Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull, above, ultra-stylish in 60s mod clothes .
Like a Rainbow
Married and then separated to an artist, mother to a young son,  a hit single, a rock star boyfriend and a heroin addiction, all before the age of 21 - in the rich cultural history of hip 60s London scene, there were few figures as notoriously colourful as Marianne Faithful. From the beginning, she seemed to tumble effortlessly into fame, a singing career and a world famous relationship.

Physically, as well as stylistically,  the singer had all the right ingredients for the times: wild blonde hair, a  slender body, a sensuous mouth, whispery voice, incandescent blue eyes and the whole enhanced by a  Carnaby Street cool that reflected the cutting edge fashions of the era. (though Faithfull describes Carnaby Street as a media construction)

Clothes aside, her convent background and sweet, angelic facial features belied a daring, hedonistic personality that sought out sensual experience but the clash only made her seem more interesting. Looking at very early footage of her, she seems exceptionally effervescent, dreamy, articulate and almost childishly naive, as though she lived in rarefied air.

All this, together with her beautifully-modulated, upper class accent and illustrious background (her father was an English Professor of Psychology and her mother an Austrian Baroness) made her a seductive and intriguing figure on the London scene. However, she was a  fragile English Rose with self-destructive thorns.

As Tears Go By
Faithful began her professional life as a tender 17 year old,  edging her way into the swinging social scene before being 'discovered' by producer and impresario, Andrew Loog Oldham at a party for the Rolling Stones, who was impressed with her evocative name. Still living outside London at that time, she had travelled up with her then boyfriend and future husband, John Dunbar. At Oldham's instigation, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards co-wrote As Tears go by for the fledgling singer: the 1965 song that was to launch faithful very successfully into the British charts - within weeks of release it was #1. More musical successes followed, including Come Stay With me, The Little Bird and Summer Nights , as well as stage appearances in Chekhov's Three sisters and playing Ophelia in Hamlet, in the latter case apparently shooting up heroin during the intermission, which, according to more than one commentator, made for an interesting portrait of mad Ophelia.

When Marianne Faithfull hooked up with with Mick Jagger, they were, in the eyes of the contemporary press at least, the IT couple, representing all that was carefree, experimental and glamourous about the exiting 60s. Although Marianne has said publicly more than a few times that it was really Keith Richards who pulled at her heart strings, she also admitted in a 2009 interview that , "I did love Mick very much..I can't say I didn't."

Marianne and Mick in 60s London
The couple's public image began to slip a little when Marianne was infamously found wrapped naked,  Baby Bunting-like, in in a fur blanket at an  LSD-fueled party held at Keith Richard's house, which was raided by police. Via the media, Faithfull (and the Stones) faced publicly disgrace but undaunted she launched into the leather clad rebel role onscreen in The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), playing a disaffected housewife out for a journey of wild self-discovery. From Marianne's perspective, while Mick and Keith came out with 'an enhanced bad-boy varnish' the girl in the fur rug was 'diminished, demeaned and trampled in the mud'. The incident had morphed her image from sweet to bad and she decided to go with the role.
Marianne Faithfull, The Girl on a Motorcycle, 1968

A Descent into Heroin
As she admitted herself, Marianne was "an undisciplined, temperamental little girl": she seemed exceptionally greedy for life's experiences. Instead of pacing herself, she threw herself into whatever sensual experiences were available and owing to her fame, looks and money, there were plenty. It was a case of too much, too soon. Certainly she made an impression on those who came across her and reputedly inspired several songs, among them, Let's Spend the Night Together, She Smiled Sweetly, You Can't Always get What you Want  and perhaps most telling of her personality, Like a Rainbow.

It was in Australia in 1967 that the crunch came for Marianne and Mick, who had arrived in the country for Jagger's starring role in the film version of Ned Kelly (an iconic bushranger and rebel). Recovering from a miscarriage, Faithfull was in a delicate state, physically and emotionally, swallowing 150 sleeping pills, after which she collapsed and remained in a coma for six days. It signalled the end for Mick and for Marianne, a continued slide into heroin addiction which would cauterise her career,  cause her to lose custody of her son and in the eyes of all, her life descended into a cliched version of a 'junkie on the streets', moving from house to house, squat to squat..

Broken English
Marianne made a public comeback in the late 70s, achieving critical acclaim and some commercial success with her album Broken English. The voice had completely changed - the soft, folky voice had given way to a harder edged vocal timbre that suited the rawer flavour of the music. It was a reclaiming of her identity, which had been submerged for over a decade. She was however, still in the grip of heroin and it would be a few years yet before she managed to escape completely.

"I know the drugs have changed and damaged everybody's perception of me. I can't do anything about it except stay clean, do my work and be completely honest about it." ~ Marianne Faithfull

These days, at 65, Faithfull has cultivated a kind of  decadent European night-club image that works for her. Descriptions of her often include  'ravaged', 'world-weary' and  Faithfull (1984) and Memories, Dreams and Reflections (2007). The gravelly-voiced hard-knock aura is real but she's managed to create a genuinely interesting persona from the debris of a heroin addiction and damaged reputation, as well as an eternal mystique that has made her  something of a cult figure.

Faithfull now lives in France and Ireland, apparently unable to settle  in London because of its associations. When her health allowed (she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and has had hepatitis C for many years) she still produced albums and toured extensively but in recent years it's become more difficult. Along with the songs, she has also written two memoirs, Faithfull (1984) and Memories, Dreams and Reflections (2007). Judging from the relatively recent interview below, with a very eager Tages Woche interviewer, Faithfull seems content, as well as insightful toward the bends and byways of her own, often painful life  - not bitter, angry or too regretful.

John: Cynthia Lennon