"A local newspaper recently ran a poll (and published a follow-up article) on the albums that readers found had "changed their lives." It didn't even occur to me to submit an entry. I have many albums that changed my life in some sense, just as there have been a number of books and movies that I could also describe in such terms. But for the most part, I find that if they really did change me, it probably has to do more with the cumulative effect of exposing myself to a variety of musical (or literary, or cinematic) works over the course of my life.
In other words, to put it bluntly, my first reaction was that the entire poll was pretty stupid. But then, well after the results had been tallied and the article had appeared, it occurred to me that there really was at least ONE album that had a direct bearing on my life choices, and in effect, literally changed the course of my life.
I was a Freshman in college and already a serious Nico fan when DESERTSHORE was released. I had been kind of shopping around for a major--although it appeared that I would probably end up yielding to pretty much the prediction that everyone I knew seemed to hold regarding my academic career. They all had me pegged as a typical English lit major. Out of sheer contrariness, I felt I had to find something else to specialize in.
Then I heard Nico singing in German--two tracks from DESERTSHORE that apparently came from the soundtrack of a French avant-garde film (by Philippe Garrel) called LA CICATRICE INTERIEURE (the inner scar). Of course, I had heard pop songs and folk songs sung in German before, and there was always something I liked about the sound and the feel of the language, but hearing Nico sing "Abschied" and "Muetterlein" for the first time was just one of those moments. I decided then and there that I MUST learn the German language. Even though, I had already completed my language requirements with French, I signed up for a German course as soon as I possibly could, was completely taken by its sound and structure, went to Germany to study and ultimately got a Masters degree in German language and literature.
Seemed like a pretty good deal at the time...I mean, I got to read books...and learned another language in the process. What could be better? (The fact that I feel like I've been spending the greater part of my adult life trying to play catch-up on English language literature nothwithstanding).
I can't really explain the pull that the entire album (and those two songs in particular) had over me. Nico's English language compositions and vocals had always held a certain allure. They were still fundamentally "foreign" even when sung in my mother tongue. Those mournful vocals with their stretched out vowels, the jagged and sometimes bizarre imagery. No native English speaker would sing like that--or WRITE like that. Cynics--and there were many--might point out that some of the images were almost comically off (e.g. "janitor of lunacy") and there were a number out-and-out mispronuniciations rather than intentional distortions "fal-con-eer" for "falconer." Such things were part of the package--you either bought 'em or you didn't. The self-appointed "dean" of rock critics (you know the guy) once wrote that while he had first thought Nico had charisma, her own compositions convinced him that she was "a fool."
I could go on and on about, say, the cultural difference between a German "Hausmeister" and the faintly comic American figure of the "janitor." But that would be pointless. You either love "Janitor of Lunacy" for what it is and is not, or it means nothing to you. You either allow for the "falconeer" pronunciation and then immerse yourself in the song--or you find it ridiculous and pass it by.
The inclusion of the sweet French children's song "Le Petit Chevalier" sung by her son, Ari, and the two German language tracks should have at least humbled the wiseacre American naysayers a little bit. John Cale has long argued that Nico (and to a large degree, Cale himself) came from a completely different tradition, a European high art tradition, that was in many ways the antithesis of American rock 'n'roll. Hooking up with Lou Reed, changed all that for both Cale and--to a lesser extent--Nico, but once they embarked on establishing Nico's trademark sound for her post-Reed solo albums, they instinctively went back to their avant-garde/medieval European roots. Lou who? Andy who?
And it worked brilliantly on its own terms. THE MARBLE INDEX and DESERTSHORE remain utterly unique in the history of, uh, rock'n'roll. It took a Germanic warrior princess to put the Goth in Gothic. Which is what made INDEX so monumental. It was imperious. Someone below pointed out that DESERTSHORE is a bit warmer than its predecessor, and there's some truth in that. Both albums contain songs dedicated to her son, but DESERTSHORE actually follows "My Only Child" with the chanson actually sung by the young Christian Aaron Paeffgen Delon. But then the mood shifts dramatically from French airiness to Teutonic austerity with "Abschied." Of course, once you know that "Muetterlein" is translated as "Dear Little Mother," you get a hint of the Schmaltz behind the Weltschmerz. But that's part of Nico's appeal. Just when you're sure that she was a ghostly apparition, it turns out that she was someone's mother--and someone's daughter. And an eternal enigma.
Capable of changing someone's life--a little anyway. "
Everyone needs to hear this
Beketaten | Pangea | 06/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Among the travesties of popular culture that sicken me most, is the effortless, almost immediate dismissal of Nico's musical brilliance. Her voice, her lyrics...anything to do with her so as to fail to admit to one's self, the true curiosity she evokes.
