Nico: In The Shadow Of The Moon Goddess
German singer Nico’s life story is one peppered with addiction, tragedy, darkness, and intensity. Her music is dark and beautiful; it is austere and immensely joyless. Keyboard player James Young, who performed with her in the final phases of her life, wasn’t a junkie and thus his lucidness allowed him to see her the absurdity and humor in this bloodless era. His clarity resulted in Songs They Never Play On The Radio, one of the funniest rock and roll books in print, an odd schadenfreude that told an insane tale yet never felt disrespectful. Lutz Graf-Ulbrich, founder of Ash Ra Tempel, had a more intimate closeness with Nico, having been her on-and-off lover during the Seventies. HIs tale, as told in Nico: In The Shadow Of The Moon Goddess, serves as an interesting prelude to Young’s book.
Graf-Ulbrich met Nico in 1973 after his band Agitation Free opened for her in Paris. His was a love-at-first-sight, instantly struck by her beauty and her engrossing music, and the following year they would become lovers. She was worldly and dark; he was fresh-faced, innocent, with an almost angelic continence. The contrast was striking, and yet in spite of her cold, loveless persona, the photographs and letters he has included in the text clearly show that she was very much “in love” with him as well. Of course, Nico’s heart was torn between him and her more domineering, demanding master: heroin. Heroin addicts devote their heart and soul to their addiction, and Graf-Ulbrich—who was a casual drug user when he met Nico—would play second fiddle to the needle and, in true form of junkie love, would soon become a heroin addict himself.
Unsurprisingly, then, Nico: In The Shadow Of The Moon Goddess, descends into a very dark place, and everything that they would do together would ultimately be done in the service for the drug. It is a tale of desperation—of dangerous run-ins with authorities, drug-dealers, and fellow junkies—and sadness, as the self-centered nature of addiction darkens and overwhelms their lives. Their on-the-edge relationship would come to a head in 1979, after the two engaged in a violent fight in the same room where another famous addict, Nancy Spungen, had lost her life months before in a similar moment of violence. In a moment of clarity, Graf-Ulbrich recognized the self-destruction at hand, and left Nico, even though they would work together and meet sporadically in the remaining years of her life, including booking her very last live performance.
Nico: In The Shadow Of The Moon Goddess isn’t an easy read–drug hell can be both frustrating and repetitive–but it is a compelling read nonetheless. It’s rare to think of Nico as an object of love and affection, and Graf-Ulbrich’s love is quite strong, decades after their relationship ended. It’s a story of love, and how one will often degrade themselves in the name of love.