This year marking the 35th anniversary of Nico's death (July 18, 1988), Tammy Faye Starlite’s upcoming reprise of her acclaimed Chelsea Mädchen performance piece Jan. 15 at The Cutting Room will have “an added air of spectral chronology,” says Tammy Lang, a.k.a. Tammy Faye Starlite.
It will also have some competition.
The following night none other than John Cale will head Life Along The Borderline: A Tribute To Nico at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). The Velvet Underground’s Cale worked with Nico on the legendary The Velvet Underground & Nico album (1967), then worked on her solo recordings; Cale is billed as the program’s “curator,” and has enlisted esteemed participants including Meshell Ndegeocello, the Magnetic Fields and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.
Lang’s Chelsea Mädchen will have a guest appearance from Steve Earle, who will perform The Velvet Underground & Nico’s classic "Waiting For the Man."
"I'm so pleased to be able to curate Mr. Steve Earle,” says Lang in her Nico voice, playing off Cale’s “curator” role. “He is like Bob Dylan, except not as Jewish. I suppose that is why he can be a curate."
Dylan supplied Nico with “I'll Keep It With Mine,” one of many songs Lang performs during Chelsea Mädchen that were written by famous friends and/or lovers. Other songs in the set include the Velvets’ “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” "Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" and The Doors' "The End," with the show ending with a rousing finale of "Deutschland Über Alles."
Conceptually, the show recreates actual encounters that Nico had with journalists and includes dreamlike Nico reminiscences about the likes of Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Jackson Browne, David Bowie and Alain Delon.
Of the German-born Nico, who had long been addicted to heroin but died in 1988 of a cerebral hemorrhage, Lang has said, “[She] was, and remains, a heroine and emblem for these dark days of civil unrest and our unceasing fascination with sybaritic self-destruction and the willful deconstruction and annihilation of beauty. I’ve got the songs, the accent and the hair down and am working tirelessly on the cheekbones.”
Of Lang, Steve Earle says, "I'm a long time Tammy Faye fan in all of her incarnations but I was on the road all last year and missed the Nico thing on both coasts. Now I'll finally get to see it and sing a Lou Reed song to boot. What's better than that?"
Lang, who is backed by a six-piece band in Chelsea Mädchen, has performed the show at various New York venues over the last three years, as well as at the Bootleg and Largo Theaters in Los Angeles and Woody's in Palm Springs. She brings it to Pittsburgh on Jan. 25 under the auspices of the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Lang says she has invited Cale to join her at her shows in New York and L.A.
“Not to say he’s copying me or wasn’t there first,” says Lang, “but no one celebrated Nico before I did--and I have a deeper connection to her.”
Indeed, Warhol-era scenester Danny Fields, who famously signed Nico to Elektra Records and later discovered and managed The Ramones, has said that Lang’s Chelsea Mädchen is “not an imitation but a rediscovery of Nico." The show’s title, incidentally, is a German take on Nico’s 1967 solo album debut Chelsea Girl—also its key track “Chelsea Girls,” whose title was also that of the renowned 1966 Warhol film in which Nico starred.
At the Cutting Room show, Lang will appear either in “what I call 'Nico drag': white suit, black shirt, white pants--the iconic Nico look,” she says, “or just her simple ‘60s look of black turtleneck and black pants—if I go for the inner life of Nico more than the outer life.”
She notes that the “emotional and communal collective unconscious reverberation” of the November election “will certainly manifest itself” at The Cutting Room, “not in the actual script but in the deeper subconscious of the characters--and I might rag a little more on John Cale!”
That’s in Nico character, of course.
“Dylan comes off fairly well, and Jim Morrison could do no wrong in Nico’s eyes,” notes Lang of the men in Nico’s life. “Jackson Browne doesn’t get much ragging, but she has particular animus for Cale and Lou Reed—and that gets expanded upon.”
Nico was “a nihilist, fatalist and situation-ist,” says Lang, and her script will show some “revamped lines with double meanings in terms of the ‘60s.”
Back then, she adds, smoking was legal. For “verisimilitude” purposes, she says, “there could be some mainlining! We’ll have to see.”
Meanwhile, Lang just watched David Bowie’s video for his new song "Where Are We Now?"
“It's got images of Berlin, and he mentions the KaDeWe--the department store where Nico, at 15, was discovered,” she says. “Apparently she hung around there every day until she was noticed, which I believe did not take long.”
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