Simply on the premise that the singer, composer and model born Christa Päffgen would have been 75 years old today, we thought we’d dig out this fascinating clip of the woman who became Nico singing with fellow Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed and John Cale at Paris’s Le Bataclan theatre on January 29, 1972. It was, of course, the first time since the break-up of the Velvets that the trio had appeared on stage together and, given how unsettling post-Velvets Nico was capable of being, it’s almost lovely. Almost.
Lou and John play with a relaxed acoustic ease, chipping in with their Prairie Dog Glee Club backing vocals, while Nico embraces the song, her signature tune pretty much, with a dark relish. She smiles, hugs herself and – on the verses – enunciates Lou Reed’s words with almost flirtatious charm, often directed towards the songwriter himself. Such visible delight in someone who, by 1972, had come to resemble a startled Japanese water-wraith, is undeniably fascinating. But there’s something else.
The subject of the song – troubled American heiress and Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick – had died from “probable acute barbiturate intoxication” just two months earlier, aged 28. Watched again, with this added knowledge, a distinctly chilly pall descends on these seemingly upbeat proceedings. While those verses are definitely articulated with troubling black pleasure the chorus, by contrast, is sung with discernible sadness. Everything Nico recorded in the ’70s contained more hidden depths than a frozen Russian lake and this version of Femme Fatale is no exception. Is it a valediction, a threnody, a bon voyage or a “we’ll meet again”. Can it be all four? I need to watch it again. (In fact, there’s a slightly better-quality version here.)