WEIRDLAND: "Nico 1998", Idyll with Jim Morrison

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Nico 1998", Idyll with Jim Morrison

Nico 1988 sticks close to the scattered psychodrama of Nico’s last two years but takes a casual and even jaunty attitude toward its heroine’s proudly functional middle-aged depravity. Nico was born Christa Päffgen, and in the film just about everyone calls her Christa, making you realize that Nico is a character she’s still playing but no longer believes in. Christa shoots heroin into her bruised ankle as if she were having a snack. She gives interviews in which she repeats how bored she is of being asked about her days as the chanteuse of the Velvet Underground—a legitimate gripe, perhaps, except that she seems cut off from any awareness that if she hadn’t been a member of the Velvet Underground, she’d have no legend to fall from. “Nico, 1988” is too thinly focused to be a major underground-music-star drama, but its Italian writer-director, Susanna Nicchiarelli, knows just what she’s doing. There’s a refreshing lack of judgment and she takes us close to Nico’s tattered charisma, and to the haphazard rituals of her life, all to figure out what made her tick. Christa is running from her myth, yet she polishes it every time she drops a pensée like “I’ve been at the top, I’ve been at the bottom: Both places are empty.”

In her late 40s, Christa seems to revel in her ravaged looks, which comes off as a feminist statement. She won’t be defined as a mask of beauty—she loves food and drugs too much. Dyrholm’s performance is a powerhouse of authenticity. Her moroseness is mesmerizing, but she also gives Nico a tense intelligence, and her singing is uncanny. She gets the way that Nico would stretch out notes with robotic flatness only to humanize them with a flicker of her German accent. Her lugubrious chant-singing was drained of emotion, except for the moments when it was saturated with it. The movie ends with the trip that she and son Ari made to Ibiza in July 1988. She seems healthy and happy, but as the end title informs us, on that trip she crashed her bike and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. It’s a sad ending indeed, since “Nico, 1998” more or less convinces you that Christa Päffgen, despite the legend she created, had at that point rejected the decadence and was closer to life than death. Source:

In May 1966, Jim Morrison had seen the Velvet Underground at their first California show at the Trip in Los Angeles. Jim Morrison and The VU's singer Nico began a passionate affair around the summer of 1967. The Doors were riding high, selling more records per week than The Velvet Underground would manage in their entire career. Danny Fields thought Nico and Jim Morrison ‘would make a cute couple.’ Eye magazine took Fields's suggestion for setting up a photoshoot with Nico and Morrison for a series on beautiful couples, but Morrison refused to do it, wary of his volatile girlfriend Pamela. Lou Reed had composed for Nico her trademark songs and allegedly wrote Berlin as a sort of farewell letter. Nico had described Lou as 'soft and lovely, not aggressive at all.' Jim Morrison seemed to have become her obsession, though. Morrison was 'affectionate to my looks and my mind... and the best sex inside me ever,' Nico confessed. Ray Manzarek saw the statuesque Nico as "the Valkyrian angel of death who would push Jim Morrison's buttons." Manzarek was witness to their erotic escapades at The Factory: "The pills and booze were melting together in his brain, obliterating his will to power and replacing it with a will to pleasure." Lou Reed had liked Jim Morrison enough to note, in an interview with Jim Martin for Open City magazine #78: "he's going through all this whole number for the kids, with very nice, religious rock & roll," but Morrison's affair with Nico had seemingly left Reed sour.  

The scene was a crowded locker room at California State University at Long Beach, 1967. Jim had just been told that he was to go on stage in a few minutes and that Nico, the Warhol superstar, in a predatory mood, had just flown in from New York to confront his long-standing girlfriend, Pamela. Jim became visibly edgy at the news. As part of her offensive, Nico had dyed her trademark blonde hair a flaming red to match Pam's. Nico and Morrison's idyll lasted a few weeks and suddenly it was over. Not when Jim or Nico decided, but when Pam decided to put an end. Once Pam had found out Jim was with Nico, she began dating Jean de Breteuil — who apparently had access to high-quality heroin which Pam also began to use. She knew what Jim’s reaction would be when he found out and began thinking about it, in those frozen hours he was always most terrified of right before dawn, during the coldest, darkest moments of the night-day. 

At first, Jim pretended not to care. Then early one morning, while Nico was still passed out, Jim got in his car and drove back to L.A. and Pamela – as he always did eventually, as he always would. Not even leaving a note behind. Morrison told his former UCLA colleague Dennis C. Jakob that Nico wasn't really his type and he had found her pretentious. In 1969 Jim Morrison had grown to hate his self-conscious image – it was only studied perversity, after all. ‘The Jim Morrison thing started out as an act, but so many people believed it, that he became that,’ opined Danny Fields: ‘They returned to him what they saw, and he started acting out their fantasy. It was all a pose, and he became his own invention. He had a kind of dangerous sexuality that women went berserk over – and he used that to cover himself up.’ But Morrison knew he was only a puppet of the crowd; the audiences weren’t interested in his literary allegories, they wanted him to make a spectacle of himself. Nico just once offered an example of the peyote visions she endured with Jim Morrison: "The light of the dawn was a very deep green and I believed I was upside down and the sky was the desert which had become a garden and then the ocean. I do not swim and I was frightened when it was water and more resolved when it was land. I felt embraced by the sky-garden." —"Nico: Life and Lies of an Icon" (2017) by Richard Witts

Lester Bangs acknowledged The Doors' significance, but never without criticizing their flaws. His writings on Jim Morrison give some great insight into the praise the Doors receive, and probably explain the Kurt Cobain cult as well. Bangs found something worth admiring in the way Morrison was willing to turn away from commercial success and how he would take the serious issues of his generation and turn it all into a joke. Bangs wrote: "You can deny it all you want, but almost none of the groups that have been offered to the public in the past few years begin to compare with the best from the Sixties. And this is not just Sixties nostalgia--it's a simple matter of listening to them side by side and noting the relative lack of passion, expansiveness, and commitment in even the best of today's groups... today's bands are so eager to get bought up and groomed and sold it often seems as if they barely stand for anything... I always kind of wanted all Morrison's songs could have had the understated power of 'People Are Strange' and it was only after being disappointed that I could learn to take the true poetry and terror whenever it could be found and develop an ever increasing appreciation for the most of the rest of Morrison's work. 

I never took Morrison seriously as the Lizard King, but I'm as much a Doors fan today as I was in 1967. One thing that can never be denied is that at his best (as well as perhaps his worst at any rate) Morrison had style, and he was at his best as a poet of dread, desire, and psychic dislocation. He was also at his best as a bozo clown. So it's no wonder our responses remain a little confused about him." Lester Bangs' longtime musical hero was Lou Reed, though. He was not a great fan of David Bowie, whom Bangs saw as overrated, "a vampire, pure Lugosi, lurking behind a wide-eyed Reed in a Quaalude haze" and even accused Bowie of ripping off some of Reed's guitar riffs.  –"Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" (2013) by Lester Bangs

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