Performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite portrays and celebrates the Warhol/Velvet Underground chanteuse in a brilliant stage production “Nico: An Evening of Light”

By PKM editors

Andy Warhol carried Nico into the spotlight as the face of the Velvet Underground. Bob Dylan brought her one of his finest songs (“I’ll Keep It With Mine”). Lou Reed brought her “Chelsea Girls,” and an equally smitten Jackson Browne let her record “These Days” long before he did. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop and many other men fell at the feet of Christa Paffgen (1938-1988) as she mournfully sang her dirge-like songs in a chilling, hypnotic Teutonic voice. Few people, male or female, could crack the cool facade of her distant, wide-eyed stare.

And yet, thirty years after Nico’s death, Tammy Faye Starlite has pulled off the remarkable feat of reanimating her on stage. Accompanied by Jon Spurney, Tammy has created a show called “Nico: An Evening of Light.” Along with her music, sung in the same throaty drone, Tammy channels Nico’s warped sense of humor and blunt, biting observations about the pop cultural landscape through which she traveled.

Tammy returns to New York for another staging of “Nico: An Evening of Light,” on March 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Pangea, 178 Second Avenue. After an earlier series of performances off-Broadway, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote, “In her remarkable — and howlingly funny — portrayal of Nico, the 1960s chanteuse and muse to musical greats of the time, the singer and performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite is both vividly present and somehow barely there. Although its creators’ affection for the woman is never in question, the show also gently parodies her disaffected persona.”

PKM favorite Danny Fields said of Tammy Faye Starlite’s performance, “[It’s] not an imitation but a rediscovery of Nico.”

Here’s a video of Tammy performing “Chelsea Girls,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” at Lincoln Center in 2016. Please ignore the crowd noise.

The following poem is a sort of free-form biographical and psychological riff on Nico as imagined by someone who has been transformed into the Ice Queen from Cologne.

By Tammy Faye Starlite

1.

She told Jackson Browne to

write a song like Jim McGuinn.

He was not yet Roger but she

was no longer Christa. Christa

was buried beneath the Schwarz-

markt swathed in strewn

chocolate wrappers when she

became a catwalking model of

another girl and could leave

herself, alone.

 

2.

She met Bob in Paris.

He encouraged her to sing and

gave her his best song,  “I’ll

Keep It With Mine.” She loved

trains.

 

3.

Lou was a usurper of souls. But

he was very beautiful for a time

and he wrote for her  because

he knew she wanted to destroy

him and she had traversed the

Via Veneto with Marcello in

chiaroscuro. Lou wanted to be

the center and she wouldn’t

succumb to Leonard because he

pressed his desire and she

thought desire was weak.

 

4.

Delon pretended to be strong

with his craft but she

discovered him to be a replica of

her own nonexistence.

 

5.

They thought she was Anita

with Brian at Monterey Pop

because of her Germanity. But

she was taller than Anita and

Brian punished them both with

his heavy anger, the rage of a

spectral stalk of fat wheat.

 

6.

But Jim, he was her soul

brother. Danny made the match

like the matchmaker in the

Jewish musical. He knew they

were the same. Jim named his

band after Huxley and told her

to write her own songs. He

confused himself with herself

because they were the same

person. She changed her hair

from yellow to strawberry

because he loved his own blood,

but it was Lethean blood and he

baptized himself to Orpheus.

 

7.

She found some solace with a

beautiful dervish who was an

inner Sufi like her father, and he

lived shirtless in a Michigan

farmhouse. But he was raw and

powerful and she left him clues

as blue as his eyes in a cerulean

prism overlooking the Lake that

refracted onto his reflexive

spine.

8.

She was given an Indian pump

organ maybe from Leonard that

sounded like an orchestra and a

storm outside and wrote an

album

that John Cale said sounded like

suicide. Her voice roared like

the bellows from the fathoms of

the Amazon River, she browned

her hair and

wore Trappist vestments and

she found her god, a precept she

found laughable, but as she

regarded irony as a worthwhile

conceit, she appreciated the

dialectic.

9.

She made films in France with

Philippe Garrel which are more

or less art wrapped in cotton

and filmed through a syringe.

10.

She forgot about Andy. She

couldn’t even remember his

name. He never called her. She

couldn’t remember how they

didn’t talk with such intimacy,

the intimacy of exhaustion and

beauty. She hated it all

afterwards. Beauty was not the

skin or the sky. Beauty was in

Wagner’s Ring, beauty was son

fils par Delon. She named him

Ari, little lion and she nursed

him with the elixir of sleep, so

he could dismiss his lineage and

embrace her without the weight

of convenience.

 

11.

She gave her mother a home in

Ibiza until it melted into a crypt.

Spain is a sanctum for dance

and delusion. She was an

illusion masquerading as a

nihilist who lived in

Manchester. It reminded

her of Berlin. She

performed on stages in Milan, in

Brno, in Rotterdam with

Gregory, in New York

at Danceteria and the Squat

Theater where she sang, “New

York, New York” while she slept.

Still Andy would not see her.

 

12.

So many vacuums. She knew

her audience at Max’s had gone

to see her friend Nina. Nina was

only doing one show. Cheetah

would steal her cops but she

would wail like the Niebelungen

and soon she could shoot

herself again. She was full of

holes and she prayed to the

abscesses, sarcophagi of the

former lives that she did not

revive or revise.

 

13.

“A sailor’s suit and cap.” She

remembered that. She

remembered the cathedral in

Reims and the Dom on St.

Mark’s Place and the days of

Dr. Owsley’s Purple Haze and

she remembered the nights

with Jimi Hendrix and their

exquisite chimerical children

and she remembered the velvet,

always the velvet, tasteless,

really. People like cliches and

the audience wants to hear the

old songs, light entertainment

which she didn’t care for.

 

14.

She didn’t think much about the

inevitable until July in Ibiza

when she rode her bicycle in the

heat of the Iberian sun, and she

remembered the velvet as she

awoke next to Andy, blinded by

silver, and she told him I didn’t

go to your funeral because you

didn’t go to mine.

Tammy-Faye-Starlite

##

Evening of Light
Writer: Christa Paffgen
Vocals: Tammy Faye Starlite
Music and production: Jon Spurney

http://www.pleasekillme.com

More from PKM:

WARHOL, BURROUGHS, AND NICO AT THE CHELSEA HOTEL!

LEONARD COHEN INTERVIEWED BY DANNY FIELDS AT THE CHELSEA HOTEL, 1974

MOE TUCKER: ON THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

THANK YOU ANDY WARHOL

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