Saturday, August 04, 2012

Ever Faithfull

For 'music night' this evening at The Wild Reed I spotlight one of my favorite vocalists, Marianne Faithfull. I begin so by sharing an article I wrote about her for the April 1995 issue of the Dignity Twin Cities newsletter. (I was editor of this particular publication at the time!) As you'll read, I'd actually met Faithfull the previous September.


British singer Marianne Faithfull performed at Elton John's star-studded AIDS benefit earlier this year and, as Ray Rogers notes, "gave new meaning to the lyrics of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." The song fits Faithfull well.

In the sixties Faithfull was renowned not for her music, but for her "scandalous" relationship with Mick Jagger and the notorious drug-bust at Redlands, the country estate of Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards. By the early 1970s, Faithfull had parted company from Jagger and was living on the streets of Soho, London – destitute and addicted to heroin.

In 1979 she recorded the dark and profane Broken English – an album that was lauded as an artistic triumph and which generated a cult following. The 1980s saw Marianne again on the edge – living a junkie's existence in a run-down apartment in New York City. An almost fatal overdose prompted her to seek help at the Hazelden Rehabilitation Center in Minnesota. Recovery and healing were slow, but in 1987 Faithfull recorded the plaintive Strange Weather and was again critically-acclaimed.

Last September [1994] I met and briefly spoke with Marianne at a local bookstore (left). She was in the Twin Cities signing copies of her autobiography – simply titled Faithfull. We spoke mostly about her haunting recording of the song "Ghost Dance." She said a friend, who has since died of AIDS, suggested the song to her, and that she believes that much of the power in her recording of it was other-worldly inspired.

Faithfull also discussed "Ghost Dance" with journalist Ray Rogers: "The friend I used to come here with, Scotty, died of AIDS last August. It was Scotty's idea that I do "Ghost Dance" . . . He made me a tape of it, and when I put it on, there was nothing there. He was dead by the time I played it again. I found it. It was on the tape, but it wasn't on at the beginning. It was like unwrapping a present."

Recently, Faithfull collaborated with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti to make A Secret Life, a collection of lush and reflective ballads. "Writing [my autobiography] meant I had to plow through emotional territory I normally wouldn't want to," Faithfull recently stated. The reflective mood of A Secret Life can be viewed as the culmination of this sorting through one of one of the most notorious lives in music.

Faithfull's autobiography details her affairs with women as well as men, but she notes that "in the '60s, you could be anything you wanted – gay, straight – it wasn't so nailed down at all." Ray Rogers notes that her narration of the glory days drew mixed reactions, most vociferously to her allegation that Mick Jagger once shared with her his sexual fantasies about Keith Richards. "I was amazed when people were so astounded by that. In the straight world, that was the most dodgy area."

Faithfull also contains Marianne's response to the dubious honor of being officially denounced as a witch by the Vatican Press:

The article cited Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg and myself – Mick as a warlock, and Anita and I as his coven of witches. When I showed it to Anita she shrugged it off as the complete absurdity it is, but then Anita has always been much less bothered by other people's opinions. Still, we wondered why this was happening all these years later. The unmanageable woman has been seen as a very dangerous quantity from the dawn of time, or at least since patriarchal religion clamped down on us.

Living a quiet life in a country cottage outside of Dublin, Ireland, Faithfull today relishes a life outside the "center of the hurricane." She plans to tour in support of A Secret Life and, later, to commence work on her next literary project – the story of her parents' love affair. To Ray Rogers she declared: "I have the title, and I believe at the moment that everything is in this title: Chance and Necessity. . . . That really does say everything, doesn't it?"

– Michael Bayly
April 1995

Marianne's career has continued since 1995's A Secret Life. I particularly recommend her 1998 anthology A Perfect Stranger; her 1999 album Vagabond Ways; and her 2004 album Before the Poison. Also worth checking out is the 2007 documentary Mariane Faithfull: Dreaming My Dreams. As well as maintaining a successful music career, Marianne has also appeared in a number of films, most notably Intimacy (2001), Marie Antoinette (2006), and Irina Palm (2007).

