Friday, September 12, 2008

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Finished reading Songs they never play on the radio by James Young
(hey, I can finish a book in eight hours flat! if it's not too demanding a tome...)

It's the story of the last seven years in the life of Nico/ Christa Päffgen , and her backing band.

By 1981, the former chanteuse of The Velvet Underground (apparently nothing tired her more than talking about those days...) has replaced the glamour of Paris, London and New York with the post-industrial (and post-punk) dreariness of merry ol' Manchester. This is mainly due to the fact that the town has a steady and affordable supply of top-grade Iranian heroin, courtesy of the resent upheaval and instability in that country.

The book begins with the creation of Nico's backing band, later known as "The Faction", which accompanied her on a seemingly endless tour around the world from 1982 to 1988, only ending when she dies after falling off a bicycle on the Island of Ibiza.

It's a fun read. The off-beat characters making up the band plus their manager "Dr." Demetrius spend most of their time guzzling down drugs and acting like idiots - But articulate and funny idiots. Nico, on the other hand has very little sense of humour and is by this account a gloomy black clad character who's all encompassing interest is shooting up junk while avoiding annoying trivialities like working, eating, socializing or taking a bath.

But, as Young admits along the way: She's the one with the talent. Perhaps mostly the talent of having a unique and charismatic personality and presence.

We then follow the merry pranksters around Europe, America and Japan in a variety of beat up vans and buses and through hotel rooms they usually can't pay for (they refrain from thrashing them though, this is the art-rock crowd...) In my opinion, the author spends a bit to too much time making fun of Nico's German accent and Germany...and Germans, Italians, Italian accents, The French, french accents, Londoners, cockney accents, Americans, American accents, etc, etc, etc.

You somehow get the feeling that he and the other band members might have difficulties dealing with the big outside world. As if their view of the world can be narrowed down to: All non-Mancunians are crazy, mainly because they talk funny...
The list of put-downs and wittiness relating to Nico's German heritage and Nazism also grows as you read on (she herself hates Germany) and half way through the book you begin to get a bit tired with the whole "what a crazy ride" thing... (especially with all them crazy fohrin'ers with their fonie achcents...) ..bla...bla...French customs officials are bastards....bla...bla...anal inspection....ha...ha...fingers up the bunghole...Amsterdam is a sewer....bla...bla....Nico throws a tantrum...(she's a woman, crazy...y'know...)...bla...bla...Australians talk funny...Czechs talk funny, Poles, Swedes, Norwegians, Japanese, they all talk funny...

The stereotypes are in perfect tune and you end up wondering why they didn't all just stay home in lovely rainy Manchester where people make sense.

The last highlight is the appearance of John Cale who is flown in to produce "Camera Obscura" a studio album with Nico and "the Faction", as the band ends up being called on the cover (something Nico also strongly resents- It's her music, she argues)
Cale is described as an an overweight maniac moving on booze and coke but somehow in command of an improvisational looseness which might be a way to save the album (her weakest, in my opinion) and perhaps (finally) make some real money for the band. He reappears later when they tour Japan, transformed into a slim non-smoking health freak deeply into shopping designer clothes and insisting that he is the performer topping the bill at venues, not Nico and her band!

Nico goes on to play her final gig - Ironically in Berlin which she saw as a child, burning in the distance from the allied bombings "...the wind brought with it the smell of burning buildings..." she reminisces. Then she goes to Ibiza (she had bought a house there in the early sixties with her modeling career money) She enters a methadone programme, hangs out with her son Ari (also a junkie...) before dying in a banal accident at forty nine.

I'd say Songs they never play on the radio is worth reading. Most of the time you'll get a chuckle from the absurd antics of the people portrayed and an insight into some of the bleaker sides to life as an artist/ musician. The main problem of the book is that you don't really get to learn that much about the most interesting person in it - Nico... a few myths are updated.
But maybe that's all there was outside of the music, the films and the photographs.

And the author? the back flap informs us that he (1999) is dividing his time between England and Russia writing on Russian life and outsider artists.

I bet they have funny accents over there too.

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Retro babe"...I don't know, Miss - We're looking for something really ROCK N' ROLL!.."
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Panzer Pzkpfw IV, Ausf C
Probably photographed before WWII.
^^^^^^

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