INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker APRIL 29, 1978 - by Maureen Paton
RETURN OF THE PAGAN EXILE
Nico, in London for a one-off gig last Monday and to record an album, talks to Maureen Paton
Possibly the only rumour about Nico that hasn't circulated so far is that she was once a man (sic). Unlike Amanda Lear, Nico hardly needs such a drastic career boost. She is, if she'll forgive the liberty, weird enough already.
Except that, according to Nico, mystery is now a thing of the past. "My songs are not mysterious any more. They 'ave become very intimate. Love songs to heroes, various heroes."
Sterling Morrison of The Velvet Underground once said in an interview (around the Loaded period and long after Nico's departure from the band), that good music was half-accidental and half-magical. Did she agree?
"No, no. My music is not accidental. If you want it to be an accident, it is an accident, but it also can be something else. It can be very well thought out. That's what I've been doing. Just thinking what was the best way."
Nico is in London for a special one-off date at London's Music Machine (there may be other British concerts in May), to negotiate a new record deal and to record a new album, Drama Of Exile, that will break her three-year recording silence.
We meet at the Highgate flat of her manager, Frenchman Larry Debay (who, incidentally, organised the Mont de Marsan new-wave festival in France last year).
Nico is ill. She can't see anyone. I make desperate noises. OK, wait a minute. Yes, Nico will see me but she's not getting out of bed. And no photographs.
The interview is conducted across a very crumpled mattress. Nico looks pale and haggard but the largest cheekbones in Christendom are still as spectacularly Slavic as ever.
Talking of which, one could build up a neat little case for The Slavonic Church Music Influence In Nico. Deathly chants over an omnipresent harmonium. Very liturgical.
"Actually, I am really Russian," reveals Nico dramatically. "I was born in Cologne, yes, but my father and mother just happened to pass through. They were always travelling.
"No, it's not church music - it's pagan music. I am a pagan. But I am religious too," she adds after one of the maddening ponders she has made her speciality. "I guess religion also exists in a pagan, like pagan exists in religion because it was there first."
Quite. To get back to earth: what has she been doing since her last album, The End (a miracle of production but plagued with temperamental problems)?
"I've been disappearing - oh, disappearing. I said that in an interview yesterday because that is the truth." [Laughs and colours] "I've been disappearing from myself. I've become a total stranger to myself and that's why I titled the album Drama Of Exile... because it's a drama of being a stranger to yourself.
"I want to sign with a label where my friends are. You're not all alone. It's really tiresome [a favourite word] but you want to feel protected."
Nico seems the last person in need of protection. Unlike most other chanteuses, she even writes her own material and was once quoted as contending that she wanted to play and record alone; that she didn't need other people.
"Pardon?" foggily. "Oh... other people are important. Other musicians - yes, of course they are important! Anybody is important - anybody that's punching," as an oblique afterthought. "What did you just say? Did I answer it? In a very direct way? I can't answer directly."
One of Nico's earliest solo songs (on Chelsea Girl) was Tim Hardin's Eulogy To Lenny Bruce. Bruce, she once said, she admired because he was direct and told the truth.
Oh yes. His truth, yes. Not necessarily anybody's else's. Maybe even many people'''s truth, after all. But it certainly wasn't mine. It was a sample of the truth. Mine would be very different."
Hardly indisputable, that. Nico has one of the more thrillingly hollow voices in contemporary music, heard at possibly its peak on Island's The End (also by the by, one of John Cale's finest hours).
The End, of course, features the eponymous Oedipal opus by The Doors as centrepiece in an al;ready bizarre landscape, since Jim Morrison was/is Nico's alto ego. [All the way through our conversation Strange Days plus Bowie's "Heroes" play in the next room.]
"Jim was my soul brother. In a way, I still believe he's alive today because I'm his soul sister. That's why he's pretty much alive. That sounds very pretentious," she suddenly interrupts herself with alarming honesty. "But we really have the same voices, almost. It just happens we sing alike. It's just natural.
"When we were walking on the street, he would sit down on a step outside of a house and say he wished he could still do that in a few years' time."
So he hated being a star?
Like the Lizard King himself, Nico has dabbled fairly heavily in films (as actress/lyricist/soundtrack writer) beginning with Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls ("I must act. I belong on a stage. I have so many different personalities."). Her most recent venture was filmed, impressively enough, at the French Opera House, though she insists it was shot on a shoestring:
"Crazee, crazee movie! The wind blew me off the roof. It was so windy, it was tiresome, disgusting, because I was dealing on the level where there wasn't much money. It's called The Blue Of The Origin - the blue is the blue in blue blood, the blue in society, I guess."
She once stated that she thought only in terms of movies. Is that still true?
"Oh no. I think now in terms of music."
So she'll concentrate exclusively on her music?
"I don't 'ave to concentrate," counters Nico sharply. "It's there."
The future is hazy, but doesn't - yet - include a new rock band. Just Nico and her harmonium, a new one with fetching green bellows that Patti Smith bought her when her old one was stolen. Patti is a great friend; Bowie she also admires.
Would she like to work with Bowie?
Shame. It would surely be the musical marriage of the century.
As for other musicians, she is first dismissive, then characteristically equivocal:
"The young kids are taking over and it's so noisy... But then - why not?" [Shrugs] "But all the groups are the same, all the punk-rock groups. That's the idea, right? To be a cliche?"
And she tries not to be a cliche?
"Ahhh," says Nico largely, with a superb gesture, "I don't have time to be a cliche."