Original sweet bird of youth with an indomitable spirit…
The subject today is Marianne Faithfull, probably best known as the late 60’s sex icon, whose initial claim to fame was being Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, Guinevere to his Lancelot; Jagger, the Rolling Stones’ lead vocalist, was into the Arthurian Myth Cycle at the time. She effectively stood in the same relationship to Jagger as Yoko Ono did to John Lennon. However, Marianne was a singer and, later, songwriter in her own right, as well as being an already budding actress.
Over an often tempestuous career spanning 45 years, plagued with drug abuse, deaths and breakdowns, she has also worked and fraternized with some of the best known names in the music, theatrical and film worlds. In music, these include John Lennon and Yoko Ono, George Harrison and Patti Boyd, Paul McCartney and Jane Ashei, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Steve Winwood, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willy Nelson, and Emmylou Harris.
In the fields of theatre, TV and film, those she has played alongside include Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Orson Welles, Alain Delon, Anthony Hopkins, Peter Gilmore, Ian Ogilvy, Nicole Williamson, Britt Ekland, and Jennifer Saunders. Other celebrities she can count as friends include Kate Moss, Yves Saint-Laurent, Sophia and Francis Ford Coppola, William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg.
When she first appeared on the music scene in 1964, singing folk songs in coffee houses, Marianne was a reserved, debutante-like figure. Justifiably so as her mother was the Austro-Hungarian Baroness Eva Erisso von Sacher-Masoch, a famed ballerina and Marianne, herself, had inherited the title, Baroness Sacher-Masoch. Significantly, Faithfull’s great-great-uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the infamous 19th century Austrian nobleman whose erotic novel, Venus in Furs, originated the term, "masochism".
Marianne’s father, Major Dr. Robert Glynn Faithfull, was a British spy whose own father had invented a sexual device called the Frigidity Machine. Marianne’s first exposure to unconventional lifestyles was at her father’s literary commune at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, until he abandoned the family when she was 6. Her mother then raised the girl like "one of her cats", until young Marianne was sent off as a border to St. lcmmeph’s Convent. There, she became a member of the Progress Theatre’s student group, and by 13, she was acting Shakespeare in a local rep.
At 17, she fell in love with John Dunbar, a gallery owner, whose, gallery was a popular venue of the music scene. Attending the Rolling Stones’ launch party there, she first met Mick Jagger and was ‘discovered’ by the Stones’ Rasputin-like manager, Andrew Oldham, who described her as "a pale, blonde, retiring, chaste teenager looking like the Mona Lisa, except with a great body".
Her first major release, "As Tears Go By", was written by Oldham, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and became a chart success, followed by "This Little Bird", "Summer Nights" and "Come and Stay With Me". She married Dunbar in 1965, having a baby son later that year, but let her mother raise it. She preferred going off partying, dropping acid and sampling marijuana with Brian Jones. She left her husband to live with Jagger in December 1966. She told the Musical Express "My first move was to get a Rolling Stone as a boyfriend. I slept with three and decided the lead singer was the best bet".
Once together, Marianne and Mick Jagger were inseparable, two of the ‘Beautiful People’ of the sixties. She also gained a fair amount of notoriety for being ‘the Mars Bar Girl’. Jagger and she were caught in a drug bust, he with his head between Marianne’s legs, performing cunnilingus with a half-inserted Mars Bar. Marianne, wrapped only in a fur rug – Venus in Furs promptly dropped the fur to the floor. Thirty three years later, she still couldn’t live down this incident, and she was even recently approached by the Mars Company – to do an advert for them!
Marianne’s profound influence on Jagger emerges through his songs. Before they came together, he wrote "Let’s Spend the Night Together," after a night of stupendous sex with her in a Bristol hotel "Sympathy for the Devil", reflected a Russian book Marianne had given him. "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" "Wild Horses" and "I Got the Blues" were also inspired by her. "All my traumas and all my unhappiness, Jagger changed into brilliant songs," she recalls.
