The Crazy, Iconic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Velvet Underground Vocalist, Enigma in Amber

There’s no deny­ing that train wrecks make great doc­u­men­tary sub­jects.

Not that Abra­ham Lin­coln doesn’t, but watch­ing some­one come unglued is a whole ‘nother sort of com­pelling. Upset­ting, even.

Docs in this genre usu­al­ly require the sub­ject to have left the build­ing in order to reach a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. The final word belongs to an assort­ment of friends, col­leagues, admir­ers, enemies…some of whom may be har­bor­ing ulte­ri­or motives.

Sure­ly Ger­man chanteuse Nico’s appear­ance fac­tored into Andy Warhol’s deci­sion to ele­vate her to Fac­to­ry super­star sta­tus. (See his video of her imme­di­ate­ly above.) She was a mod­el after all, arrest­ing enough to have appeared as her­self in La Dolce Vita. She romanced rock gods, film direc­tors, and movie stars, many of whom have their say in Susanne Ofteringer’s doc­u­men­tary Nico-Icon, view­able in its entire­ty up top.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, cau­tion­ary por­trait, but as the back­seat psy­cho­analy­sis mount­ed, I found myself want­i­ng to hear from the sub­ject more.  With apolo­gies to Neil Dia­mond fans, we decid­ed  it was only fit­ting to show you Nico hav­ing her own say.

Maybe she was a night­mare. For­mer key­boardist, James Young, wrote a book about his time on tour with her. He’s in the doc­u­men­tary, of course. Aspir­ing icons, you’ve been fore­warned:

When I worked with her her looks were gone and she wasn’t this Chelsea Girl crea­ture, this per­ox­ide blonde Mar­lene Diet­rich moon god­dess vamp. She was a mid­dle aged junkie.

Nice. You reck­on he might have gone eas­i­er on her, had she been one of John Waters’ super­stars, the late Edith Massey or the still-thriv­ing Mink Stole?

For­get sticks and stones. It takes a lot more hero­in and hard liv­ing to kill the looks of any­one with her bone struc­ture.

Did Nico real­ly have such lit­tle use for anyone’s approval but her own? The art she made after her icon­ic work with the Vel­vet Under­ground con­vinces me that her embrace of ugly–what Chelsea Girls direc­tor referred to as her “stu­pid Ger­man perversity”–was sin­cere.

She’s still an enig­ma trapped in amber. She’ll be your mir­ror.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol Shoots “Screen Tests” of Nico, Bob Dylan & Sal­vador Dalí

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico Reunite, Play Acoustic Vel­vet Under­ground Songs on French TV, 1972

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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  • mike morgan says:

    To be fair the James Young book is not over­ly harsh on Nico — it’s just that her
    whole life by that stage is about smack.
    It’s a well — writ­ten book for my mon­ey.

  • Ramon Cortez says:

    I find it inter­est­ing that so many peo­ple seem to want to judge Ms. Paf­fgen, espe­cial­ly by their stan­dards — and then not real­ize that’s exact­ly what she loathed. She want­ed to be who SHE want­ed to be. She reject­ed the idea that she had to be a fash­ion mod­el, some kind of rock­er chick,an acolyte of Andy Warhol or any­thing else. So to judge her by any of those stan­dards runs athwart of the line.

    Unlike most of the com­menters here, I actu­al­ly met “Nico” and saw her per­form at The (Pol­s­ki) Dom. My mem­o­ry of her starts there. I still remem­ber her stop­ping traf­fic dead on St. Marks Place just by com­ing up to the side­walk (The Dom was a base­ment). I’ll nev­er for­get that. But obvi­ous­ly she did­n’t want to be the Cour­reges-boot wearing.Chanel skirt wear­ing blonde beau­ty. She pret­ty obvi­ous­ly did­n’t care about that.If any­thing, I think she want­ed to be assessed for her per­for­mance work, and that means both singing and being “Nico”.

    Lat­er in her career, peo­ple would say “Wow, she real­ly lost her looks”. They just did­n’t get that she did­n’t cae about that. They did.

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