Monday, August 2

You are beautiful and lonely review – Nico as the Gothic Garbo | Biography books


TGerman-born singer and model Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico, starred in Federico Fellini’s box office hit in 1960. The sweet life and, for a time, he was part of the New York pop art experiment Velvet Underground. With her baritone voice and angular “ice maiden” look, she acquired the reputation of a gothic Garbo or a punk Dietrich, sometimes mysterious and distant. His puzzling solo album from 1968 The marble index She is revered for her fatal Germanic atmosphere and her rendition of the harmonium, which lends a low church intensity and a sepulchral tone to her extraordinary voice.

Nico was only 49 years old when, in 1988, she died after a brain hemorrhage caused by heat stroke caused her to fall off her bike. After using opioids for 15 years, it is a miracle that he has reached middle age. In this new biography, You are beautiful and you Are alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike delves into the life of one of the strangest and most unlikely singer-songwriters of our time.

Born in Cologne in 1938 to parents of Spanish and Yugoslav descent, Nico led a difficult life in post-Hitler Germany, where her mother earned a pittance as a seamstress. His father, a Wehrmacht Recruit was apparently shot and killed by his commander after a French sniper’s bullet entered his brain. In later years, Nico liked to say that the “German pigs” had killed him.

Christa Päffgen in 1956, when she adopted the name Nico.
Christa Päffgen in 1956, when she adopted the name Nico. Photograph: ullstein bild / Getty Images

Nico, a difficult quarry for biographers, not only made the craziest nonsense about herself believable, but encouraged others to add it. She claimed to have been sexually assaulted at the age of 13 by an African-American infantry sergeant, but there is no record of the case in the files of the US military, says Bickerdike, so we can’t be sure.

In 1956, Päffgen took the name “Nico” on the advice of German fashion photographer Herbert Tobias. You may have had lesbian adventures with French film star Jeanne Moreau and fashion designer and businesswoman Coco Chanel (whose abstract, imperiously dusty Chanel No. 5 The perfume was one of Nico’s favorites). Rumors of bisexuality added to her mystique.

A nomadic and restless spirit, she hung out with Ernest Hemingway in Paris in the mid-1950s and was courted by both Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan (who wrote I’ll Keep it With Mine for her). Disastrously, she fell in love with Alain Delon and gave birth to their son, Christian Aaron Boulogne (whom she called “Ari”), in 1962. Delon, then France’s most famous film actor, denied paternity despite their resemblance. with Ari it was irrefutable. (The boy was raised by Delon’s long-suffering parents.)

Bickerdike’s is a gossipy yet informative biography. Andy Warhol already knew Nico from The sweet life when he met her in Paris in the spring of 1965. Having mythologized 20th-century America in a handful of defining images (car accidents, race riots, electric chairs), the public relations savvy pop art entrepreneur and headline hunter saw in Nico an ideal vampire for Velvet Underground, whom he directed. Nico became lovingly involved with the band’s singer-songwriter Lou Reed, but grew weary of his diva jealousy. “I can’t make love to Jews anymore,” he muttered to her. His casual anti-Semitism seems mild along with Nico’s other more gruesome behaviors. In 1971, in a New York restaurant, he opened the face of young singer and Black Panther activist Emmaretta Marks after Marks had complained at an adjacent table about racial inequalities. “Suffering!” Nico supposedly yelled at him. “You don’t know what suffering is!” The brands needed 20 points but did not press charges.

No witnesses agree with what actually happened, but Bickerdike exonerates Nico of the racism charges and attributes the violence to a rash of long-repressed childhood anxieties. “In Nico’s mind, almost any kind of suffering would have paled in comparison to what he saw and experienced during his early years in Nazi Germany.” Nico’s insecurity was the catalyst for the altercation, not Marks’s skin color. (Some may choose not to agree).

Generally, Bickerdike makes Nico a misunderstood enigma, similar to a sphinx. Her last years were spent in London and Manchester, where, painfully shy, she walked in motorcycle boots, played the harmonium and subsisted on quantities of lentil soup and methadone (which induced her to bovine placidity). The biography is poorly written, with an excess of poorly chosen words (“She was a true bohemian, who deserves proper recognition for her brave, daring, often strange and always deeply personal albums…”). You are beautiful and you Are alone, Nico’s third life to date, however grimly absorbed from start to finish.

YYou are beautiful and you are alone: ​​Nico’s biography by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike is a Faber Music publication (£ 20). To support the guardian Y Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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