Although she had been a presence in the New York's downtown music scene in the '60s, Nico didn't begin writing her own music 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 problems, and just what makes this album so difficult for many to listen to.