The young Marianne was a typical product of the Sex-n-Drugs-n-Rock-n-Roll Era of the 60’s and 70’s. "Rock & Roll is sex", Marianne asserted in a recent interview, "it’s driven by sex." This was in response to the somewhat puritanical Australian interviewer’s accusation that she’d been extremely promiscuous in her youth, having had an incredible volume of casual sex. She said it was great fun.
It was, after all, the Swinging Sixties, the beginning of Flower Power and the Love Generation, the Rolling Stones were soon to acquire their iconoclastic image, which his been described as "an incendiary blend of sex, drugs, Satanism, and radical politics delivered with their patented fusion of Jagger’s ironic distance and Richards’s tatterdemalion intensity.
This was partly demonstrated by their increasing disgruntlement with the music scene’s psychedelic euphoria with the hallucinogens, like magic mushrooms, mescaline and acid (LSD), in favor of hard narcotics, like heroin and morphine. This manifested in songs with titles like "Brown Sugar" and Marianne’s "Sister Morphine", written in an attempt to reorient her lightweight recording career and recover from the miscarriage of Jagger’s baby.
Soon after, Brain Jones drowned in his home’s pool, which Marianne and Jagger had foreseen in an I Ching reading about Jones, raising the hexagram "Death by Water". Later, Marianne nearly overdosed on barbiturates because she was appalled at the hand’s apparent nonchalance over Jones’ death and she wanted to make an impact on them. Already heavily into cocaine, she then fell under the noxious influence of ‘smack’ (heroin) and a few months later, Jagger took her to dinner at the Earl of Warwick’s, she was so ‘smacked-up’ she fell face down in her soup.
Shortly after, Jagger jilted her in favor of Bianca de Macias, whom he surreptitiously married in May 1971, without telling Marianne. Heartbroken, she literally spent two years on the streets of London’s Soho red light district, as a street junkie, receiving daily fixes at the NHS rehabilitation centre there; though she’s adamant she never resorted to prostitution. Friends, shrinks and five years of therapy finally allowed her to make a musical comeback with Broken English.
She, at times, looked frail and susceptible, yet this masked an indomitable spirit that would resurrect her through her often-tragic cycle of falls and recovery. Her voice, for instance, which initially had been distinctive and melodic, changed through laryngitis and drug abuse to acquire a gravelly quality not unlike those of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.
"My voice is loaded with time, mature like brie cheese," she says. This was perhaps more suitable as she experimented with different genres as she reinvented herself through phases of punk, jazz, and blues. These phases were often marked by a different partner, in a variety of accommodations, including a squat without hot water or electricity in Chelsea, and the suicide of her lover, and her own Hepatitis C and defeat of breast cancer. Through it all, she still consistently produced noteworthy music, right up to 2009. In 1999, she ranking 25th in VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll.
All through her musical career, Marianne had pursued a parallel career in theatre, TV and film, where she has given some outstanding and memorable performances, illustrating her extraordinary versatility over 24 appearances. Illustrating her early hippie days was her nude part with Jagger in Performance.
She again appeared in I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname, where she became the first person to say "f*ck" in a mainstream studio movie. Her part in the memorable Girl on a Motorcycle remains iconic. In a similar vein was Lilith in Lucifer Rising. She was to alternately play God in Absolutely Fabulous and the Devil in The Black Rider.
Far more noteworthy performances, however, were as Irina in Chekhov’s Three Sisters; Ophelia in Hamlet: Empress Maria-Theresa in Marie-Antoinette, and Maggie in Irina Palm, where she plays the lead role of a 60-year-old widow who becomes a sex worker to pay for medical treatment for her sick grandson. For her role of Maggie, she was nominated Best Actress by the European Film Academy in November 2007.
Marianne Faithfull is truly a remarkable and accomplished woman, who his stood the test of time. As writer David Bowman puts it "hers is the golden voice you hear when all the bars are closed and the whores have gone home."