Dispensing with the onstage interview format of Chelsea Mädchen, Nico: Underground finds Starlite’s Nico alone with her band, her interviewer this time offstage.
“I don’t know if it’s the voice of God or his emissary, but someone is evaluating her,” says Lang. “Everything’s implied.”
The implication, she states, is that Nico has been in limbo since her death of a heart attack while riding a bicyle in Ibiza in 1988, at 49.
“With the death of Lou Reed, it’s like the guards of Valhalla are evaluating her to see if she’s worthy of entry into the realm of musical godliness—or something like that,” notes Lang.
Her reimagined imagined take on Nico, which is directed by avant-garde director David Schweizer (his credits include Mike Albo's The Junket, Chicago Opera’s production of Verdi's Joan Of Arc, York Theater Company's I'm A Stranger Here Myself, and both Bus Stop and Snow Falling On Cedars for CenterStage), “emphasizes her starkness and aloneness,” says Lang, “and with the sad passing of Lou, we get to utilize that to our own advantage. Not that we do him any disservice or disloyalty, or subvert his memory in any way other than perhaps maintain the relationship he may have had with her, which was somewhat loving and also perhaps a little bit tense.”
Nico: Underground retains much of Mädchen’s repertoire, including such signature songs as the Reed compositions she recorded with the Velvet Underground on its landmark debut Velvet Underground And Nico album and including "I'll Be Your Mirror," "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrow's Parties." Other classics include Gordon Lightfoot’s "I'm Not Sayin’”; "These Days" and "The Fairest Of The Seasons," which a very young Jackson Browne wrote for her; "I'll Keep It With Mine," which Bob Dylan wrote for her; David Bowie’s “Heroes” and The Doors’ “The End.”
The new show adds “Janitor Of Lunacy” from Nico’s Desertshore album--“everybody’s favorite,” according to Lang.
“When you think of 1970, you don't think of ‘Let It Be’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ you think of ‘Janitor Of Lunacy.’ And apparently it was written for Brian Jones, with whom she had a relationship in the '60's--they went to the Monterey Pop Festival together--and as he allegedly inserted a loaded gun into her nether regions, the title seems très à propos.”
Nico: Underground also features new dialog and a new ending, deriving from a 1971 tape of Nico and Reed rehearsing for a Nico solo show.
“I don’t think Lou had released his first solo album yet,” Lang says. “[Legendary music publicist/journalist/scenester] Danny Fields enters towards the end, and talks with Lou about all the press he's getting. Lou wasn't the star he would later become, but it was a prescient moment, anticipatory and exciting--one can't help thinking of Lou's looming legendary status and Nico's fateful slide into the netherworld of neo-nepenthean dream. That's the Nico I find so rich, and full, and fascinating.”
It was also an artist whose first solo album, 1967’s Chelsea Girl, was “very much in the early MacDougal Street folkie tradition evoked in Inside Llewyn Davis,” adds Lang. “It had songs by Dylan and Tim Hardin, and it featured the first recordings of songs by Jackson Browne, who was a musical descendant of that era.”
Nico’s vocals, “still distinctly carrying her inherent Teutonic inflections, reflected a softer, introspective, internally searching self,” observes Lang.
“That's the life we attempt to illuminate in Nico: Underground.”
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