Sometime in the early 1990s, I was working on a monthly magazine in an office in Covent Garden where, due to copy flow and printing schedules, there was very little to do in one week out of four. One way of passing the time was creating mixtapes with various themes; songs you’re embarrassed to have in your collection was one.
The tape I particularly remember was entitled ‘The Horror, the Horror’, for which we each contributed the single most depressing song in our record collections. There was Tom Waits and some Goth rock so glutinous it made Bauhaus sound like a marching band, but the standout track, the one that had us all in hysterics at its sheer histrionic misery, was by German chanteuse Nico. Perhaps it featured the harmonium, which crops up regularly in the pages of this biography, but all I really remember is the deep, deep voice, the Teutonic accent and the funereal pace.
Famous as the icy beauty briefly connected with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Factory, Nico was born Christa Päffgen in Cologne in 1938. The first mystery in Nico’s life concerns the death of her father in 1942, possibly wounded in action, possibly killed by the Nazis. Her mother fled