Last Of The Bohemians

Nico, ironic death – high priestess of teutonic angst, died in Ibiza last Monday night of a brain haemorrhage. She was found unconscious by the side of her push bike and taken to Cannes Nisto hospital, where she died at 8:00pm.

For two years, the German chanteuse had been on a methadone maintenance programme and had taken up a keep fit regime that included a lot of cycling.

Alan Wise, her close friend and manager for the past seven years, said: “It’s quite ironic really, because we thought if she’d go at all it would be in some dark place, surrounded by something miserable, instead of the height of summer on a sunny day.”

Nico, born in 1938 as Christina Paffgen in Cologne, Germany, was no stranger to dark and miserable places. A self confessed nihilist, she went from high fashion modelling to method acting school to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where she met the Velvet Underground and recorded the classic LP “The Velvet Underground And Nico”.

In 1968 she launched her solo career with ‘Chelsea Girl’, singing Jackson Browne, Lou Reed and John Cale compositions in the deep narcotic monotone that was to become one of her trademarks. Her low moans, high cheekbones and heavy make-up characterised the bleak Euro chic; the style was resurrected by the goths, who anticipated the Nico From The Grave look a good six years before the striking artist met her untimely demise.

In her solo performances, Nico would accompany herself on an Indian pump organ epitomising the hippie dirge sound that came in to its own as ‘performance art’ in later years. Warhol’s legacy to Nico and the New York sub-culture made it perfectly acceptable to abuse art and drugs at the same time; a star was born and so was a habit.

In 1985, Nico told NME: “I would rather take drugs than be in a nuthouse.” she had just recorded the ‘Camera Obscura’ LP with John Cale and reissued the funereal single ‘My Funny Valentine’.

Touring England and Europe with Wise, Nico became famous for her bizarre interpretations of ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ and ‘The End’.

When asked if there was any hope of a Velvet’s reunion Nico told a VU fanzine that she would never record with Lou Reed again. “I think it’s because I’m German. He doesn’t trust the Germans because of what happened in the Second World War.”

Ironically, Nico played her last concert in Berlin before returning home to Manchester. From there, she flew to Ibiza with her son Ari.

“She went at the exact opposite of what we would have considered the appropriate moment to shuffle off this mortal coil,” said Wise. “We suspected she’d end up some cranky woman in a home, outliving all of us.”

Nico was the last of the Bohemians.

(published in NME, 30/07/88)

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