Leonard Cohen said that his song Joan of Arc ‘came through’ Nico of the Velvet Underground. I think these lines are about her-
She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
Listening to Nico, I hear a tired or world weary quality in her voice – but it isn’t sentimental. Also her voice has an unusually matter of fact tone, which contrasts in the songs with Lou Reed’s strange and emotional lyrics.
Typically a wedding would be an emotional time – so Cohen draws attention to her lack of sentimentality in the lines –
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite. –
suggesting that the wedding dress is a practical item to her, a covering. Her focus is on the whiteness, and not so much on the wedding or the dress. Nico said she felt very disconnected from the world – and these lyrics seem to describe that.
‘Swollen appetite’ sounds unsentimental and erotic. I think it suits her. Nico is turned on by music but she doesn’t let it alter the coolness of her voice. Her bands name ‘The Velvet Underground’ is similarly erotic and unsentimental.
Here she is carefully cutting her fringe and smiling, as captured by Andy Warhol. The song on the video is Nico’s beautiful version of ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’.
If you have any ideas about how Nico inspired this great Cohen song, then I would like to hear from you. It is possible that he said that the song was about her merely as flirtation after she said he was ‘completely unnecessary’. However I like the idea that she really did inspire the initial writing of the song.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjjDmX9Tkss – Nico singing Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPf5Ki9ygVY – Leonard Cohen’s Joan of Arc
Wikipedia supports the idea that Nico was the inspiration for the song. The encyclopedia also notes that the structure in which the song is both sung and recited on parallel tracks – most obvious in the first and last four lines was inspired by Medieval music.
Nico first met Jim Morrison when he was tripping and naked and curious about her hair. She thought he was trying to kill her. Later they became good friends and she said he was her ‘soul brother’. I think perhaps she was harsh on Leonard Cohen out of loyalty to Jim Morrison. She used to light a candle for Jim Morrison every night, although he was alive at that time.