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?

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.....


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.

Burt Campbell

Outstanding portrait, not just of Nico, but of the culture & times.


Bloody funny.

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

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.

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.


Nico, my favorite antihero.


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


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.


I found this book while on vacation in London and was sold by John Water's quote on the back cover, praising the sad dark humor of James Young's account of life on tour with one post-glory Nico.Sad? Absolutely. Dark. Oh, hell yes. Funny? I did chuckle a few times, but only in the way that one sometimes has to laugh to keep from crying in the face of profound hopelessness.Young was a musician in Nico's back-up band when the Warhol Factory-era icon attempted a mostly disastrous comeback tour in the 80s. This tour would wind through many years and countries, with over 1,000 gigs played by the time of her death in 1988.For me, the book played out like an Alex Cox remake of the classic comedy My Favorite Year, with Nico in the role of Peter O'Toole's lovably washed-up alcoholic screen legend and the further addition of a madcap supporting cast of drug-addled hangers-on straight from the world of Sid & Nancy.If only Nico possessed the same faded devil-may-care charm as O'Toole's cracked actor, Mr. Water's claim of dark comedy could have been more apt (though who am I to argue what makes John Waters laugh?). Nico is a sad, bitter, hollow soul in this book, completely enslaved to heroin and obsessed with her own decay and mortality. Not exactly the life of the party.We do get glimpses of the author's rare moments with Nico when she let her guard down, when she stole a rare smile, or in perhaps the most simply beautiful moment in the book, when Nico sits in a boat during a sunset, giggling and singing a children's song.Such moments are mere sentences in a book filled with pages and pages of miserable people performing desperate acts in order to achieve their almighty high, whether it be in the form of heroin, prostitutes or other even more arcane pursuits.This wasn't the easiest book to read, though it was a very strong portrait of a woman known best as the ice princess of the Velvet Underground, the emotionless beauty whose face could have been a mirror or a movie screen.In the book, Nico is being interviewed by a particularly clueless radio jockey who introduces her as "the Femme Fatale herself, Nico." To which she responds, in dry earnestness, "That song was actually not written about me, you know."Her great frustration based on Young's account is that she was only ever appreciated as the diva behind Warhol's banana; however, we also discover a Nico who is eager to re-live her glory days, hallucinating Jim Morrisson from the window of her tour bus and weeping alone in her dressing room when Bob Dylan refused to attend one of her shows.Largely, this book was more heartbreak than humor for me, but the nuance of Nico's charm is not completely absent - a spice that flavored her legend, but left me wishing for more.


This is one of the best music biographies I ever read, from memory it was written by the guy who played keyboards in Nico's eighties touring band, and on some of her later albums.James Young writes this book as an observer, as he travels Europe with Nico and her band,and meets a lot of eccentrics junkies and oddballs.At this period of her life Nico was a hardened junkie and sought out drugs wherever she went,I don't think anyone can possibly write a book that would portray the true Nico as she always seems so cold and aloof, but James Young has definitely got as close as anyone will.

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.

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.

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