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July 20, 2007

Close to the Frozen Borderline

A few months ago, I became -- well, obsessed is such a loaded word, so let's just say very fascinated by The Marble Index. The first solo album by Nico, Chelsea Girl, tends to land near the CD player around here a lot, even though the chanteuse herself didn't like it very much. But The Marble Index is just from another planet. All the folk-rocky stuff is purged from her system, there's no compromise with pop, and she's found her instrument of choice in a harmonium that is a bit out of tune with itself. Which is to say it is perfectly in tune, given the context.

Lester Bangs wrote: "I don't know if I would classify it as oppressing or depressing, but I do know that The Marble Index scares the shit out of me." I've certainly felt that. Not all of the album has that effect, or affect rather. But "Frozen Warnings" is sublime. It was released in 1969 with a video -- a time capsule loaded with imagery from the Factory at peak instensity -- though the song itself is best listened to alone, in all its severity, without any visual distractions.

So...that said, here's the video anyway, because the footage is just too good to miss:

Posted by smclemee at July 20, 2007 5:25 PM


The two-disc set The Frozen Borderline is worthwhile: the first disc is The Marble Index plus outtakes & demos, the second is Desertshore plus outtakes and demos. There are alternate versions of "Frozen Warnings", "Memento Hodie", "Julius Caesar", and (one of my favorites) "No One is There", denuded of Cale's viola.

& if you like the harmonium, The End has very little of Cale's production and the harmonium is much more prominent in the arrangements.

Posted by: ben wolfson at July 20, 2007 9:31 PM

Thanks, I didn't know about that set. I have the two albums in earlier releases, without all the extras.

It would be interesting to hear raw versions of the songs, but I really like Cale's production work with Nico. He talks somewhere about how he had to find ways to work around the fact that the harmonium wasn't even in tune with itself. If that's not love....

Posted by: Scott McLemee at July 22, 2007 11:34 AM

The Nico moment that still tops them all was when she appeared on Merv Griffin's show in Nov. 1967. (I think I saw this clip in the Nico/Icon documentary, but if not there, can't figure out where else it would have been; it sure ain't on Youtube yet.) Merv introduced the ice goddess as "the girl of 1966 - and here's what she's doing now," and then Nico emerged, went to the harmonium, and played something from The Marble Index - quite a change of pace from Merv's usual musical fare of The Masked Singer (aka David Soul). She then went to the couch. Merv asked three or four questions about the "now sound," but Nico simply, silently stared into the bleak, oblique horizon. After two or three minutes of that Merv went to the commmercial. Ah, if only "The Singing Bee" were like that.

Posted by: Theophrastus at July 23, 2007 3:35 PM

That's a great story. I'd really love to see the clip. I don't recall it being in Nico Icon -- it's been a while, but that seems like the kind of thing you'd remember.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at July 23, 2007 6:28 PM