Portrait of German Model and Singer NicoFrom: Cologne, Germany

Nico was a German singer/songwriter, lyricist, composer, musician, fashion model, and actress, initially rising to fame as a Warhol Superstar in the 1960s. Her work with the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist really showed off her level of talent and expertise. Nico appeared in a number of films throughout her career, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966). Nico died in July 1988 after an accident while on vacation in Ibiza with her son. She was 49 years old.

Nico was born Christa Päffgen in Cologne, Germany, five years after the Nazis regime came to power. At the age of two, she moved with her mother and grandfather to the Spreewald forest outside of Berlin. Nico’s father was enlisted as a soldier and sustained severe head injuries that caused major brain damage. It was reported that he either died in a concentration camp or that he faded away as a result of shellshock. In 1946, Nico and her mother moved to downtown Berlin, where Nico worked as a seamstress. Nico only attended school until she was 13, when she began selling lingerie in the exclusive department store KaDeWe. She eventually started getting modelling jobs in Berlin, rising to prominence as a teenage fashion model. It is said that Nico was raped at the age of 15 by a member of the US Air Force who was sentenced to death. Nico wrote the song “Secret Side” which made hidden references to this incident. The validity of the rape legend is still unclear.

It was at the age of 16 that Christa Päffgen was discovered by photographer Herbert Tobias while both were working at a KaDeWe fashion show.  It was Tobias that gave Christa Päffgen the nickname Nico, something she used for most of her life. Nico was named after Tobias’ friend Nikos Papatakis, a filmmaker. Nico would move to Paris and work for Vogue, Tempo, Vie Nuove, Mascotte Spettacolo, Camera, Elle, and other magazines. At 17, Nico was hired by Coco Chanel, but she fled to New York, leaving her job behind. On her travels, Nico learned to speak English, Spanish, and French. Over the next few years, Nico’s acting and modelling career continued to flourish. Her first performance as a singer was in December 1963 at New York’s Blue Angel nightclub.

Nico met Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones in 1965 and recorded her first single, “I’m Not Sayin'” which was produced by Jimmy Page for the Immediate label. She was introduced to Bob Dylan in the summer of ’65 by actor Ben Carruthers. Nico recorded Dylan’s song “I’ll Keep It With Mine” for her debut album, Chelsea Girl, released in 1967. The song was written for Judy Collins in 1964, who released the song in ’65. Brian Jones introduced Nico to Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, working with them in New York on the experimental films. Once Warhol began managing the Velvet Underground, he proposed the band add Nico as a “chanteuse,” which they agreed to reluctantly. Nico sang lead on three songs (“Femme Fatale”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and “I’ll Be Your Mirror”) on the band’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. She was only a member of the band for a short period of time, as the other members found her long preparations in the dressing room and pre-performance good luck rituals irritating and unnecessary. The fact that she was partially deaf caused her to veer off key, bothering the band on many occasions. However, the album has become timeless in legend, and scored #13 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

As soon as her work with the Velvet Underground had ended, Nico began her solo career, performing regularly at The Dom in New York City. She was accompanied by a vast number of guitarists, including members of the Velvet Underground, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Jackson Browne. Her debut album, Chelsea Girl, consisted covers of Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and Jackson Browne, among others. Members of the Velvet Underground contributed to the record as well. Nico was very unhappy with the result of the album. In a 1981 interview, she said: “I still cannot listen to it, because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. I asked for more guitars, they said no. And I asked for simplicity, and they covered it in flutes! […] They added strings, and— I didn’t like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute.” Nico spent some time with Jim Morrison in California, where he encouraged her to write her own songs. Nico later referred to Jim as her “soul brother.” Her next album, The Marble Index, was released in 1969, and was written by Nico. She continued her solo career until 1988 when she tragically died in a cycling accident sustained on vacation in Ibiza. Nico’s influence is so profound and has been integral in the careers of many musicians. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elliott Smith, Patti Smith, Morrissey, and several artists have cited Nico as once of their key influences. ~ Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1967 album Chelsea Girl
Nico - Chelsea Girl

  • I’ll Keep It With Mine
  • The Fairest Of The Seasons
  • These Days