Christa Päffgen

born on 18/10/1938 in Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

died on 18/7/1988 in Ibiza, Spain

Alias Nico


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Died 18 July 1988 (aged 49)

Nico (born Christa Päffgen, 16 October 1938  18 July 1988)[1] was a German singer, lyricist, composer, musician, fashion model, and actress, who initially rose to fame as a Warhol Superstar in the 1960s. She is known for both her vocal collaboration on The Velvet Underground's debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), and her work as a solo artist from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. She also had roles in several films, including a cameo in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966), as herself.

She was related to Hermann Päffgen, who founded the Päffgen brewery in 1883 in Cologne. Nico died in July 1988, as a result of injuries sustained in a bicycling accident while vacationing in Ibiza with her son.[1]

Early life

Nico was born Christa Päffgen in Cologne, five years after the the Nazis came to power in Germany. When she was two years old, she moved with her mother and grandfather to the Spreewald forest outside of Berlin. Her father was enlisted as a soldier during the war, and sustained head injuries that caused severe brain damage; he was later used in experiments by Nazi doctors in a concentration camp where he eventually died.[2][3] In 1946, Nico and her mother relocated to downtown Berlin, where Nico worked as a seamstress. She attended school up until the age 13, and then began selling lingerie and eventually getting modeling jobs in Berlin.[3] Standing at five feet, ten inches tall and with chiseled features and porcelain skin, Nico rose to prominence as a fashion model as a teenager.

Her adopted name, 'Nico', which she used for most of her life, was given to her by photographer Herbert Tobias,[4] who was photographing her on a modeling job. He named her this after his ex-boyfriend, filmmaker Nikos Papatakis. She soon moved to Paris and began working for Vogue, Tempo, Vie Nuove, Mascotte Spettacolo, Camera, Elle, and other fashion magazines. At age 17, she was contracted by Coco Chanel to promote their products, but she fled to New York City and abandoned the job.[2] Through her travels, she learned to speak English, Spanish, and French.


Acting and modeling

After appearing in several television advertisements, Nico got a small role in Alberto Lattuada's film La Tempesta (1958). She also appeared in Rudolph Maté's For the First Time, with Mario Lanza, later that year.

In 1959 she was invited to the set of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, where she attracted the attention of the acclaimed director, who gave her a minor role in the film as herself. By this time, she was living in New York and taking acting classes with Lee Strasberg.[3]

She appears as the cover model on jazz pianist Bill Evans' 1962 album, Moon Beams.[5] After splitting her time between New York and Paris, she got the lead role in Jacques Poitrenaud's Strip-Tease (1963). She recorded the title track, which was written by Serge Gainsbourg but not released until 2001, when it was included in the compilation Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg.

In 1962 Nico gave birth to her son, Christian Aaron "Ari" Päffgen, commonly held to have been fathered by French actor Alain Delon.[6] Delon always denied his paternity. The child was raised mostly by Delon's mother and her husband and eventually was adopted by them, taking their surname, Boulogne.[7]

Music career

In 1965 Nico met Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones and recorded her first single, "I'm Not Sayin'"/"The Last Mile", produced by Jimmy Page for Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label. Actor Ben Carruthers introduced her to Bob Dylan in Paris that summer. Dylan wrote the song "I'll Keep It with Mine" for her shortly thereafter, which she recorded for her first album, Chelsea Girl, in 1967.[1]

After being introduced by Brian Jones, she began working in New York with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey on their experimental films, including Chelsea Girls, The Closet, Sunset and Imitation of Christ.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

When Warhol began managing The Velvet Underground he proposed that the group take on Nico as a "chanteuse." They consented reluctantly, for both personal and musical reasons.[8][9] The group became the centerpiece of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a multimedia performance featuring music, light, film and dance. Nico sang lead vocals on three songs ("Femme Fatale", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "I'll Be Your Mirror") and backing vocal on "Sunday Morning", on the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967).[10] The album went on to become one of the most legendary rock albums of all time, and ranked in at #13 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[11] though it was poorly received at the time of its release.

Solo career

Chelsea Girl and The Marble Index

Immediately following her musical work with the Velvet Underground, Nico began work as a solo artist. For her debut album, 1967's Chelsea Girl, she recorded songs by Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and Jackson Browne, among others. Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison contributed to the album, with Nico, Reed and Cale co-writing one song, "It Was a Pleasure Then."[12] Chelsea Girl is a traditional chamber-folk album, which influenced artists such as Leonard Cohen, with strings and flute arrangements by producer Tom Wilson. Nico was not satisfied with the album and had little say in production matters. In retrospect, Nico said in 1981:
"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."[13]

For The Marble Index, released in 1969, Nico wrote the lyrics and music. Accompaniment mainly centered around Nico's harmonium, while John Cale added an array of folk and classical instruments, and arranged the album. The harmonium became her signature instrument for the rest of her career. The album has a classical-cum-European folk sound.

