Nico’s Beauty and the Fame-Beast

I have a routine every morning, I wake up, leaving the curtains of the shelter room closed, sit up in my bed, a blanket over my knees, and turn on the laptop. It is generally very early in the day, around 6am or so; before showers and tea and daytime clothing. The screen turns brightly in the dimness of the room, as I worry my tap tap tap of writing will wake up my tolerant roommate. I then proceed to do one of the most degenerate things known to mankind: I type in http://www.TheMostDisgustingTabloidNewsRag Known To Mankind.comMunistsMustDie, making sure nobody sees my shame. I consider taking the laptop into the bathroom to stare at the screen. It is a filthy habit for sure, and the most rage and horror stimulating injection of 100 proof – pure distilled hatred, barely legal accusations (and occasionally a few terse legally demanded retractions), grotesque twisted headlines that pierce to the soul with their poison barbs and an almost random collection of photographs of C list women in various states of undress, blank eyes and fashionable underboobs bared, silicone asses thrust towards the viewer, vying for money, fame or some kind of baller boyfriend who might marry her if she can just close the deal – a real adrenaline and hate speed shot right to the heart. It is a disgusting, truly foul, shame-inducing rush. I can’t help myself. Boy oh boy, I’m hopelessly addicted to the tabloid news today.

I have often tried to untangle the reasons for my addiction to this slimy morning routine. I think it is because it gets my heart pumping, the oxygen moving, I enjoy the masochism of the most disgusting comment section I have yet come across. Man, when they turn on someone, they turn bad. They play to the cheap seats, the wolf whistles, the Come Here and Peer motherfucking Male-Organhead to the right of Pol Pot dribble. They play to The Fear, the populist, their Trump-supporting most base of readership. They play to the superiority kick. The Brit Remainers, American Trumpers, the mockers of ‘woke’ which to the poison paper of my choice includes everything from thinking it is not ok for some sports journo to lash out at Shohei Ohtani for being Japanese and not speaking English while playing the All-American game of baseball to believing that children should be educated about the issue of race in schools, supporting the right to protest governments….and not hanging drug addicts summarily without trial being a crime.

Do not even get me started on the absolute unthinking WORSHIP of the Police State, or the twisted bashing of undocumented people and their support for putting ‘illegal’ kids in cages while foaming at the mouth to find any excuse possible to slam and mock the wonderful Obamas. Birthers ain’t got nothing on this Q-infused, hyper-right wing piranha feeding frenzy. These bitches eat foul birthers and spit out the juice stories alongside the rising and falling stars within the GOP’s (and since they went international) the rest of the world’s right wing orbit. Guilliani they love and now hate. Trump is the new Messiach, Hilary is slandered just up to the point of legality, and Biden is artfully painted as King Lear adoring his errant child with an unfortunate name. I hate all politicians, almost equally,though suspect if I investigated myself deeply enough my politics would be found to be unfashionable (and according to the immoral antidemocratic majority, possibly should be illegal) leftist in a way that is almost unheard of in the USA, yet for some reason, I just cannot look away.

I need the kick to get me started in the morning. Feeling sluggish? Just read how Trump is gonna be reinstalled in under a week, so says the janitor’s best friend who knows someone who heard it said in Safeway. Allegedly. Next! A smear attempt using highly emotive language on the woman who fell foul of Trevor Bauer’s alleged (fucking hell, how do they do it! All this legally required talking in alleged and reportedly-s…I would never get a sentence out) beating and balling behaviors (heh heh…this is quite fun! Must…resist…the….dark side!). I was almost energized and furious enough to start the day, shaken out of the remains of my nighttime smoke, which according to the paper which must never be named, will cause me to grow hair on the palms of my hands, develop deeply psychotic behaviors and become a burden to society a la some reefer madness public service announcement of the 1930s which tried to save good upright jazz fans everywhere from the Devil’s Lettuce. The morning was going swimmingly to plan, when the unthinkable happened.

The shit rag went too far.

Not just like a little too far, but so far that it left me gasping for breath, hot shotted, scraping myself off the ceiling and doing an impression of a shocked guppy. The shit rag wrote an article on Nico.

Yeah, you guys heard me. They took on Nico, of the Velvet Underground and Nico, taking in Warhol, Lou Reed (who is turning in his grave as we speak, sorry Lou baby), Bob Dylan (ok…he is big enough they occasionally kiss his ass whilst making sure no one forgets which side the ‘old rocker of Blowing in the Wind fame’ (shudder…why do they have to talk thata way!) is on. They even dragged Jim Morrison in there with some lurid gossip about sex and drug parties that no one is alive to sue for. They stepped over their line. You see while I can snortle at Kim Kardashian being called a ‘bed-hopping super-groupie beauty’ after all Kim’s auteur offerings (no slut-shaming here, I respect her for ‘doing what she did and getting free, money is freedom and Kim made a shedload of it) are hardly on the same artistic level as The Velvet Underground and Nico, even if they have been considerably more lucrative; but level this shit at Nico and it has all gone too far.

