“As I see it, the ‘80s are no different from the ‘60s.”
The words come slowly, huskily, laced with a Teutonic accent that carries echoes of Dietrich. All just as you would expect, for this is Nico talking. The phone wires from London lay a soft hiss over a voice that’s as distinctive as her classic face.
Now 46, Nico knows about the ‘60s. That’s when the German chanteuse and actress--she of the world’s most beautifully massive cheekbones--initially emerged as a symbol of delicious decadence: first with a bit part in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” later as a co-star with the Velvet Underground on that seminal underground rock band’s first album.
Her work since has been largely limited to obscure solo albums and even more obscure European films. Now she is making a bid to emerge from cult status with her first album in 11 years--produced by old friend and former Velvet member John Cale. Will Nico’s ice-cold minimalism fit into the post-punk ‘80s? She thinks so, of course.
And why are the ‘80s no different from the ‘60s? With that deliberate and world-weary tone, Nico answers, “They seem an extension of the ‘60s, don’t you think?”
Perhaps, but how so?
“Umm . . . things repeat themselves.”
A long pause now. A short laugh. Then the answer comes in a burst.
Ah, yes, drugs. Nico’s relationship with drugs has been well documented. But surely she must get tired of discussing that sordid side of her history. “Oh yes, I really don’t like to talk about it. But people always bring it up. And I do think that’s what makes the ‘80s very much like the ‘60s. People get so bored without drugs.”
Well, some people, perhaps. One wonders whether the drugs, the decadence and all the other accouterments are so ingrained in Nico’s public persona that she is trapped in that image, left to promoting it ad infinitum. She certainly doesn’t mind still being considered pop culture’s ultimate femme fatale , though she is tired of the continuing requests for the Velvet Underground song actually called “Femme Fatale.”
“They always like me to sing it,” she moans, “and they all think it was written for me (by Lou Reed). But it wasn’t, it was written about Edie Sedgwick. I don’t want to be singing it the rest of my life.”
Nico would much rather sing something from her new album, “Camera Obscura,” just released in America on the PVC label. It finds her in accustomed dirge-like form. Sample titles: “Fearfully in Danger,” “My Heart Is Empty.” Perhaps the most striking cut is a version of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” done very un-funny. No lilting pop songs from Nico.
“I couldn’t possibly do anything like that. I’m not good at making compromises. I guess I’m rather self-destructive, and I like to give other people who are self-destructive a song to sing.”
Born Christa Pavlovski in Cologne, a year before the outbreak of World War II, she grew up after the war in the ruined American sector of Berlin. At 14, her striking looks brought work as a model. While posing on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, she was renamed Nico by a photographer friend. Soon after, she was noticed on the Rome set of “La Dolce Vita” and was offered a part. From there she zoomed into a jet-set life.
Three and a half years ago, though, Nico moved to Manchester, England. It’s tempting to think that she did so because the industrial city is the homely home of Joy Division--rock music’s retired champions of gloom--and other Velvet Underground-influenced bands.
But Nico says no, she just needed to get away from the fast-lane metropolises. And she loved the countryside east of Manchester. “I really like the Pennines (a hilly range) and the Yorkshire moors. Such a beautiful landscape--very bleak, like the desert.”
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for these shows at the Universal Amphitheatre: Howard Jones, Oct. 29 and 30; Supertramp, Nov. 20 and 21; Spyro Gyra, Nov. 8, and Rocio Durcal, Nov. 10. Supertramp will also be at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Nov. 23. . . . UB40 will be at the Greek Theatre on Oct. 21 and two acts have added dates to their engagements there--Barry Manilow, Oct. 6, and Oingo Boingo, Oct. 20. . . . Jason and the Scorchers will be at the Palace on Oct. 3.