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Music

Revisit Patti Smith's cover of Nico song 'Killer Road'

American artists Patti Smith and daughter Jesse Smith – with the Soundwalk Collective – took up the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Velvet Underground collaborator Nico with a unique, somewhat moody performance adequately named ‘Killer Road’.

The four-minute performance can be considered a cinematographic masterpiece as well as a musical one, with establishing shots of fields as well as the ambience of sounds Jesse Smith created, describing the sounds Nico would have heard when she collapsed while cycling in 1988, an event that killed her in hospital later that day.

Nico, arguably best known for her album Nico and the Velvet Underground, featuring songs such as ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ and other timeless classics, built a reputation like no other for the ability to add a new layer of atmosphere to music — not unlike the punk poet laureate Patti Smith. Before her death in 1988, Nico recalled the first time meeting Smith, saying: “She was skinny, like a rat, but she was from New Jersey and so was Lou [Reed], so that was all right. She didn’t speak much; she just stood and watched the people. I don’t know if I even knew her name.”

This soon changed, however, when Smith bought the harmonium that Nico had lost from an “obscure shop” in Paris. Nico looked back fondly at those memories, saying, according to Dancing Barefoot: The Patti Smith Story: “I was so happy and ashamed,” Nico recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll give you back the money when I get it,’ but she insisted the organ was a present … I cried.” Nico showed her gratitude when the instrument appeared in her final album, Camera Obscura, in 1985.

The tribute performed by Patti Smith featured an abundance of Nico’s poetry, including “the killer road is waiting for you” and “like a finger, pointing in the night… Who’s to blame?”. These morbid lines are followed by a hypnotising sound effect as a rendition of a new line from Nico’s poetry is read out: “I have come to die with you.” A woman in a vail periodically appears between the long grass that provides a backdrop throughout what can only be described as an artistic masterpiece.

Throughout the video, a filter is used to create the almost magical feeling the spectators are forced to endure as poetry from Nico’s vast collection is relentlessly read out over the harmonium sounds Nico herself has made. The clip is more of an experience than merely a video posted online; it is a touching yet powerful piece of art that is not only a testament to the work of Nico but also to Patti Smith, Jesse and the Soundwalk Collective, who have created a masterpiece in their own right.

See it in full, below.