It turns out that cult filmmaker extraordinaire John Waters and I have something in common: we both revere the late, great German chanteuse Nico. I bought his riotous 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste in the late 1980s when I was still a university student and it had a profound impact on me. In it he briefly and tantalisingly recalls meeting...
“... Nico, my favourite singer, who was so out of it when I met her that she asked, “Have I ever been here before?” (I had to tell her I really had no idea).”
I wanted to know more about this historic meeting between cinemas’s Sleaze King and the heroin-ravaged Marlene Dietrich of punk. I interviewed Waters (a life-long hero of mine) for Nude magazine in December 2010 when he was in London promoting his excellent new book Role Models, so I was finally able to get him to elaborate on his encounter with Nico. It was the end of the interview and this was only for my own personal interest and never intended for the final article (which you can read here).
So here it is: when John Waters Met Nico...
Graham Russell: Before you go, tell me about the time you met Nico.
John Waters: Nico ... I met her when she played in Baltimore. Well, (before that) I saw her play with The Velvet Underground at The Dom on St Marks Place (in New York) with The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. I have the poster still. But I met her much later when she had her solo career, which I loved. She was a total heroin addict. Did you ever read that book The End? (The 1992 book is a jaundiced and not exactly objective account by her former keyboardist James Young). It’s so hilarious. It was that – although it wasn’t that, that was later when she was touring England. She played at this disco, and I went. And people went, but not a lot, it wasn’t full. And she was heavy and dressed all in black with reddish dark hair, and she did her (makes guttural moaning noise). Afterwards I said, “It’s nice to meet you, I wish you’d play at my funeral”, and she said (mimics doom-laden Germanic voice), “When are you going to die?” I told her, “You should have played at The Peoples Temple; you would’ve been great when everyone was killing themselves!” Then she said, “Where can I get some heroin?” I said, “I don’t know.” I don’t take heroin, so I don’t know. But even if I did, I wasn’t copping for Nico!
“But that was basically it. But I’ll always remember her, and I love Nico. I remember when she died, when she fell off the bicycle (in 1988). Every summer my friend Dennis and I, we play Nico music on the day she died (18 July). I saw that documentary Nico-Icon (Susanne Ofteringer, 1995), which was great. It’s a shame: she was mad about being pretty! She was sick of being pretty, being a model. And I remember her when she was in La Dolce Vita (1960), even before. Nico ... great singer; and even the Velvet Underground hated having her. And her music can really get on your nerves. You have to be in the mood. Sometimes it gets on my nerves. You have to be in the mood to listen to it. To put on a whole day of Nico can be ... my favourite song of Nico ever, and I only have it on a tape that someone made, it’s a bootleg. Did you ever hear her sing “New York, New York”? It’s great! I wish she’d done a whole album of show tunes! Like “Hello Dolly” or “The Sound of Music”! (Mimics Nico singing “Hello Dolly”).
/ Nico in the 1980s at New York's Chelsea Hotel singing a punk-y and dramatic version of her classic song "Chelsea Girls" /
/ Nico with Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) /
/ Rare shot of Nico and Fellini during the filming of La Dolce Vita /
/ John Waters: The Maestro /
/ Hog Princess: The Filthiest Woman in the World -- Divine. RIP /
/ John Waters and I at his book launch party in London in December 2010 /
The Nude website is now defunct, sadly, but you can still read my full interview with John Waters here