Nico: Songs They Never Play on the Radio

ISBN: 0747544115
ISBN 13: 9780747544111
By: James Young

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About this book

The story of Nico, former model, film actress, singer with the Velvet Underground and darling of Andy Warhol's factory. In 1982 Nico was living in Manchester, alone and interested only in feeding her heroin habit. Local promoter Dr Demetrius saw an opportunity, hired musicians to back her, rented a decrepit van and set off with Nico and the band on a disastrous tour of Italy. Over the next six years, until her death in 1988, Nico toured the world with assorted thrown-together bands. They made next to no money, appalled many of their audiences and occasionally, on the rare nights when the music worked, pleased a few. James Young played keyboards for Nico throughout those years. In this book, he records the never-ending antics of a picaresque circus of addicts, outsiders and misfits who travelled the world - East and Western Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan - encountering an equally bizarre and extraordinary mixture of people: poets, artists, gangsters, losers and drifters. John Cale, John Cooper Clarke, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso are among those who appear in this story of Nico, the last Bohemian.

Reader's Thoughts

Kelly-lee Stewart

I found this a laborious read. I think it's because I have been around too many smack heads in bands. I didn't find it funny. It was just normal shit that you have to deal with. Nico was a sad woman who just lived for her habit. Her son used to join her in jacking up. Laughing yet?

Michael Brown

What did I know about the Velvet Underground? Not much. Still don't. What did I know about Nico? Probably less, but I know a bit more now. And even though this book is heavily impressionistic and I'm inclined to question the complete authenticity of some of the wittier episodes, there's no doubt it's an interesting window into the twilight of a cult and it is very, very entertaining to read and rich with colourful detail of one kind or another. In fact, it's a rare example of a book that might not have suffered by being a little bit longer. But then again isn't the worst thing a book can be ALSO the best thing it can be - Not long enough.


Don't do drugs - drink tea instead, it's much nicer

MJ Nicholls

A wild, irreverent romp through the darkest moment in Nico's history. OK, so every moment in Nico's career was "the darkest" but this is much darker. Young writes with a lacerating wit, taking no prisoners as he evokes the chancers, hangers-on, druggies and lunatics touring with Nico on her 1000-date world tour. His ear for detail, dialect, character is amazing. He evokes the sleazy degeneracy of the scene, taking us away from Nico, the dull junkie, into a wider world of nihilism and madness.His character-assassination of John Cale is one of the most surpising moments: a lifelong Japanese fan of Cale comes to his dressing room, makes a shy speech and hands him a present. Cale tears it open. Inside is a small bottle of alcohol. A freshly-clean Cale hands it back to the girl, saying: "I don't drink." Ouch. The legacy of the Velvet Underground, apart from the music, is a trail of drug abuse, asshole behaviour, and laughable egoism. Young rocks it home.


Nico is middle aged, plump and addicted to heroin. She moves to Manchester and at one point shares a flat with John Cooper Clarke. Can't express how funny and Manchester this book is...a MUST read for sure!

Ian Paganus

Teutonic LaughterDespite the Teutonic subject matter, this is one of the funniest music books I have ever read.James Young was Nico's keyboard player for many years during her solo post-VU period, leading up to her unfortunate death.So he had a long time to witness her at her worst and most self-abusive.It must have been painful to have to live with her shenanigans and to be financially dependent on her for a musical career as well.The Veins of the Ice MaidenThis memoir lays out the veins of the Ice Maiden for all to see.Andy Warhol said somewhere that Nico reminded him of an IBM computer with a Greta Garbo accent.I'm sure I read this in one of his books, but I can't locate it.Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Pat Fitzgerald

Most honest book about being in a deadend band I've ever read. Funny as hell too.

Ben Crisp

Fascinating insight into the fading cultural icon. Real look at the aftermath of fame and the drawbacks it brings. It is both an interesting but also really amusing read.

