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Nico: Facing the Wind - The Marble Index Trilogy
Matthew Lindsay , January 14th, 2013 04:33

The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End are three of the most uncompromising records of the 60s and 70s, and arguably surpass Nico's work with the Velvet Underground. Matthew Lindsay takes an in-depth look at their history and significance

Between her two most famous roles, Nico produced her best work. Initially she was cast as the Teutonic chanteuse, who beautified the Velvets' trash aesthetic, singing three songs on their landmark debut and providing a visual contrast/magnet to the black-clad urchins. Then there's the protracted rock & roll suicide of her latter days, the wilderness years chronicled by James Young in Songs They Never Play On The Radio, a warts-and-all account of life in her band, equal parts bathos and pathos. Somewhere in between these two incarnations, the model/actor/singer produced three albums, a triptych without parallel in the rock canon. 1968's The Marble Index, 1970's Desertshore & 1974's The End didn't just defy popular music's conventions, they ditched them altogether. Conceived in a period that biographers tend to barely probe (1995's Icon documentary only offered a cursory glance), the liminal drift of these years only emphasizes the music's amorphous moorings and lack of precedent.

Biography and Nico are uneasy bedfellows. In fact, navigating one's way through her life, as with so many of the VU/Warhol crowd, amounts to a Kane-like labyrinth of rumour and falsehood ("the story is telling a true lie" she sang on 'Evening Of Light'). She was born Christa Päffgen to Yugoslav/Spanish parents in either Budapest or Cologne. Reports of her birth date vary from 1938 to 1943 (the former is most likely). Her father died during the Second World War, probably exterminated by the Nazis after sustaining a head wound injury that would have rendered him useless to the Third Reich (there's some suggestion he was a Jewish spy). At the age of 15 or 16, Christa was encouraged by the couturier Oestargaard to take up modelling. She was then christened Nico by photographer Herbert Tobias, after his former lover Nikos Papatakis. After stints in Paris with Coco Chanel and Vogue, she played 'herself' in Fellini's La Dolce Vita , after the Italian director saw her wandering around the set. She also starred in Poitrenaud's 1962 film, Strip-tease. The Ford modelling agency then took her to New York. Her passport read 'no fixed abode'. She remained peripatetic, in every sense, for her whole life...

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