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This biography, variously titled Nico: The End, Nico: The Last Bohemian or Nico: Songs They Never Play on the Radio, is a masterpiece of style and content, one of the very best rock biographies in existence. It explores the life of Nico after the Velvet Underground, covering her life in London and tours of Europe, the USA and Japan in the 1980s.

I found myself devouring the text in utter fascination. It includes descriptions of bizarre performances, wild parties, weird tour experiences, eccentric characters like her one-time manager Dr Demetrius, encounters with luminaries like John Cale, a visit to the motel where Tom Waits used to stay and much much more.

The Preface covers Nico's family background, her career as model, the first move to New York, her role in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, involvement with The Rolling Stones and later Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd. Post Velvet Underground she went solo and made some great albums with the help of John Cale, eventually settling in Manchester in the UK.

The author met her in 1981 and thus this biography deals with the last seven years of her life. The first tour was that of Italy, the next of the USA that included shows in Detroit, Denver, and Chicago. In LA the band stayed at The Tropicana where Tom Waits made his residence at the time. One of the funniest parts is the narrative of Nico's first experience with angel dust in Los Angeles. The tour concluded in New York.

Then came the performances with Gregory Corso in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. A highlight of the narrative is Nico's show at the Free University in Berlin, where she made the mistake of singing Deutschland über Alles, causing a riot. Fortunately, her harmonium shielded her against the hailstorm of beer bottles.

Back in Manchester, there was an interesting encounter with the punk poet John Cooper Clarke and John Cale in a bad patch of his life. At a studio in Shoreditch he produced her album Camera Obscura which was launched with a powerful performance at Chelsea Town Hall. Allen Ginsberg appears in the chapter Suspicious Minds whilst other beats like Carolyn Cassady also make an appearance.

Eric Random joined the band just before the European tour that encompassed Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland (where Nico managed to score opium behing the then Iron Curtain) and Spain. Australia and New Zealand came next and then Japan. The book concludes with an account of her death and funeral in 1988.

Underneath the humor there is a lot of sadness too but it is a strangely inspiring read. Songs They Never Play On The Radio is a gem on many levels and transcends the genre of rock writing. Only Marianne Faithfull's Memories, Dreams and Reflections comes close. You don't have to be a fan of Velvet Underground to enjoy this classic work, as it offers much humor, wit and arresting portraits of a colorful array of personalities.
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on 3 January 2004
A great and fascinating book. Indeed, it's a classic of its type.
Mr Young is a born observer, the right man at the right place at the right time. John Cale, among other guys, emerges from this book with his reputation in tatters.
One of the two or three best books about a musician - or, better say, a "group" of musicians - as I have ever come upon.
The dark, painful side of music. Drugs and death and despair. Funny and insinuatingly convincing, unforgettable in its well-found images and its insights into human nature.
Nico herself comes out of the book well.
(Thanks to irridium for the recommendation.)
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on 25 March 2009
Allow me, if you would, a comment or several on the words of a previous reviewer.

"I brought this book in hope that it would capture the bohemian spirit but it simply did not do this"

Please disregard this comment. If there is one thing that this book does do, it is capture "bohemian spirit". And then some. It pokes a long, whittled stick into the remains of such a "spirit," and does so unflinchingly and with a gimlet eye.

"Nico seems like a two dimensional character and the Scottish slang dialogue doesn't flow like Irvine Welsh's."

