1976: My career severely declines. Shows are cancelled due to poor ticket sales; I get dropped from 11 different record labels; and I can no longer afford to have my clothes dry-cleaned.
My agent books me on a European tour of sleazy cabarets crammed full of loud drunks, pallid looking perverts, and extremely dull Insurance Salesmen who persist in trying to sell me Life Insurance.
My final appearance of this nightmarish tour is in Berlin, Germany, at a sordid nightclub called THE BLAUMACHEN. (Blaumachen is a German word to describe feeling horribly unmotivated the moment you wake up in the morning.)
The perfect word for this tour; I feel blaumachen everyday I wake up.
I finish my 3rd night, and final performance, at The Blaumachen. This tour is over!
I don my new herringbone coat and pack up my guitar. The audience thanks me by flinging leftover food at me, AND my new coat. Sauerkraut, Schweinsbraten, roast pork, gobs of bratwurst and salad dressing are dripping from my herringbone coat. My new herringbone coat, now, looks like a tribe of Vikings used it as a table clothe and gorged a chaotic, repulsive banquet on it.
Sitting in the audience, is someone I recognize: it’s NICO who was once the chartreuse in THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (the band’s leader was LOU REED).
She’s sitting alone, in a dark corner, at a small table with a few chairs.
Nico is a German singer-songwriter, musician, and fashion model. She became famous as an ANDY WARHOL superstar at THE FACTORY and WARHOL’S EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE events from 1966-1967.
She is known for her deadpan vocals on The Velvet Underground’s debut album “The Velvet Underground & Nico” (1967). After The Velvets first LP, Nico left the band to go solo and record her own songs. In 1972, she claims the ghost of JIM MORRISON told her to write songs.
Nico gestures, inviting me to her table.
I pull some strands of sauerkraut and gobs of bratwurst off my new herringbone coat and, subsequently, I glide trance-like towards Nico, never taking my eyes off of her…She is nearly TOO stunning. I reach Nico’s table, I sit and I finally look at her.
Nico is a tall, lithe figure. Her head hanging to one side, her long flaxen hair falling passed her shoulders. She is an unaffected, genuine “Venus In Furs”, goddess on Earth. She is beautiful.
And in a world where so much can easily be possessed on a whim or for a promise, she is unpossessable.
She’s had an impressive series of lovers, to name only a few are JIM MORRISON, LOU REED, BOB DYLAN, LEONARD COHEN, BRIAN JONES, IGGY POP, JACKSON BROWNE and many others. I do not want to end up as just another “notch” on her black leather boot. I really dig her, but I’ve got to play it cool.
Nico gulps her drink in one swallow, and then says in her slow, Teutonic drone, “Bender, come up to my flat. The ghost of JIM MORRISON told me to write songs. So, I’ve been writing songs for my upcoming album. I am a big Reggie Bender fan; I wish to play these songs for you”. Trying not to gape at her luscious breasts, I agree to listen to her songs.
Nico and I walk, arms around one another, into the cold, drizzly Berlin night. Destination: Nico’s flat.
We enter her apartment; my eyes scan the room and I observe some Nazi memorabilia strewn about her flat: a swastika flag, Nazi emblems such as SS daggers, I notice a black SS officer’s uniform. I see what’s known as a “Kharkov Parka” with fur lining, which has a full length, button up front closure. I, then, spot an official Nazi “brown shirt uniform”, which comes with a Nazi armband. She tells me she really digs the vibe and art that went into the making of such powerful objects.
Nico sits at her harmonium and she suddenly looks at an empty space in the room. “No, Jim. You can not have a beer – you’re dead.”
“Are you talking to him now? Jim Morrison?” I ask in a hushed tone. Her gruff response is, “Yes, he’s right over there”.
I don’t see or hear him, but I definitely feel another entity and energy in the room.
Nico turns to me, “Jim says ‘Hi, Reggie’.’”
I respond with, “Hey, Jim. I wish we could get drunk together again. You and I had a blast”. I begin singing a section from the Door’s song, The Soft Parade, “Catacombs, Nursery bones, Winter women, Growing stones, Carrying babies To the river’ ”. But there’s no response from Morrison.
I shout to Jim’s ghost, “ ’The monk bought lunch’ “!
