||'Don't dare call me a survivor'
by Andrew Billen
Read Andrew Billen every Wednesday in the Evening Standard
Marianne Faithfull is pondering the oddness of autobiographical songs that predict rather than record. She may be one of pop's most famous former junkies, but she wrote Sister Morphine not only before she lived rough on the streets of London but before she had taken heroin.
Marianne Faithfull: "I've had some difficult times. I would never deny that, but they were self-induced"
"All my life I've felt sort of plugged in to some great force and there was a time, when I was on heroin, when I was unplugged and it was really frightening. I lost my connection, and then I got it back again. Phew."
But at this moment Dillon, the photographer, puts his head round the door of our humble Notting Hill hotel room. "Out!" roars Faithfull with terrifying force and out Dillon retreats. "F*** off," she rasps as I scurry to barricade the door against further intrusions. "It is," she fumes, "going to be one of those days."
I so hope it isn't. You can get a highly entertaining piece out of Marianne Faithfull's imperious temper - sometimes attributed to hypoglycaemia, a legacy of her heroin addiction - but you first have to endure it, and I'm not certain I have the strength. I'm also quite sure the Queen Mum of Bohemia, as she sometimes calls herself, does not want another meltdown in print. After her last, she organised her own media-training course, which involved repeated viewings of La Dolce Vita, Fellini's film about the paparazzi, and Don't Look Back, a 1967 documentary in which Bob Dylan bites the heads off many a pressman.
The Dillon flare-up apart, the self-administered aversion therapy seems to have worked. Being interviewed is a tense business for her because it means looking at a past and personality which she is not yet at peace with, and, for the sake of her music, perhaps cannot afford to be. Indeed, her new album, Kissin Time, is her most autobiographical since her comeback LP, Broken English, in 1979.
A song written for her by Jarvis Cocker, Sliding Through Life On Charm, concludes: "I wonder why the schools don't teach anything useful these days/Like how to fall from grace/And slide with elegance from a pedestal/I never asked to be on in the first place."
This summarises her story pretty well: the end of her romance with Mick Jagger, her suicide attempt (she swallowed 150 barbiturates in 1969 in a strange homage to Brian Jones's death), two years homeless in Soho, two abortions, two miscarriages, three marriages, and 15 years drug addiction until a rehab clinic in Minnesota rescued her. She hates to be called a survivor, but that is what she is.
With Mick Jagger in 1969: "What I can seen now is that I was in love with Mick. Of course I fancied Keith - who wouldn't? but I was in love with Mick"
"The Mars Bar business: I don't like it. We pondered where it came from, Mick and me. Was it a policeman? Was it a policeman and a journalist together? Was it the government?"
She says she always intended to make it to 2001 because, high on acid, she saw 2001: A Space Odyssey with Jagger and Keith Richards in Leicester Square in 1968, and it was one of the best days of her life. So 2002 is a bonus. She is 55, "in love" and still, as the Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, letched, "an angel with big tits". Since 1964 when, fatefully, Jagger first cast eyes on her and was inspired to write her hit song As Tears Go By, her statistics have expanded only discreetly from 34-24-34 to 36-26-36. In her silk v-neck sweater, spray-on jeans and red leather jacket borrowed from a groovy young designer named Morteza Dashai, she looks the most fabulous vamp.
"Don't give me any bullshit about my tragic life," she says. "I've had a charmed life. I've had, definitely had, some difficult times. I would never deny that, but they were self-induced." A Beck track on the album, Nobody's Fault, suggests her mistakes were all her own. She agrees.
"What I have been doing for years is try and improve my somewhat rotten character. One of my first memories of my parents, before they broke up and they were still happy, was them singing me this song: 'There was a little girl and she had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid.' Sometimes I think I've never, ever changed."
Apart from being another instance of a song foretelling her destiny, this memory suggests how inscrutably variable Faithfull finds herself. Part of her seeks anonymity, most dramatically on the streets in the early Seventies in St Anne's Court, Soho. Spectrally thin, unwashed, wearing the same clothes every day, two front teeth knocked out in a punch-up in rehab clinic, she went almost wholly unrecognised, as she intended. She still sometimes dreams of opening a health food shop or becoming an airline stewardess, disappearing, and when I call her an icon, she scolds that an icon is "a religious symbol of the Virgin Mary you get in Russia".
Yet, and here lies her paradox, she also nurses a conceit that her life signifies something beyond itself. "All my life I've felt sort of plugged in to some great force and there was a time, when I was on heroin, when I was unplugged and it was really frightening. I lost my connection, and then I got it back again. Phew."
At her convent school in Reading, when she was eight, some knuckleheaded nun thought she had identified just what this force was. Delivering a lecture on evil, she looked straight at Faithfull: "You are going to have to be very careful."
"I think," Marianne says, "that gave me this dread and fear, which I have only just got rid of, a dread and fear of being an evil person - which, of course, I am not."
The nun was probably extrapolating from her beauty. At the time, though, Marianne had no idea she was beautiful and when, after hitting London at the age of 17, she did catch wind of it she says she got "the complete horrors" and ran. Ran but could not hide.
In February 1967, the police raided Keith Richards's home in West Wittering in Sussex. Although the Stones chivalrously took the rap for the LSD she had taken, the fact that she was dressed in nothing but a fur rug was leaked to the papers, as was the lie that she was concealing a chocolate bar between her legs. Her good name, which, she says, was so important to her, had been destroyed.
