The Marble Index – Nico – Elektra – 1968
Although she had been a presence in the New York’s downtown music scene in the ’60s, Nico didn’t begin writing her own songs until late 1967. Dismayed at the finished product of her first solo album, 1967’s Chelsea Girl, she started to pen her own poems, exploring the truth of her own experiences and putting it to haunting harmonium music. Rejecting the Warhol Factory persona that had given her fame, if not artistic satisfaction, Nico allowed herself to outwardly display her inner darkness: she stopped dying her hair platinum blonde, opting for dark red instead, and took to wearing all black. Though many critics believed this was a character she was adopting to make the album seem more authentic, what they were actually seeing, along with the rest of the world, was a free woman. Here was an artist giving herself the room to turn her own reality into art, no matter how messy, dark, and frightening that reality could be. For a woman in 1968, this wasn’t just an odd rarity; it was trailblazing.
Cited by many as the first goth album, The Marble Index went on to influence a number of artists in the goth rock movement that grew out of late-1970s post-punk, including Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus. Within her strident, discordant, and atonal sounds, Nico created an album that carved out a place in mainstream commercial music for artists, notably female artists, who express because they have to — even if you’re not sure that you like what you hear.
In this episode, we unpack the album’s influences and lasting influence, both Nico’s triumphs and and her myriad problems, and just what makes this album so difficult for many to listen to.
Episode notes and postscript corrections
- PSA: This episode deals with dark and heavy subject material. If you’re not feeling your best right now, take care of you and listen with discretion.
- If your only familiarity with Nico is her work with the Velvet Underground or Chelsea Girl, brace yourselves, because you are in for one bizarre ride.
- TBH Nico often expressed a problematic lot of internalized misogyny (among many more Very Bad No Good Horrible views)
- The Marble Index is pointed to as the first goth album by several goth rock bands from the ‘80s
- So much so that Nico and Bauhaus played together one time and it was… wow.
- Carrie doesn’t fully know why she doesn’t like ‘80s goth but maybe @ her if you have an idea.
- Get @ us: Do you prefer post-punk goth like Carly or spoopy Mary Shelley stuff like The Marble Index?
- Check out our further reading links below for Lester Bangs’ take on The Marble Index. If *he* was scared of it, you know it’s some heavy stuff.
- Sad girls of tumblr = Chelsea Girl. IRL depression = The Marble Index.
- “Women are poison. If I wasn’t so special, I could hate myself.” — Nico. See, we said she was problematic.
- Here’s the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” that Carly was reminded of by “Frozen Warnings”
- A thought: very few women were making “dark” music in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s — and certainly none in the vein of Nico — but women were exploring depression and anxiety and bleak themes in literature.
- Read some of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays while listening to this album if you wanna get fucked up.
- No, seriously, Nico told so many lies about herself that someone named a biography of her The Life and Lies of an Icon
- An enormous shoutout to Danny Fields, Jac Holzman, and John Cale for being awesome men who championed Nico and pushed for this album to be made, regardless of whether or not it would sell.
- As always, check out our master playlist on Spotify to listen to all the tracks we talked about in this episode, including a slew of legacy influences.
- Here’s Carly’s goth rock playlist
- Nico : The Marble Index :: Kim Gordon : Body/Head. Even though Sonic Youth got their start more rooted in noise and no wave, it was a huge change for Kim Gordon after the more melodic music she made in Sonic Youth’s final days.
- Share all your thoughts with us!
Favorite track(s): Frozen Warnings (Carly) | Frozen Warnings and Ari’s Song (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Facing the Wind (Carly) | Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié) (Carrie)
- Nico — Words, music, harmonium, vocals
- John Cale — Arrangements
- John Haeny — Engineer
- Frazier Mohawk — Producer
- Jac Holzman — Production supervisor
Made You Look: On Beauty, Ugliness, and Nico (ed. note: If you only read one of these pieces, wowwowwow make it this one) | The Ringer (August 2018)
7 Musicians Reflect on Nico’s Enduring Influence | New York Times T Magazine (August 2018)
Thirty Years After Her Death, Nico Finally Comes Into Focus | Pitchfork (April 2018)
The influence and tragedy of Nico | i-D (March 2017)
Nico and The Marble Index: “She hated the idea of being beautiful” | Uncut (October 2015)
Nico: Facing The Wind – The Marble Index trilogy | The Quietus (January 2013)
You won’t enjoy Nico’s album, but it’s good for you | The Guardian (October 2008)
The Frozen Borderline: 1968-70 deluxe reissue review | Pitchfork (March 2007)
Your Shadow Is Scared of You: An Attempt Not to Be Frightened By Nico (ed. note: This is some Lester Bangs goodness) | New Wave Rock (1978)