La Dolce Vita of a Chelsea Girl

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Nico
The great Italian director Federico Fellini noticed Nico when she walked through the set of his most famous film La Dolce Vita and he immediately gave her a small cameo role starring as herself. This seemed to always happen to Nico, she had got her break in modelling by simply standing outside an upscale Berlin department store. With her striking, stunning beauty she was always going to attract attention.

Nico’s life is the stuff of legend and like all legends the exact details are somewhat hazy. She was either born in 1938 or 1943 in either Cologne or Budapest (though it was probably 1938 in Cologne). She started modelling at 16 in Berlin which led to a peripatetic existence that was to continue throughout her life. She spent a large part of the Sixties in New York where she met Andy Warhol and consequently become one of his Superstars, starring in his experimental extravaganzas, most notably Chelsea Girls. Warhol then decided that The Factory house band The Velvet Underground needed a chaunteuse and  who better than Nico, the Teutonic Ice Queen with her distinctive husky, heavily accented monotone? The main movers in The Velvet Underground, the singer Lou Reed and the Welsh sound wizard John Cale initially met the suggestion with consternation. Nico was a notoriously capacious and difficult character who was also tone deaf. However she featured on lead vocals on three songs (Femme Fatale,  I’ll Be Your Mirror and All Tomorrows Parties)  on their ground-breaking and hugely influential debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico.

She left the group to pursue a solo career, however she only started to write her own material at the suggestion of Jim Morrison of The Doors with who she had a particularly intense relationship. After his death she dyed her hair black and started to sport heavy, dark clothes and recorded with the help of John Cale the desolate, wintry The Marble Index in 1969, the first of three albums unmatched in their crushing bleakness. Unsurprisingly there all sold poorly, as Cale remarked ‘you can’t sell suicide,’ and Nico spent the next two decades as the junkie Dietrich. Her addiction was such that hardened drug fiends crossed the road to avoid her.

Nico’s death was spectacularly bathetic. She had  finally getting her act together: successfully kicking her heroin habit and re-established relations with her adult son Ari from her relationship with the actor Alain Delon. She was on holiday with Ari in the Balearic island of Ibiza when she announced that she was off to buy some marijuana and on the way fell off her bicycle suffering a cerebral haemorrhage. A taxi driver found her on the hillside and took her to four hospitals before she was admitted. She was misdiagnosed as suffering from sunstroke before dying the next day.

Nico, known as the Moon Goddess and Queen of the Bad Girls was cremated and buried in her mother’s grave in Berlin.

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32 thoughts on “La Dolce Vita of a Chelsea Girl

    1. She was a difficult character though. I wanted to put the bit about her singing Deutschland Uber Alles to a concert hall of students and hippies and causing a riot but the post is long enough as it is. Nobody ever says that Warhol manipulated her like he did Edie Sedgwick, probably because she was well able to handle herself. As to gorgeous well, there is no doubt about that, those cheekbones and those eyes and lips. Her solo work which I am listening too is absolutely bleak, she was goth a whole decade before anyone else.

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      1. Well remember it is produced by Cale who left the Underground because he thought Reed was too poppy, so it is uncompromising and very very bleak. The Marble Index doesn’t sound like 69, it is decades ahead.

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  1. I’m so glad Meg and I inspired this post, I love it! You did a great job of summing her up – if she can be summed up! All muses have that particular kinda stain to them, it’s like it runs through them, I don’t think you can be a muse without the difficulty and inconsistency etc…

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      1. A German beauty, born into the age of Fascism — maybe she had to be hard and cold to survive. On the other hand, I have never known a junkie who was hard at the core. At any rate, most interesting stuff! 🙂

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      2. Deutschland Uber Alles means ‘Germany Over All’, right? Yes, that sounds Nazi ish! But you know, once upon a time, a lot of the punk crowd would wear swastikas — I think it was more the shock value of it than the actual symbolism they intended. Nico however would have known better.

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      3. Yes it does and certain verses were banned after WWII. Partially it was for shock value as the audience were students and hippies but also she was quite aryan. Hard to know what was provocation and what was her actual beliefs. A contrary sort but my she was beautiful and talented. A legendary figure

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    1. I don’t think so. Nico features in the movie on the doors by Oliver Stone and she usually pops up in movies about Warhol but she hasn’t had a movie about herself to my knowledge. Good to see you back again C.M sorry for the delay in replying.

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