Desertshore and The End

Nico released two more solo albums in the 1970s, Desertshore and The End.... Nico wrote the music, sang, and played the harmonium. Cale produced and played most of the other instruments on both albums. The End... featured Brian Eno on synthesizer. She appeared at the Rainbow Theatre, in London, with Cale, Eno, and Kevin Ayers. The album June 1, 1974 was the result of this concert. Nico performed a version of the Doors' "The End", which was the catalyst for The End... later that year.

On 13 December 1974, Nico opened for Tangerine Dream's infamous concert at Reims Cathedral in Reims, France. The promoter had so greatly oversold tickets for the show that members of the audience couldn't move or reach the outside, eventually resulting in some fans urinating inside the cathedral hall.[14] The Roman Catholic Church denounced these actions, ordered the rededication of the cathedral and banned future performances on church property.

Nico and Island Records allegedly had many disputes during this time, and in 1975 the label dropped her from their roster.

She made a vocal contribution in Neuronium second album, Vuelo Químico as she was at the studio, by chance, while it was being recorded in Barcelona in 1978. She read excerpts from Ulalume poem by Edgar Allan Poe, for musical background of the main theme of this recording. She said that was deeply moved by the music, so she couldn't help to make a contribution.

Drama of Exile and final album

Nico returned to New York in late 1979 where her comeback concert at CBGB in early 1980 was glowingly reviewed in The New York Times. She began playing regularly at the Mudd Club and other venues with Jim Tisdall accompanying her on harp and Gittler guitar. They played together on a sold-out tour of twelve cities in the East and Midwest.

Nico recorded her next studio album, Drama of Exile, in 1981.[1] It was a departure from her earlier work with John Cale, featuring a mixture of rock and Middle Eastern arrangements. She recorded her final solo album, Camera Obscura, in 1985, with The Faction (James Young and Graham Dids). Produced by John Cale, it featured Nico's version of the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart song "My Funny Valentine".

A number of Nico's performances towards the end of her life were recorded and released, including 1982's Heroine, Live In Tokyo, and her final concert, Fata Morgana, recorded on 6 June 1988. The double live album Behind the Iron Curtain was recorded during a tour of Eastern Europe, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and made from recordings of concerts in Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and other cities, and was released before her death in 1988.

A duet called "Your Kisses Burn" with singer Marc Almond was her last recorded song (about a month before her death). It was released a few months after her death on Almond's album "The Stars We Are".

Philippe Garrel films

Between 1970 and 1979, Nico made about seven films with French director Philippe Garrel. She met Garrel in 1969 and contributed the song "The Falconer" to his film Le Lit de la Vierge. Soon after, she was living with Garrel and became a central figure in his cinematic and personal circles. Nico's first acting appearance with Garrel occurred in his 1972 film, La Cicatrice Intérieure. Nico also supplied the music for this film and collaborated closely with the director. She also appeared in the Garrel films Anathor (1972); the silent Jean Seberg biopic, Les Hautes Solitudes, released in 1974; Un ange passe (1975); Le Berceau de cristal (1976), starring Pierre Clémenti, Nico and Anita Pallenberg; and Voyage au jardin des morts (1978). His 1991 film J'entends Plus la Guitare is dedicated to Nico.

Personal life

Nico saw herself as part of a tradition of bohemian artists, which she traced back to the Romanticism of the early 19th century. She led a nomadic life, living in different countries. Apart from Germany, where she grew up, and Ibiza, where she died, Nico lived in Italy and France in the 1950s, spent most of the 1960s in the US, and lived in London in the early 1960s and again later in the 1980s, when she lived intermittently between London and Manchester.

Nico was a heroin addict for over 15 years. In the book Songs They Never Play on the Radio, James Young, a member of her band in the 1980s, recalls many examples of her troubling behaviour due to her "overwhelming" addiction and also that Nico claimed to have never taken the drug whilst with the Velvets/Factory scene but only began using during her 1970s relationship with Philippe Garrel. Shortly before her death, Nico stopped taking heroin and began methadone replacement therapy while also embarking upon a regimen of bicycle exercise and healthy eating.

