Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The point has been made before, but it bears reiterating: Faithfull may be the single greatest book ever written about the Rolling Stones (and this is coming from a girl who owns at least 50 of ‘em). Of course, it’s not all about the Stones, and thank God; Marianne is just as interesting as Mick or Keith anyway, if not more so, and this book is her masterpiece. But it does delight us with offers of unparalleled insights that could only be observed by someone so close to the boys, the music, and the whole scene of Swinging London. And unlike Spanish Tony, whose book Up And Down With The Rolling Stones was considered an insider’s guide to the Stones and their wicked ways, Marianne wasn’t just a hanger-on. She was the real deal. So many of the various personas that Jagger adopted (and indeed continues to perpetuate to this day) -- Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Lucifer, Turner from Performance – are due largely to Marianne. From Bob Dylan’s lost poem he wrote about Marianne when she was hanging out in his hotel room in ‘65 (enraged, he threw it in the trash after learning she was about to wed student-cum-gallery owner John Dunbar) to seeing Hendrix in a tiny club (he too had his eye on her, naturally) to spending a secret night in ecstasy with Keith Richards, and stories too numerous to even begin to list, Marianne travels back through the highs and lows of her life, literal and metaphorical, in this book that can only be described with oxymorons: funny and heartbreaking, beautiful and tragic, entertaining and disturbing.
It seems that many people conjure images of a virgin teenaged beauty queen turned debaucherous rock star girlfriend turned junkie when they hear the name Marianne Faithfull, if they even know that much. What images come to your mind? A Mars Bar and a fur rug? (That bit of slandering – the Mars Bar – may seem humorous in retrospect, but it irrevocably tarnished Marianne’s reputation – all due to the complete lie of perverted cops with a vendetta to avenge). Do you picture a detached angel with long, blonde bangs humming “As Tears Go By”? A mini-skirted siren on Jagger’s arm? A poor little junkie? That’s exactly the kind of thing Marianne would hate to hear (for possibly the millionth and one time). With this book, Marianne deconstructs all of the stereotypes foisted on her, all of the myths and legends and headlines and sensational dramas. So what is left underneath? A portrait of an incredibly honest, funny, intelligent – often brilliant – woman who has tried to make sense of her life – the past 30 years of which (this book was published in 1994) have been lived in the public eye. Incredible to think that now, in 2009, she’s been a celebrity for 45 years.
Faithfull is distinct from other “rock n’ roll memoirs”, if we can call that a category. Marianne appears neither to sugarcoat nor gloss over the bad times/unflattering things about herself and her cohorts, nor does she recall them with that embellished, overly dramatic, pompous sort of self-importance. She just states things as she recalls. In fact, her diplomacy is rather incredible, and extremely refreshing. It makes what she is saying much more believable. And Marianne by nature is a performer, an actress and a story-teller, so her prose are witty, warm and delivered with an unmistakable voice. One thing that struck me in this book was just how smart she really is. David Dalton, no stranger to the Stones (his book The Rolling Stones: The First Twenty Years is a great collection), undoubtedly helps, but the ideas, stories and words are all Marianne’s. Due to being “out of it” for so many years, I’m sure Marianne needed help piecing things all together (especially times and dates and such, which she admits to having difficulty with due to all the lost years).
Marianne was not only in the studio and the bedroom with the Stones during their creative peak (a high of sheer artistic brilliance that they rode in 1968 and 1969), but her influence on Mick and therefore the music he created is considerably greater than most people know. She inspired songs from “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to “She’s Like A Rainbow” to “Sympathy For The Devil” to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (and there are quite a few more). Although Marianne and Mick parted ways for good in August of 1970, her memory is all over 1971’s Sticky Fingers (besides “Sister Morphine”, for which Marianne penned the lyrics herself, I feel sure that “Sway” and “I Got The Blues” are about her too – and of course the epic love song “Wild Horses”).
Another thing I love about this book is that its stars, besides the usual suspects – Mick, Keith, Brian, etc – are some of the lesser-known-about characters in Rolling Stones folklore (Chrissie Gibbs, Robert Fraser, Michael Cooper, etc). Anita Pallenberg is all over the book, which is a real treat for fans of hers (like myself) that don’t have many sources to go on.
Marianne pretty much dropped off the radar in peoples’ minds post-Jagger (until returning in 1979 with a hit album), but what is revealed is just as incredible (albeit considerably more depressing). In 1970, addicted to heroin, she was recruited to play Lilith in Kenneth Anger’s mind-screw of a film, Lucifer Rising. This is around the time that Marianne’s permanent residence was not the Persian rugs and hardwood floors of 48 Cheyene Walk, but rather The Wall in Soho, where she lived as a homeless registered heroin addict for two years. She recorded some new songs that appeared on the 1971 compilation Rich Kid Blues (which Marianne mocks for her dreadful, heroin-sick voice and the ridiculous title – another falsity of her image was that she came from a wealthy upbringing; her mother was a penniless baroness). And of course she found love post-Jagger: Oliver Musker, who got her off the streets; Ben Brierly, the punk prince and eventual husband, who wrote some of Broken English; and Howard Tose, the mixed-up outsider she met at rehab who tragically committed suicide at the end of their relationship (he suffered from paranoia, schizophrenia, depression and other awful things).
Throughout Faithfull, Marianne takes us everywhere with her – from St. Joseph’s convent school to Courtfield Road, on wonderful holidays to Tangier and Brazil, through seedy apartments and rehab clinics, to the remote quietness of the Irish countryside, and pretty much everywhere in between. She even takes us inside her dreams, which are always fascinating and often prophetic. There’s no wonder that a movie about Marianne’s life, based on this book, is in production (last I read). Although doubtless, whoever is cast as our heroine could never possibly capture the charm, beauty, strength and story of this inimitable queen.
Read this book. I've just begun it again, for the fourth time.
Scans and words by me.