Nico speaks to me, “Morrison thinks you’re bonkers and has no idea what you’re babbling about?”
“These are lyrics from a Doors song. He must remember SOME of the lyrics. He was front man of The Doors.
I continue, but this time I dance around, “Come on, Jim. ‘Woo! This is the best part of the trip, This is the trip, the best part.’ ”
Nico, impatient and Naziesque, tells Jim, “Go ‘Petition the Lord with prayer’, Jim! You’re very good at that. And right now I need to sing some songs to Reggie and get laid, so will you please leave?”
Nico, satisfied that Morrison has finally left the apartment, plays some songs she’s written for her new upcoming LP.
I’m truly enraptured by her songs as she sings like a doomed Valkyrie. She is well armed with her trademark-droning harmonium, haunting, deep, monotone vocals and a stark, chilly atmosphere; these songs make Leonard Cohen’s records sound like party music.
I applaud her songs. After a few minutes of silence, Nico leaves the room.
When Nico re-appears, she is naked except for a Nazi SA Storm trooper “brown shirt.” Her Nazi brown shirt is unbuttoned and, underneath, she is completely naked. I am tingling.
A naked woman wearing a men’s unbuttoned dress shirt: what makes this look so alluring? Is it the suggestion of a morning after? The contrast of feminine and masculine? The French say, “Hot girls wearing men’s shirts is classique”!
There are questions of the universes that have not been quite answered.
This is only one of them.
She walks over to me, whispering in a Teutonic drone, “Kiss me hard, Reggie Bender. Let’s make love like anthropoids.” She kisses me and, for an instant, snatches the remaining breath out of my lungs.
We begin to make fierce love and, suddenly, an uninvited thought enters my brain. I begin comparing her to a female black widow spider that bites the head off her mate as soon as they are done having sex. I keep checking my head, to make sure it is still there.
For someone who claims she doesn’t like sex, you would not have guessed it. She is a volcanic love-bomb.
The following morning we awake, naked, on the couch with a bed-sheet covering us. I have to get back to my hotel room before “check-out” time.
Nico and I say goodbye. No kisses; no hugging, just, “Auf Weidersehen.” Then I go outside to hail a taxi for myself.
The sunlight blinds me; I put on my shades and hail a taxi. I am getting into the back seat of the taxi, when, suddenly, Nico comes running to the idling taxi.
“Reggie!” she shouts, “You’re forgot your new herringbone coat. Here it is.”
She put the herringbone coat on my lap, and then she runs back inside the building to her flat. She was like a sudden thought-picture you saw so totally you saw no details; parts creating none of the sum.
I sit in the back seat of the moving taxi, cradling my herringbone coat, and then I let it lie across my lap, like it’s a wounded soldier. However, to my shocking surprise: the coat is totally clean! Spotless! It looks as nice as the day I purchased it.
I find a hand written note inside one of its’ pockets.
The note reads, “When all else fails, We can whip the horse’s eyes And make them sleep, and cry. And no matter what astral plane you are on, you can always find a good dry-cleaning service. Signed, Jim The Lizard King.”
Of course! Only something supernatural could have made my disgustingly stained coat this unsoiled and spotless. Last night and, now, this coat; is blowing my mind. I grapple with my consciousness the way one grapples with a bar of soap.
“Thanks, Jim!” I shout out loud. The taxi continues to my hotel as I hug my nice, clean herringbone coat. I even made it to my hotel room in time to pack before “check-out” time, thrilled this nightmarish tour is over.
I can’t get Nico out of my mind. However, I must resist her by any means necessary. You may fall in love with Nico, but no one can stake his or her claim on her. She will always be distant and unattainable.
Nico was a heroin addict for over 15 years. Shortly before her death Nico stopped using heroin and began methadone replacement therapy and began a regimen of bicycle exercise and healthy eating. On July 17, 1988 while on vacation on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, Nico had a heart attack while riding her bicycle and died 8 o’clock that evening.
I did not really KNOW Nico; no one did. By all accounts she was not a very nice person; perhaps a Nazi sympathizer, perhaps a racist, certainly tortured and depressing but also iconic, beautiful and enigmatic.
I will never forget my herringbone coat, the ghost of Jim Morrison, and my night with NICO.
Here is a “slide-show” tribute to The Velvet Underground & NICO (Song: “Femme Fatale”).