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Topic: As Years Go By (Marianne Faithfull Article) Return to archive
02-09-02 10:35 PM
Jaxx SMH

As Years Go By

Mick Jagger's ex says she is a reformed chanteuse. Almost.

Marianne Faithful in the 70's (right) and in Sydney.

By Stephanie Bunbury

There is something so magnificently decayed about Marianne Faithfull that it doesn't really matter if she's bats. Her face is still beautiful, the more so for the fact that it is so raddled, like a ransacked castle, every one of its 55 years chiselled into the visage. Her body has spread impressively, too. She may be past her best time for exposing great billows of breast, but at least we can see she isn't a spindly junkie any more. After reading her autobiography, Faithfull, I am impressed simply by the fact that she is alive.

She is also, in fits and starts, charming in such a lordly way that you wouldn't be surprised if she offered you a cottage on the family estate, except for the fact that she is nothing like the luxuriously posh totty people used to think. Her mother may have been a baroness, but her high-rolling days were as a consort to the rich. Any serious money Faithfull made went up her arm.

Mick Jagger. Photos: Andrew Taylor and Jon Lindsay.

Some years ago, she moved to Ireland to rent an isolated cottage on the wild west coast. She still lives in Dublin. It is safer than London, in all sorts of ways. She is, she says, in bed early these days.

But now here she is in Berlin, ostensibly to promote Patrice Chereau's film Intimacy, in which she plays Betty, a dotty suburban amateur theatrical who listens sympathetically to drama teacher Kerry Fox's woes. She really can't act, although in this role it doesn't matter. Betty is a sort of Cockney version of Faithfull.

Intimacy is almost a perfect match for Marianne Faithfull: it is the most scandalous film to emerge in Britain. Discussion has centred around the unflinching scenes of sex between Mark Rylance and Fox. "I think it's really good," Faithfull says. "I'm proud of it. It's tough, but to me it's closer to real life than most movies and therefore less exploitative."

Would she have taken on Fox's part? "It's out of the question! I'm an old bag, now," she barks, laughing. "If I'd been offered this part when I was 24 I would have loved it. I wish I'd done a film like this instead of that stupid Girl on a Motorcycle, because that put me off making films for 25 years. It was so ghastly and phoney and bullshit."

Jack Cardiff's 1968 film was regarded as soft porn, but looks very tame now. On the promise of a naked Marianne, however, it was the second-biggest film that year in England, no matter what the critics thought. The celebrity culture of the 1960s was every bit as mad as the current one. Thus Faithfull - not a real actress, by her own admission - found herself on stage playing Irina in The Three Sisters with Glenda Jackson. Or, later, Ophelia for Tony Richardson: surely, he must have known her dealer came to jack her up at interval, just before the death scene? And, most Faithfullishly of all, she became the first person to say "f---" in a movie: Michael Winner's 1967 I'll Never Forget What's'isname.

"So what? I am so annoyed about that. This is the thing about statistics. Who was the first person to say 'f---' in a movie? Marianne Faithfull! And that was like a trick, because I had no idea." She pauses for ironic effect. "That was exploitative. I got paid 200 quid. I should have got a lot more for saying 'f---' for the first time."

Par for the course, though. Somehow, Faithfull has always found herself in the midst of notoriety. Not long after she started going out with Mick Jagger, back in 1967, the Stones set were busted at Keith Richards' country house. She had no drugs on her, if only because she was wearing nothing but a fur rug. Legend has it, wrongly, that she and Mick were at sexual play with a Mars Bar. She was known as the Mars Bar girl thereafter; worse, she started getting hate-mail telling her to leave the country and then began, she thinks, a lifelong persecution by the press.

"The negative energy directed at me at gale force by the press was withering," she says in her autobiography of 1992, Faithfull. My, yes, it was dreadful.

And, of course, her life as she tells it was rather dreadful, even before she grew dependent on heroin, with nothing to do but play muse to a famous man. Her father presided over an amiably dotty psychotherapeutic community based on Jungian ideas while her Austrian mother was proudly related to Baron von Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs. Even when her mother was too hard-up to run a telephone, she never let Marianne forget that her birthright was the glamour and sophistication of Gustav Klimt's middle Europe.