"The Mars Bar business: I don't like it. We pondered where it came from, Mick and me. Was it a policeman? Was it a policeman and a journalist together? Was it the government? It could have been, you know. We were dead keen on conspiracy theories. But it was to besmirch us, and who better to besmirch than a beautiful woman, especially naked in a fur rug with nine guys, although it wasn't that kind of evening at all and I'm a lady."
Can she not look back now and laugh? "No, I'm never going to be able to accept that."
But the headlines had at last justified the nun's prophecy. "I was excommunicated by the Vatican and denounced by the Archbishop of Westminster Cathedral and got all those horrible hate letters. It had taken years to gestate, and then it all just came rushing back to me."
Mars Bars notwithstanding, Jagger and she were the most glamorous couple of their generation (compare the Beatles' dowdy wives), but her gripping 1994 autobiography, Faithfull (Penguin, £7.99), records that their relationship was less amazing to be in than to observe. For months they slept at opposite sides of a gigantic double bed, avoiding sex. When, at seven months, she miscarried Jagger's baby, he was seeing Anita Pallenberg. In the book, the Faithfull-Stones version of La Ronde recalls Sartre's vision of hell in Huis-clos: she was sleeping with Mick but in love with Keith who was in love with Pallenberg who was sleeping with Mick who all along (Faithfull believes) was secretly in love with Keith.
"But that is not completely true. If I was writing it now it would be a little different. What I really can see now - of course, with distance, with hindsight, you see more - is that I really was in love with Mick. Of course, I fancied Keith - who wouldn't? - but really I was in love with Mick."
What a shame then it didn't work out! "It was because we were 'Mick and Marianne' and we were in that fish bowl."
So she left him for the romance of anonymous junkiedom as advertised in William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch. Jagger, she writes, meanwhile gave way to his narcissism and married himself, his lookalike Bianca. Yet Mick emerges from the book in better shape than most of her lovers. Of her three ex-husbands she is in touch only with the first, the art dealer John Dunbar whom she married at 18 because she was pregnant with his baby, Nicholas.
As for Ben Brierly, a punk musician she wed in 1979, and a writer, Giorgio Della Terza, who left her for another woman in 1990 after two years of marriage, she says it is as if they never existed.
Nicholas said something I thought was very smart. He said, When I think about it, after my dad, the people you married just showed what you thought of marriage.'"
Having lost custody of Nicholas during her junkie years, she is now on good terms with him and his children. Oscar and Noah call her nanna". Nicholas is the author of a book about hedge funds, Inventing Money. He's very much like my father. Such a good brain," she says, referring to Major Glynn Faithfull, an academic who, don't you know, translated Michelangelo's sonnets.
How often has she been in love? Very rarely. I don't think I fall in love easily and I never expected to fall in love again, but I did."
She won't say to whom but the rumour is that it is her manager, Franůois Ravard, a presentable Frenchman of about her age who introduces himself at the start of our interview. She says love at her age is friendlier, less tense and sexier.
There was a time when the easiest way to write a song was to have your heart broken, but that's the easy way out. It's much harder to write out of happiness than to write out of tragedy and sadness and drama and all that shite."
Is she happy now? "At the moment I'm pretty happy. I mean, happiness isn't something I chase. I learned years ago that happiness is a by-product you get from doing other things."
The greatest anxiety I detect is financial. When I ask, vis-a-vis her demand that her current love life stays private, why she wrote such a kiss-and-tell autobiography, she replies with one word: "Money." Her family, she says, lacks the money gene. Her recording deals never made her rich. I ask when she last worried about paying the gas bill. Now, she says. Yet just as she never came close to prostitution in her junkie years in Soho, there are some things she will not do to turn a buck. Last year she took a powerful cameo in the film Intimacy but it was her first acting role for years. She says she does not employ a theatrical agent.
"I'd end up being in The Graduate. No thanks. I'll go on the stage every night to do Cleopatra or Lady Macbeth but not The Graduate. Sorry. I could do The Cherry Orchard. I could do a lot of things."
So why doesn't she? "Because I obviously don't try hard enough. The way the whole thing works is you have to go through a long apprentice period, put up with a hell of a lot of shit and, eventually, you get the prize, if you're good enough. And I'm just too snooty."
"Snooty" is harsh, but a certain snobbishness does attach to her, not just in her dated insistence that she is a "lady", but in her ungentle reminders that her late mother Eva, the Baroness Erissa, came from an Austrian-Hungarian family dating back 800 years to Charlemagne: "That's posh!" When I say she used to tease Jagger for his courting of aristocrats, she lets me know that this is her circle too. Many other friends, from Damon Albarn to Naomi Campbell, belong to those other aristocracies of fame, beauty and talent and, of course, wealth. You can appreciate why being skint maddens her.
It is, happily, the only thing that does this afternoon. When Dillon beards the den again, she apologises to him and their photo-session ends in an embrace. The one slight weirdness to record is that between talking to me and posing for him, she retires for five minutes to stare into the bathroom mirror. "I needed to check I was still there.
Seriously, I needed to make sure," she says. She needn't worry. After 40 years of fame and infamy, invisibility is hardly going to claim her now.
Marianne Faithfull plays at the Barbican on 10 March (box office: 020 7638 8891). Her LP, Kissin Time, is released 4 March on Hut Recordings.