This shit rag reduced her to the level of groupie, the sum of her face and hair and body whilst pushing some new biography of her, which I will now NEVER read simply because The Rag endorsed it in some kinda own goal worst placement of a review ever: it is an incursion into my territory too far. It is all well and good when they are peddling their poison about politicians and slebs, but art! The Velvets! My Freak Friends? I can’t let it slide. I started to set up an account to comment on the article, only just stopping myself just in time. This is enemy territory, I couldn’t go in there alone and tell Mavis from Melbourne, Sophia from Westminster, London, or BillyBob Cletus from Bonanza which way was up, and even if I did, they wouldn’t care. They don’t care about the storm, they didn’t even see no storm…and they are simply incapable of seeing Nico for what she truly was and remains. Nico was an integral, a central, an active and productive member of Warhol’s factory. Nico was art.

It is a comment on the Patriarchy that men cannot think of a better compliment to pay a woman than saying they are ‘like a man’. Andrew Loog Oldman, who produced Nico’s first album on his then new label, Immediate Records. The album was a bust, even Oldham didn’t like it, but it did provide an in for Nico with Warhol’s Factory scene. Image was almost everything, there was a prevailing attitude of a no smoke without fire attitude to creative possibility, and first impressions were everything. Nico had one chance to open the door to her five minutes of fame allotted to her as a thoroughly modern right, and secure her long term artistic future by proving herself worthy. Danny Fields recalls She came in with Dennis Deegan. I had a punchbowl, half vodka and half grapefruit juice. It was called a greyhound. When Nico came in, she scooped out a ladleful and instead of pouring it into a cup she held it up, put her head back and poured it into her mouth in a perfect little stream. So that’s how we met her.” * Mission accomplished.

With her strong features, her icy blonde dead straight hair, her gothic attitude, her heroin and her magnificent voice, with its studiously affected drawn out sounds and smack-deepened low register Nico floated on an opiated pillow through the NY scene, trailing her ‘rags and silks’ that she sang about in All Tomorrow’s Parties. The Velvet Underground and Nico Banana album was a triumph which her consistently flat, shockingly baritone and Germanic vocals pulled firmly into the realms of art and alongside the freaky and noisy John Cale, hauled Lou Reed out of the ’50s dop wop of his early years, the chains of his writing as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records, and his innate tendency to straight up rock and roll, and pulled him firmly into genius. Nico’s voice and her mere presence in the band, her Dietrich-like anti-tuneful drone brought the tension necessary to make an album so seminal that it was said by Brian Eno that “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

The Banana album would not have been a fraction as good without Nico taking chanteuse duties. She had a talent for making everything just that little bit darker, just taking the edge off the pop and the pretty, she embodied the ostrich tuned drone. Nico was the magic dust sprinkled onto the tracks, that made everything just that little bit cooler, she added that edge of wartime danger. Listen to Nico and the smoke and the suffering, the art and the Marlene cigarette holder cool, drift off the page, making the listener ask at a time when WW2 was much closer in the collective consciousness, which side Nico was on. I blame the meth, it has a natural tendency towards extremism in whichever way that manifests in the user, but Nico, despite possibly justified accusations of racism, insisted that as a child she and her mother tried to help Jewish people. Her father was killed in the war. Nico was no nazi sympathizer, she was a free spirit, but Warhol was not above using the vibe and the question marks to add danger and an unsettling kick to the art. Nico the outsider, Nico the loser, Nico the exiled, Nico the picture of germanic even Aryan beauty, scrambling around in the gutter, needles and lovers, drone and disaster. The destroyed German. The redeemed through rebellion. Nico: the artform, and man, did they hang her on a wall.

In some ways Chelsea Girls the movie and the song written for her by Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison was her finest moment. Taking Nico above the scene, helping her detail the lives of the inhabitants of the Chelsea, the epicenter of the Warhol and Velvets scene, no ‘giving them all another name’ like Dylan did in Desolation Row, Chelsea Girls takes us behind the veil, it opens the doors to the human sized dolls house, and the lives of the actors and movers. She said she hated the flute in the song, but had no choice in the matter, I hate it too. It was meant to give a Brian Jones kinda kick to the song, I suspect, but instead overdoes the whimsey and cheapens the entire track. We listen as Nico, our tour guide, takes us back to a moment in time and space, and introduces us to her friends, and it is brutal, honest, open chronicling from the heart. “Here they come now, see them run now, Chelsea Girls” she sings, her voice an open expansive arm, a human pop art New York caged ride. These are butterflies on the pin of Reed/Morrison lyrics and Nico’s emotional involvement and deeply expressive voice. It is a perfect life as art performance, more perfect than The Chelsea Girls movie, which was more self indulgent than anything else.