Heh heh. There is no Scottish slang in this book. None of the characters are Scottish and none of the events take place in Scotland.
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on 13 December 2007
This book is nothing if not iconoclastic. James Young was keyboardist for German-born singer Nico during her performances and recordings throughout the 1980s until her premature death on the island of Ibiza on July 18, 1988. Having already been so many people - European catwalk model, French actress (e.g. starring in Fellini's La Dolche Vita), Warhol superstar and a sexy chanteuse with The Velvet Underground - Nico was now Queen of the Junkies, living off scattered solo shows and intermittently releasing albums. After a lull, she decided to launch a comeback in 1982 whilst living in Manchester; a local music entrepreneur, Dr. Demetrius, became her manager and, inevitably, also a go-between for drugs: "Nico needs to work in order to buy heroin, and heroin in order to work," he said. With a motley crew of amateur musicians including Young (who had only played at a few bar mitzvahs previously), Nico embarked on chaotic, largely unsuccessful tours of the US, Italy, Eastern Europe, Australia and Japan. All the while, Young argues, Nico's heart belonged to heroin: "Nothing outside really impinged on her terrifying single-mindedness, her obsessive neurological and emotional need for heroin". What follows are a string of stories from these tours in which Young characterises Nico as consistently lazy, having anorexic tendencies (living off custard and yoghurt, she finds solid food repulsive), a "monster" who makes selfish demands and is prone to tantrums and impatience: "What might have been the forgivable narcissism of a fashionable beauty had now become a tiresome and undignified egotism".

Enveloped by a permanent vapour of opiated hash and burnt heroin, Nico had retreated so far into drug abuse that human relationships were no longer possible. Part of her seemed to relish having sunk so low. There are moments in this book, however, when her emotional vulnerability becomes pathetically clear. Hoping that Bob Dylan would drop by after one of her live shows, she baths - for the first time in months! - and buys a new shirt for the occasion, but he doesn't appear. Young finds her sobbing in the decrepit dressing room, complaining that "no one comes to see me anymore". On another occasion, after an audience has given her an especially negative reception, she silently weeps at her derelict career: "I guess I'm through". Young, sober and pragmatic, concludes with hindsight: "Nico's songs of mortality and decay were not compatible with the dominant rhythm of the eighties".

On the way, there are weird and funny encounters with John Cale, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Young's descriptions of ex-Velvet Cale are particularly amusing, recording his transformation in less than two years from a bloated control freak brimming with paranoid conspiracy theories and tales of Artificial Intelligence to some kind of well-toned, clean-living, anti-smoking Zen Buddist. Some of the stories are less appealing: Young recalls Nico's only son, Ari, trying to sell his dead mother's methadone at her funeral and pocketing the proceeds of a memorial concert held in her name. There is also the suggestion that Nico was raped as a fifteen year-old by an American soldier who was court-martialled and shot for the offence.

James Young is a generous and self-effacing writer, unfettered by bitterness or score-settling; for him, being with Nico on tour was an escape from the dusty, book-strewn world of academia rather than an avowed attempt to jump-start his own career. He is not too proud to appear naive (when Nico covertly asks him for something sharp - i.e. a hypodermic needle - he hands her his Swiss army knife!) nor to admit to prostitutes and porno mags on the tour. Probably not to everyone's taste are his relentless descriptions of bad bodily odours and flesh bloating, flaking, sweating and riven with abscesses and heroin tracks. Nor his penchant for rendering accent textually for the whole book as a way of lightly mocking all concerned, especially Nico ("I was in the Sa-haaara, making a film...that's lo-onely") and Le Kid ("My muzzerre should play ze Carnegie 'All").

Nico's last concert was not, alas, to be in the Carnegie Hall, but in Berlin at the Planetarium a month before she died (Berlin was, in fact, the city in which she would be buried). "Nico wailed out of tune", but the German audience was reasonably positive. The last song Nico played live was one requested by Young and was his favourite of all her songs -

You do not seem to be listening
You do not seem to be listening
The high tide is taking everything
And you forget to answer.
(Nico, 'You Forgot to Answer')
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on 20 February 2013
Nostalgia made me buy this. I met Nico on one of her tours in the summer of 1985 and I wondered if the gigs were mentioned. Sitting 'backstage' with her and 'Le Kid' I was doubtless also in the company of the author at some point. I wish I had known then what I know now, I'd have liked to shake his hand.

