Remembering Chelsea Girls

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It’s the 50th anniversary of the brooding ballad based on Andy Warhol’s iconic film


  • Behind the scaffolding, the old sign for the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street is still visible. Photo: Liz Hardaway

  • Hotel Chelsea, where most of "Chelsea Girls" was filmed, used to be a central hub for famous artists and musicians. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library

Here they come now: Chelsea Girls.

Let’s take a trip back 50 years ago. Here’s Room 506, maybe Room 115 of the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street. After the prodigious success of Andy Warhol’s experimental underground film “Chelsea Girls” came the brooding ballad of the same name by the famous it-girl Nico herself. Nico launched her solo career after the ubiquitous fame from her collaboration with The Velvet Underground, inspiring many up-and-coming artists for years to come. Though she lived a fast-paced life riddled with addiction, Nico is still remembered half a century later. That’s right, Nico’s “Chelsea Girls” turns 50 this month. And Warhol’s notorious three-hour, double-screened acid trip is just past 51.

“You wonder just how high they go,” Nico ponders, with a soft flute and violin caressing her cryptic chant. The seven-minute song describes the filming of various women of The Factory, Warhol’s famed studio, who were queens of the art underground. The “Chelsea Girls” film documents lots of nudity, shooting up methamphetamine, and S&M, but these were reportedly daily occurrences among the Warhol scene.

The film was shot in the Hotel Chelsea in the summer and early fall of 1966. Once an artistic hub of creative masterminds, the hotel closed in 2011 with plans to reopen its doors as a hotel and condominium by 2018. For now, the hotel remains obscured by scaffolding, with the Hotel Chelsea sign barely visible to the naked eye.

Other parts of the film were recorded in The Factory, on the fifth floor of 231 East 47th Street in Midtown. Referred to as the “Silver Factory,” the iconic site now just remains as a parking lot.

Though almost half of the actors listed in Chelsea Girls have passed away, the legacies of both the debut album and iconic cult film live on. Warhol’s art still lines the halls of museums across the nation, and Nico’s music has inspired musicians like Patti Smith, Morrissey, Björk and other artists. Even 50 years later, people still can enjoy Nico’s melodic chant: “Here they come now, see them run now, here they come now Chelsea girls.”

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