We are told Brigid (Polk) is in room 546, wrapped up in foil, coiled into a speed-ball, that the S and M Queens are ‘magic marker’ high and she wonders how much higher they can go, and that heartbreakingly, Ondine’s Rona just ‘wants to be a human being’. The fragility of the human condition, the search for the source of the fountain of art and creativity. Pepper’s love has died in a flurry of gender dysphoria, Mary and Susan are uptight, ‘white powder’ is in the air, and when Jonny Bore overdosed on smack, they tried the old junkie mythos of shooting him up with milk to bring him out of it, and when it didn’t work, they sold him ‘for silk’, just as the silk road sold him death. Watching the Chelsea Girls run with Nico is the closest any of us living now will get to the factory experience and the crucible of the Chelsea before the power brokers and moneymakers tore its heart out, its doors off and sanitized the whole building to sell to people who do not care about the history. I fantasize about moving into The Chelsea, laying myself down on it’s floors and writing something from whatever has seeped into it’s bones, except it has all gone apart from the artifice. The destruction of being too successful wrecked the magic, and it breaks my heart. Damn them, all the soulless sellers of property and cheap disposable news. They might be able to take the Chelsea, but they cannot have Nico.

Andrew Loog Oldham declared that Nico “was one of a new breed of woman, like Anita Pallenberg and Yoko Ono, who could have been a man. Far better that, than the silly little English teacups around at that time.’ The ultimate compliment for a man who prefers the company of men. Nico made herself in Warhol’s Factory, manufactured a look, an attitude, a voice, a legend. Not bad for someone some grubby little journo for some used toilet paper called “drug addled.” No one calls Burroughs addled. Hunter? He is lionized as a surfer on the coast of chemically augmented perfection. Keef? Gentleman smack Pirate on Lou Reed’s heroin trading clipper ship. Nico? The Amazonian warrior that was Anita Pallenburg, the female answer to Hunke the hustler? The immensely talented and infinitely cool Marianne Faithful? They deserve their place in the pantheon of art and rarely are allowed to be defined beyond the position of wife, girlfriend or groupie, and it is time to fight back.

The girls had to fight for access to the rock and roll bathroom to shoot and snort, drop and puke with the boys, and when the Girls create and suffer and make art out of themselves and their experiences, they are pilloried for their lack of femininity, their perceived womanly failures, and pigeonholed as groupies, while the boys fuck everyone male and female, each other and themselves and the cheap seats cheer the mother-haters on. “I’ve made a big decision” sings Lou, “I’m gonna try and nullify my life”, in Heroin and the crowd go wild. When writers describe Nico as having “deposited’ or even abandoned her son, Ari, they do not give the same cutting treatment to the herds of offering left by rock and roll’s fathers, and not nearly all of them acknowledged or adequately provided for. Ari’s alleged father is not held up to the same scrutiny as his mother. It is still and always has been one huge boy’s club in the art scene, and Nico is just another victim, as well as being the ultimate engine of drone, and the premier actress and beauty of the Factory Chelsea Girl scene.

Nico was neither sinner nor saint, she was not a paragon of virtue, nor was she utterly degenerate. Nico was a human being with flaws and fuck ups, triumphs, and no doubt terrors and failures. Putting aside her genius for self-creation and her immense impact and talent, Nico was like the rest of us – flawed but human….unless the rest of us include those who exist to peer down noses, tut and judge and perform hate within the modern coliseum of the right wing media and their cheap little cheerleading hate-chorus of two-bit mindless self-congratulatory uber-privileged, own back patting dullness.

Jackson Brown’s beautiful These Days, could have been written for Nico. Her version is amongst the best songs ever recorded, and a far more fitting self-sung epitaph for Nico. Rest peacefully, Nico, I’ll see you by and by one of these days…

I had a lover
I don't think I'll risk another
These days, these days
And if I seem to be afraid
To live the life that I have made in song
It's just that I've been losing so long
I've stopped my dreaming
I won't do too much scheming
These days, these days
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten
Please don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them

                            (from These Days by Jackson Browne)

*As detailed in the fabulous biography, The Genius of Andy Warhol Tony Scherman and David Dalton, pub. Harper Collins, 2009


Leave a Reply