Friday, January 09, 2015

[book] James Young "Nico: Songs They Never Play On The Radio"

This is a memoir of the author's time he playing keyboards in Nico's last touring band, a period in which he also did arrangements for Camera Obscura, her last album. I read it first years ago but recently bought another copy to give as a present to a friend, giving it a quick re-read before doing so. It is a fascinating tale of life at the bottom of the musical ladder, a world away from the tales of fame and fortune you usually get in musicians' memoirs. Nico and the dodgy types hovering around her (including the author, her manager, and most of the people playing in her band) make for fascinating characters. The book is also surprising in its willingness to dish the dirt on living people, with John Cale in particular coming across as a particularly unsavoury individual. Nico herself remains an enigmatic and unknowable figure, her heroin-addiction contributing to a near-total self-absorption.

The book made me listen again to her wonderful records, particularly The End, Desertshore and The Marble Index (Chelsea Girl has its moments but its sunny production marks it out as False Nico). The best tunes marry her infinitely sad voice to a dirge-like harmonium accompaniment, creating sounds of terrible sadness which somehow never sound like indulgent mopiness. Reading the book made me think about her aesthetic and her creativity. So much of her work seems to have been thrown together to put out some product so that she can get some money together to score some smack, yet from that such great music has been made.

I would like to hear again the record that James Young plays on. I had a copy years ago and did not like it so much. I remember finding it a bit 80s, with synthesisers and the like burying the harmonium on too many of the tracks. But reading the book again makes me want to give it another go.

Anyway, I encourage anyone who likes music or fun stuff to have a look for this book. It was going for cheap in Fopp last time I looked. Even if you have no interest in Nico's music I think you would enjoy this vision of the less glamorous side of the music business.

Image sources:

book cover (Goodreads)

Nico at her last concert (from Nico IcoN, 1988 concerts)

Nico performing 'Valley of the Kings' in 1986:

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