Despite her musical talents and singing, she was deaf in one ear, which made it difficult for her to understand what others were saying.[15] She was also a vegetarian, as well as a self-proclaimed nihilist.[16]


On 18 July 1988, while on holiday with her son on the Spanish island of Ibiza, Nico had a minor heart attack while riding a bicycle and hit her head as she fell. A passing taxi driver found her unconscious and had difficulty getting her admitted to local hospitals. She was incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from heat-exposure and died at eight o'clock that evening. X-rays later revealed a severe cerebral hemorrhage as the cause of death.[3]

Nico was buried in her mother's plot in Grunewald Forest Cemetery in Berlin, Germany. A few friends played a tape of "Mütterlein", a song from Desertshore, at her funeral.


Nico has influenced many musicians, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Morrissey, Björk, Coil, Jocelyn Pook, Fabienne Shine (who covered "All Tomorrow's Parties"), Dead Can Dance, Marcus Reeves as well as numerous contemporary goth bands.

Kevin Ayers painted a withering and beautiful portrait of Nico in "Decadence" (the centerpiece of his Bananamour album in 1973)

Late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith cited her as a major inspiration and was said to have listened to The Marble Index for months. Smith performed covers of some of her songs most notably "Chelsea Girls" and "These Days", both of which he performed live at Satyricon in Portland, Oregon in October 1999.

Two of her songs from Chelsea Girl, "The Fairest of the Seasons" and "These Days", both written by Jackson Browne, are featured in Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenenbaums.

Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon named his daughter 'Nico Blue' partly after Nico. Blind Melon's album Nico was released after Hoon's death.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a movie written by John Cameron Mitchell, mentions Nico as an influential artist in its song, "Midnight Radio". The song is written by Stephen Trask.

Icelandic singer Björk opened concerts on her 1995-1997 Post tour with "Le Petit Chevalier" from Desertshore.

The Cult recorded the song "Nico", which celebrates the life of the singer, on their 2001 album Beyond Good And Evil.

For her 2002 album, Kissin' Time, Marianne Faithfull recorded "Song for Nico", cowritten with Dave Stewart.

Los Angeles band The Warlocks recorded a different song, also entitled "Song for Nico" on their 2003 album, "Rise and Fall".

Nico was portrayed by Christina Fulton in the 1991 biopic The Doors. She was later portrayed by Meredith Ostrom in the 2006 film, Factory Girl, which chronicles the life of fellow "Warhol Superstar", Edie Sedgwick.

Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) has quoted Nico as an influence in particular Desertshore (The opening song on her first album, Fur and Gold, uses the name of the album in its lyrics). During 2007 she would start concerts with "Le Petit Chevalier" from that record.[17]

Singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf has been influenced by Nico, and released cover versions of "Afraid" and "Ari's Song" as b-sides on EPs.

Rock band Anberlin named one of their songs after her: "Dance, Dance Christa Päffgen" on their album "Never Take Friendship Personal". The song also makes reference to her death, and her drug use.

Austin based band Shearwater dedicated their album Palo Santo to the memory of Nico. The opening song ("La Dame Et La Licorne") depicts Nico's death at Ibiza, Spain.

Windsor for the Derby, another Austin-based band, released an instrumental track in 2000 on their Young God Release "Difference and Repetition." A live version of the song can be found on a limited edition 7-inch.

Low, an American indie rock group from Duluth, Minnesota, has a song titled "Those Girls (Song For Nico)". It is included on the box set A Lifetime of Temporary Relief: 10 Years of B-Sides and Rarities, released in 2004.[18][19]

Two Nico tribute concerts took place in Europe in the autumn of 2008 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Nico's birth and the 20th anniversary of her death. On 11 October 2008, John Cale, James Dean Bradfield (of the Manic Street Preachers), Fyfe Dangerfield of the Guillemots and others appeared on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London. On 17 October 2008 at the Volksbuehne in Berlin, Nico's ex-boyfriend Lutz Ulbrich presented another tribute concert, which featured Marianne Rosenberg, Soap & Skin, Marianne Enzensberger and James Young, the keyboardist from The Faction, Nico's last band. Nico's son, Ari Boulogne (sometimes called Ari Päffgen), made a brief appearance on stage at the close.

The poetry collection Father Silicon (The Poet's Press, 2006) by American poet Joel Allegretti contains "Poem for Nico," which first appeared in the magazine Art/Life Limited Editions.