This album blows away any cares I could have about that, or so many other things, as her resonating emotions carry me away with her every phrasing. The sounds evoke the highest of superlatives with inexpressible passion kindled in my brain. Each song is a powerful testament to the ominous wonder that ebbs and flows throughout this life we live in, with heavenly melodies that leave me aghast, and attain ageless prescience within my inquiring soul.
Think what you like of my glowing compliments, but the mideval, and worldly-lyrics-by-way-of-the-otherworldly-sounds, will never cease to amaze me. Nor will any other voice chill me to a glorious rapture as does hers.This album is perfect."
"You are beautiful and you are alone"...
Michelle Donnelly | NJ | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That lyric's from my favorite song on this album. That one line from "Afraid" basically sums up most of Nico's life - she was stunningly beautiful, yet she hated her good looks(and later ruined them with heroin and hard living) and could never find one person she could really call her soulmate(well, there was Jim Morrison, but he had died in 71). She was beautiful and she was alone. But anyway, this is one of her best albums. I personally think this is better than the album that was considered her masterpiece, "The Marble Index"(which is great, but tends to drag a little). Besides the song I just mentioned, there's also the haunting "My Only Child"(not much instrumentation - Nico's booming Wagnerian voice and the backing vocals, which almost sound like a choir, are the things that were put in the forefront of the song), the opening track "Janitor Of Lunacy", "The Falconer", and "All That Is My Own". I would suggest to anyone who wants to start acquiring Nico's albums to definitely pick this one up.One more note - Another reviewer said that "some French kid" is singing on "La Petit Chevalier". This is actually Nico's son Ari, who was raised by Alain Delon's(Ari's father) parents in France. Just wanted to clear that up."
Disease the breathing grief... Nico's masterpiece
Debra A. Terino | Thomaston, CT USA | 06/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nico is, as far as im concerned, the most underrated and underappriciated artist of all time. Her music was decades ahead of its time, and to this day there is STILL nothing like what she has done out there. She was writing songs in a style that was and is unparalleled, she used beautifully dark imagery to tell her stories rather than just come out and say them. She began as a top model in Paris during the 50s, took acting classes (with Marylin Monroe btw) and earned a part in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita", which led to Andy Warhol's discovery of her. Andy introduced Nico to a new group he was working with called The Velvet Underground and, as they say, the rest is history. She then left the group to record a solo album, "Chelsea Girl", with compositions from Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Jackson Browne. She then went on to create her first masterpiece, "The Marble Index" which was solely composed by Nico herself (She credits Jim Morrison as the one who told her to write songs) and largely arranged by her ex-velvets member John Cale. "The Marble Index" may have been her first masterpiece but it was not her career's crowning achievement... her third solo album "Desertshore" takes that title. This album is again solely composed by Nico and produced by John Cale. It is by far one of the most compelling pieces of music I have ever experienced. These songs sound like the music you would hear if you were to take a knife and slowly make a tiny cut in the earth's flesh and peer into the depths of hell. Every single song on this album is incredibly hauntingly beautiful and dark, from the chilling harpsichord accompanying the voice of Nico's son Ari (whom she would later get addicted to heroine) in "Le Petit Chevalier" to the sheer majesty that is "Janitor of Lunicy". Nico was a tragic and mysterious figure in the world of rock and that classic line from "Afriad" pretty much sums up her entire life and legacy: "You are beautiful... and you are alone." This album is a MUST for anyone who likes gothic, dark, or poetic music. Oh and btw I first heard this album sitting alone at night in a dark dark room listening to every word, sound, and shriek of her harmonium, and I recommend that be how you first experience it. BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!!!!"
The fathomless perversities of Christa Päffgen
Curt Surly | Bellingham, WA United States | 06/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nico's music is often gloriously terrifying--especially some of her live recordings. Desertshore demonstrates the "many moods of Nico" and is expertly produced by John Cale. Cale is a man who understands how to make evocative music. From the harrowing beauty of "Abschied" to the delicate and mournful "Afraid", this is an album of great feeling. The mood of this record is quite melancholy. It is very much music to listen to alone in the dark. However, this is still a Nico album. There are moments that are legitimately creepy and fully capable of bleeding into your dreams. Just be aware, that is all. Desertshore is liturgical and very sombre in places. I keep thinking of cloisters of excommunicate nuns and priests indulging in their lusts while Nico plays her tunes to get them in the mood. There is a warmth to even her most abstract compositions that feels like a cold hand on the shoulder from someone you adore. I quite enjoy John Cale's playing on this album--especially on "Abschied". The interplay between his viola and Nico's harmonium is exquisite. Indeed, the instrumentation on this album gives it the feel of a collection of chamber pieces. I've always thought that Nico's music would provide an excellent accompaniment to silent horror films. Or, perhaps, a high Gothic opera..."