette label in France; the ROIR cassette label reissued the former under the revised title "Do Or Die!" in 1983. These releases were followed by more live performances throughout Europe over the next few years.
She recorded her final solo album, Camera Obscura, in 1985, with the Faction (James Young and Graham Dids). Produced by John Cale, it featured Nico's version of the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart song "My Funny Valentine". The album's closing song was an updated version of "König", which she had previously recorded for La cicatrice interieure. This was the only song on the album to feature only Nico's voice and harmonium. A music video for "My Heart Is Empty" was filmed at The Fridge in Brixton.
The next few years saw frequent live performances by Nico, with tours of Europe, Japan and Australia (usually with the Faction or the Bedlamites). A number of Nico's performances towards the end of her life were recorded and released, including 1982's Heroine, Nico in Tokyo, and Behind the Iron Curtain.
In March 1988, she and Young hired new guitarist Henry Olsen: together, they composed new songs to be premiered at a festival organized by Lutz Ulbrich at the Berlin Planetarium in June. Nico was then inspired by Egyptian music and Egyptian singer and diva Oum Kalthoum. Young stated that the new material was "good enough to be a springboard to a new record" with an Egyptian orchestra. The Berlin concert ended with a song from The End..., "You Forget To Answer".
A duet called "Your Kisses Burn" with singer Marc Almond was her last studio recording (about a month before her death). It was released a few months after her death on Almond's album The Stars We Are. The recording of the 1988 Berlin concert, was later released with the title Nico's Last Concert: Fata Morgana.
Nico had an affair with French actor Alain Delon and from this relationship bore a son on 11 August 1962, 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 moved between London and Manchester.
The final years of her life were mainly spent in 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 but not as a couple.
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 that Nico claimed never to have taken the drug while in 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 as well as 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." According to Fields, in the early 1970s, Nico attacked a mixed-race woman at the Chelsea Hotel with a smashed wine glass, saying "I hate black people".
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 death. Her son later said of the incident:
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.
Nico has influenced many musicians including Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Morrissey, Elliott Smith and Björk. Siouxsie and the Banshees invited her as special guest on their first major UK tour in 1978; they also later covered "All Tomorrow's Parties". The Cure's leader Robert Smith has cited Desertshore as one of his favourite records, as has Björk.Joy Division's Peter Hook cited Chelsea Girl as one of his favourite albums. Bauhaus' singer, Peter Murphy, considered that "Nico recorded the first truly Gothic album, Marble lndex or The End. Nico was Gothic, but she was Mary Shelley to everyone else's Hammer Horror. They both did Frankenstein, but Nico's was real."Morrissey cited Nico when asked to name artists who had a lasting influence on him: "The royal three remain the same: the New York Dolls, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, with Nico standing firm as first reserve." Morrissey also commented on the song "Innocent and Vain" with the sentence: "this is my youth in one piece of music". Elliott Smith covered "Chelsea Girls" and "These Days" in Portland, Oregon in October 1999; he also cited The Marble Index as one of his perfect 2.45am albums.Marc Almond recorded a cover version of "The Falconer": she was one of the "things I was obsessed about at school" due to her "wonderful intriguing voice, icy and remote yet warm at the same time".
Several biographical works on Nico have appeared, both in print and film. The first, in 1992, was Songs They Never Play On The Radio, a book by James Young that draws on his association with Nico in her last years. In 1993, Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon by musicologist Richard Witts covered Nico's entire life and career. The 1995 documentary Nico Icon by Susanne Ofteringer examined the many facets of Nico's life with contributions from those who knew her, including her colleagues Reed and Cale. In 2015 Lutz Graf-Ulbrich, Nico's former partner and accompanist in the late 70s, published 'Nico: In the Shadow of the Moon Goddess' an account of his time with Nico. Nico was dramatised in a biopic. Nico, 1988 (2018), directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. It relates the last years of Nico (portrayed by Trine Dyrholm), in a journey across Europe during her last tour.
In 1981 Texas punk band Really Red released an original song in tribute to Nico. Simply called "Nico", it first appeared on their album "Teaching You the Fear" on CIA Records. Two Nico tribute concerts took place in Europe in the autumn of 2008 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Nico's birth and the 20th anniversary of her death. On 11 October 2008, John Cale, James Dean Bradfield (of Manic Street Preachers), Fyfe Dangerfield of the Guillemots, Mark Linkous (of Sparklehorse), Peter Murphy (of Bauhaus), Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance and Mark Lanegan appeared on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London. On 17 October 2008 at the Volksbuehne in Berlin, Nico's ex-boyfriend Lutz Ulbrich, who was her musical collaborator in the late 1970s, presented another tribute concert, which featured Marianne Rosenberg, Soap&Skin, Marianne Enzensberger and James Young, the keyboardist from The Faction, Nico's last band.
Performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite (Tammy Lang) enjoyed success in 2011 with her one-woman show Nico: 'Chelsea Mädchen', in which she impersonates the singer and delivers spoken material based on an actual interview Nico gave in the mid-Eighties, during an Australian tour.
In January 2013, John Cale organized a tribute A Life Along the Borderline at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. Performers included Cale, Kim Gordon with Bill Nace, Sharon Van Etten, Meshell Ndegeocello, Stephin Merritt, Peaches, Alison Mosshart, Joan As Police Woman, Greg Dulli, Yeasayer, and Mercury Rev.
|1968||The Marble Index|
|1981||Drama of Exile|
|1967||The Velvet Underground & Nico (United States No. 129, UK No. 59, IRL No. 56, IT #76)|
|1972||Le Bataclan '72 (Together with John Cale and Lou Reed)|
|1974||June 1, 1974|
|1982||Do or Die: Nico in Europe (Live recordings from 1982 European tour)|
|1983||Live in Denmark (tracks 01-09 recorded live 1982-10-06, at the Club Paramount, Eriksvej 40, Roskilde, Denmark)|
|1985||Nico Live in Pécs|
|1986||Behind the Iron Curtain|
|1987||Nico in Tokyo (tracks 01-11 recorded live 11 April 1986, Tokyo)|
|1988||Fata Morgana (Nico's last concert: 6 June 1988, Planetarium der Wilhelm-Foerster-Sternwarte, Berlin)|
|1992||Chelsea Girl / Live (recorded live June 1985, Chelsea Town Hall)|
|2003||Femme Fatale: The Aura Anthology (Drama of Exile expanded, plus live disc)|
|2004||Nico: All Tomorrow's Parties (tracks 05-11 recorded live 11 April 1986, Tokyo)|
|2007||All Tomorrow's Parties (live double album)|
|2012||Reims Cathedral - 13 December 1974|
|1998||Nico: The Classic Years|
|2002||Innocent & Vain - An Introduction to Nico. (Tracks from The Velvet Underground & Nico, Chelsea Girl and The End....)|
|2003||Femme Fatale - The Aura Anthology. (Re-issue of Drama of Exile with bonus tracks plus Live at Chelsea Town Hall 9.8.85.)|
|2007||The Frozen Borderline - 1968-1970. (The Marble Index and Desertshore re-issued with bonus tracks.)|
|1965||"I'm Not Sayin'" / "The Last Mile"|
|1981||"Saeta" / "Vegas" - Flicknife Records FLS 206|
|1982||"Procession" / "All Tomorrow's Parties" (Recorded with the Invisible Girls & Martin Hannett)|
|1983||"Heroes" / "One More Chance"|
|1985||"My Funny Valentine" / "My Heart Is Empty"|
She was related to Hermann Päffgen, a dynastic master brewer who founded the Päffgen brewery in 1883 in Cologne.
Desertshore Nico "I like to remember to it"