ow would you like it if your entire
life was defined by the house party
where Inspector Knacker found you
clad in a rug nearly 30 years ago?
When it comes to Marianne
Faithfull, many showbiz hacks still can’t look beyond the ‘NAKED GIRL AT STONES PARTY’ headlines, the still~potent image of the convent girl dragged into debauchery.
People have always had their own convenient takes on Marianne Faithfull. When she was starting out. those beautiful, open features seemed like a blank screen inviting images to be projected on them. The virginal English Rose. The pawn of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham. Later, the sex kitten. The strumpet. The degenerate. The fall, in the eyes of the press and public, when it became apparent she didn’t lit easily into any stereotype, was short and messy.
‘People are often different, and somebody not like the rest of the tribe gets pushed out. But by not being beaten and broken and defeated, I’m saying something quite different.’
In common with the Stones and the rest of their circle. she was hounded for her transgressions. becoming a sacrificial lamb for the outraged parents of a whole generation to feast on.
‘Well — not willingly.’ she insists. one of a succession of Marlboro Lights tracing the air above the swallow tattoo between her thumb and forefinger. ‘You have to be willing to be a sacrifice. You can’t do it if I’m resisting. It’s not unusual, people are often different, and somebody not like the rest of the tribe gets pushed out like that. But by not being beaten and broken and defeated, I’m saying something quite different.’
The strength of character that preserved her
from the slings and arrows of British disapproval also pulled her out of the
wildemess to assert herself as a creator of powerful work in her own right. In I979. Broken English won over a new legion of post- punk fans for whom the 60s legend was irrelevant. But still it hung there, and while writing her autobiography a couple of years ago
MARIAN N E FAITHFULL FEATURE
helped her make some peace with her past, it was still a painful process.
‘Nearly every bit of it in the beginning. and all through it.’ she says. ‘I’m in some sort of humiliating situation. I don’t come out of it well and my ego was hurt. But everyone has that: in your historical thing. you want to look good, you want yourself to be the winner. ljust had to come to terms with that and bite the bullet and do it.’
We’re sitting in her sister-in-law’s conservatory. over Earl Grey and chocolate biscuits. As silence greets the darkening sky, Faithfull whispers: ‘This is a pretty place, isn’t it‘.” and talks of Shell Cottage. the idyllic home beside a Capability Brown-designed lake that she rents in Ireland. It’s hard to equate this with a life lived literally on the London streets at the peak of her heroin addiction. (Contrarily, she’ll tell you that this was a much happier time than it sounds.)
Now 48 and a grandmother, she gives the impression of a woman welcoming middle age as a time for her cccentricities to bloom. Her speech is theatrical, her gestures flamboyant, the air around her a zone of aristocratic earthiness. Marianne Faithfull is steeped in art and literature, dropping names one feels shamefully uncultured for not knowing. There are glirnmers underneath to warn of the limits to her patience. but she also seems permanently to be perched on the edge of the dirtiest cackle. Needless to say. one very quickly warms to her.
The ‘new Piaf’ tag loosely attaching itself to her is just as one-dimensional as the other labels, but it’s true that she’s broadened her scope over the years to become a renowned interpreter of great 20th century songs. Although she once believed that Kurt Weill was ‘kinda heavy’ for her. producer Hal Willner persuaded her to sing ‘The Ballad Of A Soldier’s Wife’ for the Weill tribute Lost In The Stars. The Brecht/Weill operetta The Seven Deadly Sins, followed, and now she’s touring a full Kurt Weill show, ‘An Evening In The Weimar Republic’ — bringing it to Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall.
‘It’s not my only thing in life, but I love doing it and I can do it very well,’ she says. ‘lt’s not maybe as stylised as a lot of the things you may have seen. I play it very straight. I have some irony, of course, but not massive amounts.’
There is also a Sandra Bernhard album to produce and music in a rockier vein to be made — it’s physically more taxing, but she hasn’t lost her taste for that. And on top of everything else,
Marianne Faithfull - the early years
Heathcote Williams, who wrote the poem which became ‘Why D’Ya Do It’. that incredible tumult of sexual jealousy on Broken English, has penned ‘a furious rant’ called Heart OfDarkness. So thrilled was Faithful] by the lyric that she plans to perform it in Morocco with the legendary .Ioujouka Musicians and three of the Chieftains.
She gives the impression of a woman welcoming middle age as a time for her eccentriclties to bloom. Her speech is theatrical, her gestures flamboyant, the air around her a zone of aristocratic earthlness.
‘I’ve got it a long way, actually, to where everybody’s connected, but I can’t do any more because I can’t pay for it,’ she says. ‘It’s going to be great to do it in Morocco at the end of February in the full moon with the Atlas Mountains and all that nonsense — and we should get someone to film it, but I don’t know how to do that. It’s not really the sort of thing, in the present climate, that people are falling over themselves to do.
’I’m doing a talk at the Oxford Union tomorrow,’ she mentions, casually. ‘It’s about transience. Mutability. I’m doing a lot using the Earl of Rochester, a bit of Proust just a showing of what I think transience is. I don’t know what it is, I’mjust working on it. I’m not an intellectual or an academic, so I can’t do what they would do. I’mjust going to riff on it.’
And there we leave it. A car is waiting to take her to a new version of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. ‘It’s an Anthony Page production. I’m going with him,’ she says, adding a tad unneccesan’ly: ‘with Anthony Page.’
And so she does, smoking and rifting off into the night. So long, Marianne.
Marianne Faithfull presents the only British (late of A Night In The Weimar Republic at The Queen 's Hall, Edinburgh on Fri 8.
The List 1- l4 Dec 1995 9