Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nico: Chelsea Hotel from a Chelsea Hotel room

She's the classic image of the fräulein as femme fatale: tall, blonde, diamond-cut features, eyes that burn like dry ice, and the sultry parched voice of a luftwaffe interrogator in silk lingerie. Maybe I'm projecting a little bit, but that's what I hear.

Nico was the name I wanted to give my daughter (eventually it was demoted to middle name status). For the eponymous original the name was awarded like all great destinies, casually and without much deeper significance. According to legend, she was bestowed the name by a photographer in the early days of her modeling career, being the name of his lover at the time. Presumably, her given name of Christa Päffgen wasn't sufficiently intriguing. Now, of course, it's hard to imagine another word more befitting of her. Nico's uniqueness may come in some part from her limitation: She was deaf in one ear. Her voice does seem to circle the pitch at times but her flatness, if that's what it is, only adds to the mystique. It makes her tone sound more metallic and wintry. And aloof. She can sing a Jackson Browne song, drain it of all it's twee sunny So Cal Singer-songwriterliness, and transform it into a yellow-eyed night in the black forest. If Jim Morrison's The End was a taste of the dark night of the soul, her's paints it black without even trying. Her's is the sociopath's take. At the end of the hall Morrison gave us his his Oedipal fantasy; Nico – the character her voice embodies, that iswould not only do it, she'd go to work in the morning with her coffee and scone and not upset her stomach about it.

Her singing was as much about her as an iconic symbol as it was about the sound of her voice. In this sense she was like a classic Hollywood actor, a Betty Davis, Greta Garbo, or James Cagney. They couldn't pretend they were someone else, even in the role of someone else.

In her summit of the 60s and 70s, she took celebrity lovers, influenced films, and had songs written for her. Later, she would ravage her life and body in a long interlude with heroin (permanently scarring her model good looks and pretty white teeth). Eventually, she'd get through it. In her later years she undertook a healthier lifestyle and diet. While on a holiday in Ibiza with her reunited son, she experienced a minor heart attack while riding a bicycle that caused her to fall and strike her head. Left unconscious, she was discovered by a taxi driver and taken to a local hospital. Complications with admittance and a misdiagnosis later and she was dead of severe brain hemorrhage. She was 50.

Imagine Souixsee without her. Death may've thwarted her legacy as a American Idol judge but the musical one continues.

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