Patti Smith performed a unique and mysterious tribute to late singer Nico two years ago with ambient backing music from her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, and a trio called Soundwalk Collective. It featured sounds from Nico’s own harmonium and sounds that approximate what the former Velvet Underground collaborator might have heard when she collapsed while bicycling in Ibiza in 1988, an event that preceded her death in a hospital later that day. Now Smith’s morbid homage, “Killer Road” – culled from Nico’s poetry – is getting a proper release on Soundwalk Collective’s Killer Road album, due out September 2nd.
The four-and-a-half-minute–track opens with bug-like sounds that give way to chilly, sighing atmospherics. “The killer road is waiting for you,” Smith speaks, “like a finger, pointing in the night … Who’s to blame?” She whispers, “I have come to die with you,” as new sound effects and field recordings crescendo around her.
The Smiths and the Soundwalk Collective first performed the work as part of the Crossing the Line festival at the French Institute Alliance Française in 2014. Nine tracks appear on the Killer Road LP, each containing Nico’s poetry.
Nico once recalled apprehension when thinking about her first impressions of Smith. “The first time I ever saw Patti was at Andy’s,” she said, according to Dancing Barefoot: The Patti Smith Story. “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.” (Note: Reed was born in Brooklyn and raised in Long Island.)
She’d later go on to praise Smith: “She was a female Leonard Cohen when she moved from writing to singing, and I liked her because she was thin and strong.”
Smith later played an important role in Nico’s life, buying back the singer’s harmonium at “an obscure shop” in Paris, as Nico put it, after it had gone missing. “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 would play the harmonium again on her final album, 1985’s Camera Obscura.