This is a cracking read. Most music biographies tend toward sycophancy and I find that hard to digest. This, however, is a warts and all journey through the realities of being a jobbing musician working with a fading star whose only real concern, like any junkie, is where the next fix is. That makes the book sound depressing, but it's not. It's well written and full of hilarious anecdotes with some cracking one liners (John Cooper Clarke 'watching' the TV had me howling with laughter). OK the humour is not going to be shared by all as it's certainly black, but if you fancy a good read with a healthy dose of reality you'd be hard pushed to find better.

Iconoclastic indeed. If only all music books were this honest.
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on 28 January 2016
By turns sad, hilarious and pathetic, this account of a band of drop-outs accompanying Nico on various European and US tours is a superb 'warts and all' expose of the seedy underside of the rock n roll business. Nobody comes out of it particularly well, the cast of characters include the ducking and diving, poetry-reading manager with beatnik pretensions, the hapless musician (the author) and the many drug addicts... plus the various promoters, street people, hookers and audience members that they bump into along the way. Star of the show is of course Nico, by turns whiny, needy, occasionally inspired and darkly comic.
John Cale, Gregory Corso and Allan Ginsberg get second billing.... Cale especially (in his first incarnation) comes over very badly. By the time we meet him again, towards the end of the book, he's cleaned up his act somewhat - but remains as objectionable as ever. Very funny stories.
I have my own Nico story. I interviewed her in 1985 when she appeared in Brighton for two nights at the Zap Club. I waited for her in the hotel lobby along with a fan. She came down the stairs to fetch me... and this 'fan' took the opportunity to ask if he could have his photo taken with her. She declined.
As we climbed the stairs to her room she turned to me and said in heavily elongated Germanic tones "he only wants to say he f*******d me'.
I was fairly young and innocent at the time and couldn't think of anything to say.
The interview was ok but a bit stilted. I kept it for many years but someone stole it from me. It was on reel-to-reel. I still remember the end of the interview when I asked her what advice she would give to young people in the 80s. Quick as a flash she replied "don't take the Velvet Underground so seriously".
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on 29 October 2012
In the better Biography written about Nico's life (Nico: Life and Lies of and Icon) the author mentions that Nico wished for her biography to be part lies and part truth and whilst that biography doesn't follow her wish and tries to dissect the fact from the fiction, this book seems to blend them. It isn't fantastically written, but it is nice enough however and I think there are certain events that have been blown up and made to sound a lot greater and volotile than they were in order to make the book more interesting. And while this does make for a more riveting story, it also makes it hard to get a proper understanding of who Nico was, and I think the other biography paints a more real picture of Nico and her entire life than this one, which depicts only her latter years. It is interesting and works well as a story as well as a biography but don't believe all of it.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2015
Not my cup of tea unfortunately. It's largely a rather squalid sad saga of what happens to people who were mildly famous for a bit, but have to make a living out of it. Lots of drug use, which although treated in a mildly jocular way ( though also quite convincingly and realistically ) is rather depressing and nothing to admire. I don't think the author intends you to, but it ends up being not many steps away from misery lit.

I found the 'characters' - Raincoat, Demetrius et al a little annoying and ultimately I suppose I just wasn't interested in them.

Ultimately I'm interested in the same dumb things that annoyed Nico - the VU, her albums - stuff she had long since grown tired of talking about. I'm therefore reading the wrong book. This book isn't intended to deliver that.
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on 27 May 2002
Probably like many people who read this book, I came across it through an interest in the Velvet Underground. However I was so impressed with the quality of the writing, with its mixture of gallows humour and pathos that I would recommend this book to anyone whether or not they have an interest in Nico or not.
James Young is a talented and yet self effacing writer and musician who spent several years working with Nico whilst she manoevred around the cul de sac of heroin addiction and a stagnant career. These years are documented here with an acerbic wit and compassion not often seen in rock biography.
Definitely recommended.
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on 26 January 2006
Young happens to be the only "normal" person in the motley crew which he describes. A hilariously funny book, compounded with the unfortunate end that Nico reached - having survived years of heroin addiction, she fell off her bike while on holiday in Ibiza - there is a continuous thread of incongruousness that makes this a gripping read. Somehow nothing quite fitted together, but its a good story.
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