FAITHFULL - MARIANNE FAITHFULL
The last time I saw Joe Strummer on a stage I thought yes, that's a genuine living legend up there. A rock'n'roll icon personified. I had the same feeling when I saw Johnny Cash, that yes, we should be humble in this man's presence. It's like when you see a Van Gogh painting in real life or a wonder of the world like the Statue of Liberty; it's confirmation that beauty and greatness and true art and soul actually exists and that you know it's true because you've seen it with your own eyes.
A similar accolade I would bestow upon Marianne Faithfull who, when I first saw her live on stage practically filled the venue with the history she carried. It was like watching an eclipse of the sun. Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night, as William Blake put it. Marianne Faithfull is one of those born to sweet delight though of course, it's not all been plain sailing.
First published in 1994, Faithfull is Marianne's autobiography and it's very good indeed. It's no holds barred. A big, healthy dose of sex, drugs, rock'n'roll and suicide a-go-go.
Cast as the quintessential English rose by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog-Oldham, Marianne immediately puts that myth to bed and reveals something a little more stranger. She is, in fact, the daughter of an Austrian-Hungarian refugee who married an English eccentric so as to escape the tumult of post-war Germany. To boot, her mother's great-uncle was Leopold Baron von Sacher-Masoch whose novel Venus um Pelz gave rise to the term masochism, which in turn inspired the track Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground. Marianne's own grandfather was a sexologist who had run off with a circus dancer and who had invented a proto-orgone accumulator called the Frigidity Machine.
A whole gamut of topics, incidents and events are covered by Marianne but then seeing as she's lived through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, this is only to be expected. One obvious topic is the Rolling Stones and her relationship with them, and Marianne duly delivers along with unique insights and interpretations of Dylan and The Beatles.
Dylan's Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is apparently about her, as is the Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together. Under My Thumb and 19th Nervous Breakdown are about Jagger's then girlfriend, Chrissie Shrimpton. Dylan's Just Like A Woman is about Allen Ginsberg. Were we all meant to know these things already, I wonder?
Brian Jones: No Godstar he, as Psychic TV once declared but rather 'a mess - neurasthenic and hypersensitive... a self-indulgent and brittle monster', made worse by copious consumption of LSD.
Keith Richards: Everything you've heard about him, everything you've read about him, and everything you imagine about him is true. On top of this, for Marianne, the best night she's ever had in her life was the night she had sex with him.
Mick Jagger: Mild mannered and middle class. Not a huge drug taker (compared to most) but with two sides to his personality, revealed to Marianne during LSD sessions with him. Bisexual rather than polymorphous and a bit tight with money. A narcissist - surprise, surprise.
A significant episode that Marianne expounds upon is the police raid upon Redlands, Keith Richard's manor house in Sussex, from which Jagger and Richards faced jail sentences for possession of drugs and Marianne became forever associated with Mars bars. It's obvious from reading her book that if the Mars bar incident was in any way true then she would be candid enough to confess to it. After all, if she's candid enough to confess to a tryst with Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins then there's not really much left to be shy about. The fact that she denies it begs the question 'How did the Mars bar myth come about?'.
Well, according to Marianne it came from the police as a way of destroying her, the Stones and subsequently the culture the Stones were part of - or the British annexe of it, at least. All brought about through collusion between the Establishment and its Home Office minions, MI5, the police and quite probably the CIA. But it doesn't make sense, you might say, why would the Establishment be bothered about a few hippies taking drugs? After all, Marianne Faithfull was only a silly pop star and the Stones just a stupid rock'n'roll band. And you wouldn't be wrong. At the time, however, they were all being viewed as the harbingers of the collapse of Western civilisation. Enemies of the State, even.
According to Marianne: 'While the Stones did, in one sense, represent anarchy in a much more concrete way than the Sex Pistols ten years later, the whole thrust of their rebellion was far too disorganized (true anarchy!) to have been any real threat to anybody. But what is a revolution, even a revolution in style, as ours was, without stepping a few feet over the line? It was the symptoms of something beyond their control that bothered the little men in frock coats. Blatant hedonism, promiscuous sexuality, drugs, mysticism, radical politics, bizarre clothes and, above all, kids with too much money! It was all trundling in its own feckless way towards destruction of the status quo without even actually intending it, and the standard bearers of this children's crusade were the Rolling Stones. And there was I behind them all the way, urging them on.'
Rather than being self-styled street fighting men as perceived by the old men of Eton, the Stones et al were more the children of William Burroughs with drugs being their true forte. This too was the arena in which Marianne excelled to sometimes tragic but often comic effect. At a party in Kensington she's offered cocaine, a drug she's never seen before. Six large lines are laid out by the host and Marianne's given a hundred dollar bill.
'What do you do?' she asks. 'You put it in your nose and you snort it,' she's told. 'I knelt down and snorted all six lines. His face was a scream: half amazed that I'd done it all and half appalled. I didn't know the drug etiquette. I quickly learned.'
Her new found hobby led to the song Sister Morphine, Marianne's attempt at making art out of a pop song that subsequently became - if not a pop hit - her signature tune. For all that, it was Anita Pallenberg who starred alongside Jagger in the film Performance, rather than Marianne, which is the point that signalled the end of Marianne's and Jagger's relationship: 'Performance changed everything,' as she puts it.
The album Broken English was Marianne's piece de resistance but before recording it she had spent two years sitting on a wall being a junky in Soho but even this episode is of interest: 'Out on the street I began to see how kind and compassionate people could be. It was junkies and winos who restored to me my faith in humanity. People think that my time with Mick was this glorious moment in my life because of all the money, fame and adulation and, while it's true I do like a bit of glamour now and again, I knew that the life Mick and I were leading wasn't reality; real life is what's happening on the street.'
These were the Punk years, and whilst Jagger was getting the door to Malcolm McLaren's shop slammed shut in his face by Johnny Rotten (or so the legend goes), Marianne was sharing the same drug dealer as Sid Vicious and inviting Rotten and the Punk 'elite' to her wedding. Though even then she wasn't entirely safe from barbed criticism as shown by when Vivienne Westwood visits Marianne in her mansion-like squat: 'So this is how you old hippies live is it?' Vivienne sneers.
There's so much relayed in Marianne's autobiography that it's impossible to convey how good it is. Practically everything she writes about is of equal interest and of equal importance. As a document of the Sixties and Seventies it's invaluable because not only was she there in the thick of it but because it's also from a woman's point of view rather than from another member of the boys rock'n'roll club. Those that only know of Marianne from her début single As Tears Go By may well be quite shocked by her confessions but those who also know the re-recorded version and even view it as the superior one will be mightily satisfied, as will those who love the track Why D'Ya Do It?
As an end note, Marianne now lives by herself in Paris. She's still with us. She's survived. And above all - she's happy.