After spending more than a decade in New York as a muse and mannequin for a slew of photographers, filmmakers, and musicians, the German model and singer Nico, whose name is paired ubiquitously with The Velvet Underground, decided to stake her own claim as an artist. The soundtrack of the 1960s was becoming progressively angry as the disaster of the Vietnam War unfolded, but Nico was looking inward; she had some things to get off her chest. Her first attempt at songwriting was inspired by nights in Californian deserts with Jim Morrison fucking (violently), eating peyote, and reading English Romantic poetry.
Eerie and ephemeral, Nico’s sophomore album, The Marble Index, appeared like a solar eclipse on the musical landscape of 1968. What emerged was a tenebrous variation on folk accompanied by vocals that sounded like a fallen Valkyrie howling through the pipes of a cathedral organ. Nico plucked the album’s name from Wordsworth’s The Prelude (Book Three, ‘Residence at Cambridge’), in which a statue of Isaac Newton is described as a ‘marble index of a mind’. Years later, John Cale of The Velvet Underground grandiosely proclaimed that The Marble Index was ‘a contribution to European classical music’. Like most discordant avant-garde music, it received little attention when it was first released, yet The Marble Index was the first in a triptych – Desertshore (1970) and The End (1974) were the others – that served as the foundation of other seminal works by artists such as Joy Division, Morrissey, and Björk.