Nico (born Christa Päffgen; 16 October 1938 – 18 July 1988)
Nico died almost 25 years ago yet the impact of her music lives on. Her work has influenced countless other people’s music. The film Nico Icon (released in 1995 and now unavailable on any format) is an incredible documentary by German filmmaker Susanne Ofteringer. Originally released in 1995, the film tells a sad story about that era and her personally, offering great insight into why things have gone so wrong today.
Told in flashback style, the film begins with Nico’s manager Alan Wise during her time with the Faction in the UK led by keyboardist James Young. They toured in a van promoting the album Camera Obscura. Wise says Nico was “searching for extinction” and Young calls her a “middle aged junkie”, “queen on the bad girls”. The tour stories are horrifying as during that time she was an addict.
Christa Päffgen was born OCT 16, 1938 and moved from Berlin to Lübbenau to escape the bombing. Her father was killed by the Nazi’s when she was four. A strikingly beautiful girl, in her teenage years she was discovered by famous fashion photographer Tobias, featured on the cover of Vogue in Europe and moved to Paris. There she became famous and quit modeling (which she hated) and was in films by her boyfriend Philippe Garrel, in particular his film Inner Scar, which was about the electroshock treatments he had undergone. In 1965, she went to London and released a single on Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records label before moving to NYC and becoming involved with Andy Warhol’s Factory and the Velvet Underground.
The film incredibly chronicles her life with many interviews featuring her lovers, caretakers and people she worked with musically. The story is told openly and brutally honestly. Throughout, Nico is pictured as a Goddess and femme fatal always dressed in only all black or all white, golden blond hair, beautiful, aloof and lonely, Danny Field’s tells how she hated the way she looked and describes the first meeting at The Castle in LA between her and her idol Jim Morrison. They both stripped naked and faked a fight rolling around the floor – her loaded on vodka and Jim’s dosed on acid and pills. Jackson Browne talks of being involved with her at 16 years old romantically, and as guitarist on her 1966 solo album Chelsea Girls. Her many US lovers also included Iggy and Lou Reed.
After she left the Warhol orbit, she dyed her hair Henna and dressed totally in back so she would be ugly. She hated her beauty. John Cale who produced her Marble Index and Desertshore albums talked about her leading a solitary life filled with occasional friends she would soon abandon.
The final segment of the film deals with her son Ari. It details how his father, Alain Delon, abandoned her and him, then disowned his own parents who took Ari in at 2 1/2 years old when Nico was unable to care for him. How she became addicted to heroin and took others with her, including Ari and Lutz Ulbrich. The interview with Lutz is especially poignant. Overall, the film depicts the tragedy of children scarred by war, victimized by those times when everyone was doing their own thing with little or no regard to doing the right thing. It does not preach, but Nico’s story makes clear that the era’s sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle opened a Pandora’s Box that is wreaking havoc on a large scale socially and morally today.
Nico’s final monument is her music. Her songs were about her life, and how she felt about her place in it. She created a brand new form of beautiful, dramatic and tragic modern European classical music, rooted in the history of the great masters who preceded her. In 1986, she stopped Heroin and went on Methadone. Two years later, on July 18, 1988 she was riding a bicycle on the island of Ibiza when she had a brain aneurism and fell at the side of the road dead. Ari says near the end of the film: The sunshine killed her. Found by passersby, sometime later Lutz Ulbrich took her back to Germany and buried her where she now rests in peace.