Studio albums

Year Title
1967 The Velvet Underground & Nico
1967 Chelsea Girl
1969 The Marble Index
1970 Desertshore
1974 The End...
1981 Drama of Exile (released in two versions)
1985 Camera Obscura

Live albums

Year Title
1974 June 1, 1974
1983 Do or Die: Nico in Europe
1985 Nico Live in Pécs
1986 Behind the Iron Curtain
1987 Nico in Tokyo
1988 Fata Morgana (Nico's Last Concert)
1989 Hanging Gardens
1994 Heroine
1997 Chelsea Girl / Live
2003 Femme Fatale: The Aura Anthology (Drama of Exile expanded, plus live disc)
2004 Nico: All Tomorrow's Parties (Tracks 5 to 11 recorded live in Tokyo 11.4.1986)
2007 All Tomorrow's Parties (live double album)

Compilation albums

Year Title
1986 Live Heroes
1998 Nico: The Classic Years
2002 Innocent & Vain  An Introduction to Nico
2003 Femme Fatale  The Aura Anthology (Re-issue of Drama of Exile with bonus tracks plus Live at Chelsea Town Hall 9.8.85)
2007 The Frozen Borderline - 1968-1970 (Re-issue of The Marble Index and Desertshore with bonus tracks)


Year Title
1965 "I'm Not Sayin'" / "The Last Mile"
1981 "Vegas" / "Saeta" Flicknife Records FLS 206
1982 "Procession" / "All Tomorrow's Parties" (Recorded with The Invisible Girls & Martin Hannett)


  • Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon by Richard Witts, (Virgin Books: London, 1992).
  • Up-tight: the Velvet Underground Story by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga (Omnibus Press: London, 1995 reprint).
  • Songs They Never Play On the Radio by James Young, (Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd: London, 1992).
  • Nico: Photographies by Antoine Giacomoni, (Dragoon: Paris, 2002).
  • Nico: Cible mouvante. Chansons, Poèmes, Journal by Nico, Jacques Pauvert and Ari Boulogne, (Pauvert: Paris, 2001).
  • L'amour n'oublie jamais by Ari Boulogne, (Pauvert: Paris, 2001).
  • Nico: The End by James Young, 1993.
  • Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gilliamn Mccain, (Grove Press: New York, 1996).
  • LÜÜL: Ein Musikerleben zwischen Agitation Free, Ashra, Nico, der Neuen Deutschen Welle und den 17 Hippies by Lutz Ulbrich (Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf: Berlin, 2007).

Films and plays

  • Nico Icon (1995), documentary directed by Susanne Ofteringer
  • Nico Icon Play by Stella Grundy premièred at Studio Salford on 5 September 2007
  • Nico. Sphinx aus Eis by Werner Fritsch (2005)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography, 5th, p. 696697, Edinburgh: Mojo Books.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Heroine, (August 29, 1994), ', notes from: CD booklet. Anagram Records, United Kingdom: CDMGRAM85.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Prümper, Dr. Jochen. Nico: A Short Biography. Retrieved on 8 August 2011..
  4. Prague Post: Life among the ruins; Poignant moments of love and loneliness in postwar Europe
  5. Johnson, D. B. Night Lights 16 December 2007
  8. Harvard, J., The Velvet Underground and Nico. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004 ISBN 0-8264-1550-4, 9780826415509, 152 pages
  9. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996) p. 9
  10. John Cale, What's Welsh for Zen.
  11. Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone.
  12. Gross, Joe. Nico: Biography. Rolling Stone via Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 22 June 2008. Retrieved on 11 June 2010.
  13. Nico quoted in Dave Thompson's liner notes for the 2002 Deluxe re-issue of The Velvet Underground & Nico, which includes all five Velvet collaborations for Chelsea Girl.
  14. Orange Appeal 25 years of ambient pioneers Tangerine Dream
  15. How the dramatic Nico became a music iconoclast Times Online, 26 September 2008 (retrieved 5 July 2009)
  16. IMDB Biography: Nico (I) (retrieved 5 July 2009).
  17. Bats for Lashes Live at Maxwells NJ. Punkcast (2007-07-24). Retrieved on 12 December 2007.
  18. Low Song Backgrounds Chairkickers Google Group. unknown (2 July 2008). Retrieved on 3 February 2008.
  19. Low Discography Lifetime boxset. unknown (3 February 2009). Retrieved on 3 February 2009.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Nico (Christa Päffgen) Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Nico

  • Nico Fan Group A public social networking group for Nico fans
  • Habits of Waste, Pt. 1 Evaluation of Nico's early work
  • Habits of Waste, Pt. 2 Evaluation of Nico's later work
  • Nico, the Voice of Disaffected Youth Audio story from National Public Radio
  • Nico (BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour audio item)
  • Nico at
  • Nico at MusicBrainz
  • Nico at the Internet Movie Database
  • Nico. Find a Grave.
  • Femme Fatale: Story of Nico BBC Radio 4 14 September 2009

This page was last modified 23.10.2011 14:51:44

This article uses material from the article Nico from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.