Tonight's Faithfull-fest continues with some wise words of Marianne's from a 1987 interview with music journalist Kris Kirk, followed by the video of her haunting 1987 re-recording of her 1964 hit "As Tears Go By."

A "scandalous and sensational" life

Being a woman and having led a scandalous and sensational life, it's easier to consider me a victim than to accept that I've done what I've done and taken the consequences. Of course I have regrets and I have remorse and, in some ways, I think I've damaged myself irrevocably as a woman and as a human being by doing things high that I might never have done straight. I've brutalized myself by letting people brutalize me. And I'm not talking about sexual slavery and bondage, really – just the wear-and-tear of the situation of a woman who never put value on herself, who accepted all the put downs.

But now I'm beginning to discover that my value as a human being has nothing to do with what I read about myself. That's just my ego-protection; I invented Marianne Faithfull and obviously people will do all sorts of things with that, including making me a stereotype, though it's the stereotype that's so hard to deal with.

. . . Did I have relationships with women? I sort of did, and I'm sad to say that I've been particularly abused by my own sex. I didn't really have a relationship with a woman; I had drug relationships. Like any other addict or alcoholic I would do practically anything for dope. I look back on a lot of things that I did in those days and find them very hard to accept; it's painful to think I allowed them to happen. What did I think I was doing? Yet I can't blame anyone else. That was me then.

Ireland, Catholicism, and guilt

I love Ireland and I made some really good friends there. I felt accepted by the Irish where I wasn't by other people. I don't know if it's the Catholicism or alcoholism or both, but they don't condemn; it was the first time I truly felt that I wasn't being condemned for my past. I guess they related to the idea of a good girl gone bad gone worse! Sometimes I look at myself and wonder if I'm a recovering Catholic as well as a recovering addict and alcoholic, because when I was younger I swallowed all that dogma and I guess I carried a lot of it into my adult life. Mind you, I don't do guilt anymore. Guilt is a self-serving emotion, just a way of whipping yourself.


I find I'm much more conventional and straight than I ever thought I was, and it's shocked me. I didn't expect it. But I live alone, I don't do sex. It's not something I'm advocating for anyone else, but what works for me right now is to stay away from sex and intimacy. I'm scared, really scared of sex. Because it has such a lot of personal power things in it and I don't want any longer to live in such a way where I'm either dominated by or I dominate another human being. And it's normally sex that puts me into either one of those situations so, until I've found some way of being true to myself within sexuality, I shall live without it.

. . . Promiscuity and permissiveness didn't really work for any of us. [In this era of AIDS] we're all gonna have to change our attitudes to sexuality; something has to happen on this planet of ours. Sexuality is a gift, and I sometimes think I've thrown it away.

Broken English

I remember when I did Broken English that I felt real rage and though it was cleansing and good to express those feelings, just to splurge out with emotion like that isn't enough. There has to be a building-up after the knocking-down. There has to be growth.

Quentin Crisp

[Quentin is] one of the top people I really respect and I feel I've learned a lot from him. He talks a lot about acceptance and self-acceptance; he's really got it sussed. Because that's what it's all about. After that all we can do is put one foot in front of the other and do the best we can, honey.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Marianne Faithfull's Official Website
Marianne Faithfull Interview – Chrissy Iley (The Telegraph, March 2, 2011).

For more of Marianne Faithfull at The Wild Reed, see:
Before (and After) the Poison

See also:
Dusty Springfield: Soul Deep
Dionne Warwick: "Being Human is What It's All About"
Emmylou Harris: "The Wonder You Bring . . ."
Judith Durham: A Magical Moment
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Shirley Bassey: Time of the Tigress
Callas Remembered
Two from Helen
Divinlys' Chrissie Amphlett: She'll "Deal With It"
Wendy Matthews
Kate Bush
Jenny Morris
Cass Elliot
Mavis Staples
Yvonne Elliman
Jane Clifton
Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson
Joan Baez

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