At 17, the young bohemian was singing Joan Baez songs in local cafes and going out with John Dunbar, a Cambridge student and aspiring beat poet. It was with him that she met Andrew Loog Oldham, then the manager of the Rolling Stones, who took one look at her (according to her account) and asked Dunbar if she could sing. It was the start of her pop career.

"I think I was fully formed by the time I was 17," Faithfull says now. "It is pretty exceptional, but I have memories of my dreams when I was two. I mean, there were things I didn't know at 17 but, basically, a lot of my character and what I wanted to do, what I thought was OK or not OK, was pretty much there. My moral compass."

The sweep of that compass, however, was wide and wavering. She had a hit with the Jagger-Richards song As Tears Go By while still a schoolgirl. For a couple of years after that she travelled the country on great multi-billing tours headed by people such as the Hollies and Roy Orbison. She seemed to have sex with most of them, but why not? She was just a kid. Then there was marriage to Dunbar and a baby, Nicholas; there was the budding Chelsea scene around Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg; there were a lot of soft drugs and a few hard ones.

And then there was Jagger. At 19, she left her baby with the nanny and took up the full-time job of being Mick Jagger's girlfriend. Her years of upping and downing had begun, endless time frittered on drugs and reading books about astrology and magic or buying clothes and Moroccan carpets with Mick's money; mustering the focus to write a single song, Sister Morphine, looms very large in her account of the five Jagger years.

So does the death of Brian Jones. It was Jones who stalked her mind when she tried to kill herself when she and Jagger arrived in Sydney to shoot Ned Kelly. She took 150 sleeping pills. Jagger rushed her to hospital and looked after her, but it was the beginning of their end. When they split up, she began her drug-addicted life in earnest. A few years later she was living on the street in London's Soho, nodding off all day on a wall. She lost custody of Nicholas in 1972, when he was seven, and didn't see him for years.

But addiction is not a constant. There were relatively sober periods, when she would write songs, record and tour. Her one great album, Broken English, came out in 1979, but she started spiralling downwards once the royalties started coming in. She was simply lucky that she was still significant enough, in 1985, for the people at Island Records to worry about getting her into rehab.

She has not slid back since then, although she does still have, she says, Dionysian yearnings. And she still drinks and does the odd little thing, which is not the NA way, but she functions. She is even reconciled to Nicholas. Since she cleaned up she has also recorded Strange Weather (1987), a covers album that shows her power as a tragic chanteuse.

She does not live with anyone - impossible for her, she says - but does seem to be involved with her manager, a testy Frenchman called Franois Ravard. She does not talk about her romantic life, but I suspect that, post-drugs, she is probably on a sexual roll. "Sex is one of the most important ways we have to communicate," she says grandly, reflecting on Intimacy. "And I can only speak for myself, but sex is very important to me. It's like music, a universal language; anything where you don't have to speak is potentially very liberating. That is what I love about music, too."

She is always being asked about the '60s; after all, she is mostly famous for being Mick Jagger's old girlfriend. She says she doesn't care. "Obviously not. Do you think I care what people ask? I'm very fond of all my old friends, blah blah, wish them well, blah blah blah. Hope they're well and happy and get along, but life goes on! I prefer people I didn't know in the '60s. They're allowed to have been born in the '60s, but I'd rather hang out with people I didn't know then." She pauses, then adds: "I get bored with people."

One thing you can say for Faithfull at 55: she's not boring. She may be a mad, loud, slightly appalling woman but she still sparkles with the same volcanic curiosity that enlivens her autobiography. That curiosity almost killed her, but it comes from the same raw brilliance that led her to Shakespeare and Dante along with the drugs. It was not just her looks that earned her a place at rock's top table, that saw her plucked from the millions of beautiful girls who chased rock's coat-tails.

That's clear enough. She is a monster in her own right.
02-09-02 11:44 PM
Marilyn There is NO WAY on earth that the picture in this article is THE Mick Jagger...absolutly not our way, no how.
02-09-02 11:50 PM
beer Hahaha!!!!!! that is NOT mick !!!!! No Way!!! hahaha!!
02-10-02 08:53 AM
Jaxx LOL. i thought it looked like steven tyler, but it might be mick with his face pushed up against glass or something.

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