Mike Lester

If I had a time machine, or if Mr. Peabody would let me use the Wayback, I'd go back and check out Nico with the Velvets. But that's just me. A lot of people say they remember where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot or the Challenger exploded, but for me, it was Nico's death. I was sitting at my desk in a London hotel room, reading Dracula (Lucy was just about to get the stake and things were really cooking for Van Helsing), when I heard the news over the radio. I put the book down and didn't pick it up again for a few days. Couldn't concentrate on it anymore. I loved that woman. There are certain people that bring out a nurturing side of me; Dario Argento is one (I just want to feed him enormous amounts of pasta), Edie Sedgwick is another. And then there is Nico. She needed a hug. More than anybody. James Young was part of her backing band in the later stages of her career, and this book is about the last couple of tours Nico did with this band (they were called The Faction). The book feels more like a diary of the tours than an actual bio, and I like this since the author was someone intimately associated with the subject. Makes it seem more real to the reader somehow. And the style makes Nico more real, too. She doesn't come across as the terminally aloof Valkyrie we're all familiar with, but as a human being caught in a deep spiral of sadness, depression, and addiction. When the author recounts how they were approaching the border of Romania(?) and Nico was shoving balls of heroin into parts unknown, all the while asking "Are we near the boooaaarderrr?", I literally wept. This woman should have been on a pedestal, not in a dilapidated minivan hiding heroin in her ass. I always wonder what would have become of her if she had followed up her role in La Dolce Vita with something else (probably not much would have changed. The film world is the same as the music world, vampiric and sleazy--not in a good way). I loved this woman. I love her music. I love her voice. Always will. On second thought, I'd use Peabody's Wayback to find her and give her a hug. 4 subdued, yet vibrant, stars.....

Kozmo Kliegl

Documents the last few years of this former Andy Warhol goddess is a good story about a former/minor star making a living in late Cold War Europe.


A tremendous ride through the druggy late punk Manchester scene written by the piano player in Nico's last band. She was an ex-Warhol factory girl briefly parachuted into the Velvet Underground and latterly a very distinctive solo voice. This book paints a picture of her struggling from one heroin shot to the next but still managing to be stylish, charismatic and talented. Young really writes superbly. Here's his description of John Cooper Clarke 'His own creation. A slim volume. A tall stick-legged rocker dandy with a bouffant hairdo remniscent of 18th century Versailles and Dylan circa Highway 61.' The story goes on to take in John Cale and grimly hilarious descriptions of their tours of Japan and Eastern Europe. I didn't know the music at the time I read this. But listening to it since, I found it surprisingly good and listenable.


I don't like to write it but this book wasn't really good. I thought that most events seemed to have been made up, there is a LOT of direct dialogue and I don't see how he could remember all that. There are also so many clich├ęs. For example there's a scene where he claims that their things have been stolen after a gig in Poland. I don't know, of course it could have happened but it seemed to have been made up. There were also some scenes with a lot of potential like when it was described how Nico looked forward to meeting Bob Dylan again but it wasn't described properly, just a couple of sentences. There was no real narrative either. I wouldn't really recommend this book.


fuck yeah. the solution to the problem is to read faster.

Jane Chakrarthy

James Young played in Nico's revival period, long gone were the days of modelling for Channel,the structure of The Velvet Underground, the major parties with the "elite" of rock and the easy free drugs that came part of that Parcel. This book describes a period of time that had Nico wandering; looking for a light that perhaps became wan a long time ago, unfortunate decisions, life circumstances and unfailing desire to cloud them out with the drugs that came her way. Depressing it can appear but there is a poignant beauty in reading about someone who uncompromisingly took her path ,demons an all and carried on doing what she wanted to do. The fact that she did so many concerts when many would have folded around this time is quite amazing.. Fair enough some of the concerts were a mess, however, as Young points out that was probably more to do with the dodgy management and his bands youth and inexperience than because of Nico, who seemed to come, go to the bathroom to "load up" do her thing and leave. Short and interesting read esp if you have some prior knowledge of Nico

Albert F. Jester absolute beast

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