Ah, the Hotel Chelsea: home, in its heyday, to all manner of New York City writers, artists, rockers, and rogues. You can’t move in anymore—the management instituted a short stay-only policy even before closing for renovations in 2011—but even if you could, surely the legacy of so many 20th-century artistic luminaries would weigh heavily indeed. Read up on Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Dylan Thomas, or Arthur C. Clarke, and you’ll find out about their extended stays at the Chelsea. Read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, and you’ll learn even more about the place from Smith’s remembrance of her days there with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Watch Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls and you’ll glimpse the lives of the askew ingénues Warhol housed at the hotel, including Velvet Underground singer Nico.
Dig into Nico’s solo career, and you’ll soon hear her album Chelsea Girl. The clip above comes from a documentary including Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, and features Nico singing the almost-title track “Chelsea Girls” from that album. The film, Nico’s record, and the seminal Velvet Underground & Nico all appeared in the counterculturally productive year of 1967. Riding the wave of fame generated by her time as a Warhol “Superstar,” Nico would spend the next twenty years recording five more solo albums, acting in seven pictures by filmmaker Philippe Garrel, making her musical comeback onstage at CBGB, and getting hooked on and subsequently kicking heroin before passing away in 1988. A bit later in the video, an interviewer asks if she considers herself the one who made the Hotel Chelsea famous. “I am one of the persons,” replies the German-born Nico. “Aside from the people that are now in heaven… or in hell, or… not staying here.”
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.