MARIANNE FAITHFULL: MORE THAN A SURVIVOR... A WINNER

By Paul Freeman [June 2013 Interview]

Marianne Faithfull has packed a hell of a lot of living and an astonishing amount of creativity into her 66 years. She continues to make remarkably profound and provocative music.

Faithfull was born in Hampstead, London, England. Faithfullís father was a British army officer and psychology professor. Her mother was a ballerina in the Max Reinhardt company and danced to the works of Bertolt Brecht & Kurt Weill. Faithfullís parents divorced when she was six.

On her motherís side, Faithfullís great-great-uncle was Austrian writer/nobleman Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whom the term ďmasochismĒ was derived.

By 1964, the teen Faithfull was a folk singer in coffeehouses. That year, at a Rolling Stones launch event, she was discovered by producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Her recording of the earliest Jagger/Richards composition, ďAs Tears Go By,Ē became an international hit.

In 1965, she married artist John Dunbar and had a son, Nicholas. The following year, she began a headline-making relationship with Mick Jagger. She contributed lyrics to several Stones songs, mostly unattributed, but belatedly received a co-writing credit on ďSister Morphine.Ē Her own chart successes included ďThis Little BirdĒ and ďCome and Stay With Me.Ē

A ruinous drug bust sent Faithfull on a downward spiral. Suffering from addiction, she lived on the Soho streets for two years.

Her once angelic voice given gravitas by a newfound worldly gravel, Faithfull made a stunning return with her brilliant 1979 album, ďBroken English.Ē It contained punk and New Wave elements, as well as lacerating lyrics. A Deluxe Edition CD was released in 2013.

Clean and sober, she explored many musical directions and honed her songwriting gift. The acclaimed 1987 album, ďStrange Weather,Ē featured her insightful interpretations of such diverse writers as Bob Dylan, Doc Pomus & Dr. John, Tom Waits, Jerome Kern and Al Dubin & Harry Warren. It successfully blended rock, pop, cabaret, blues and jazz flavors.

Faithfullís latest release, her 18th studio album, ďHorses and High Heels,Ē includes four originals, as well as covers of such artists as Carole King, The Shangri-Las and Dusty Springfield. Guests include Lou Reed and MC5ís Wayne Kramer. Faithfull is now working on a new album.

Faithfull has also proved to be a compelling actress. She played Ophelia in Tony Richardsonís 1969 film adaptation of ďHamlet.Ē At 60, in her first starring cinematic role, she earned rave reviews for her performance in ďIrina Palm.Ē Recently, she starred in an Austrian stage production of Kurt Weillís ďThe Seven Deadly Sins.Ē

She also relishes her role as grandmother to two boys.

Though she has battled cancer and Hepatitis C, Faithfull continues to create and perform.

She plays Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London, on June 22nd. Jazz guitar great Bill Frisell will join her band for the evening. Itís part of this yearís Yoko Ono-curated Meltdown Festival.

Then Faithfull will wing her way to California. She plays the Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre in Saratogaís Montalvo Arts Center (15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga; 408-961-5858, montalvoarts.org), Friday, June 28, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.50-$95.

On June 29th, Faithfull will grace the stage of the Kate Wolf Music Festival in Laytonville, Ca.

A Marianne Faithfull concert is an experience youíll never forget. And whenever we have an opportunity to converse with this colorful, candid artist, we leap at it.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
Itís great to have you returning to California.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL:
Yeah, Iím really looking forward to it. I do love playing in California. Itís going to be very good. Iím very keen. And you know Iím doing this with a great musician friend of mine, called Rob Burger. Heís played on a lot of my work. And heíll be playing on the next record. And I love playing with him.

PCC:
And the set list, will that be drawn from throughout your career?

FAITHFULL:
Yeah. Iím not promoting anything at the moment, so I can play anything I want. So it will be all sorts of thing, yeah.

PCC:
You mentioned the next record. Are you working on that now?

FAITHFULL:
Iím writing the lyrics and working on that with different musicians at the moment. I donít go into the studio until November. So Iíve got plenty of time.

PCC:
Any idea what direction the album might take?

FAITHFULL:
I do know, yeah, but I just canít say yet. One canít make hard and fast pronouncements, because it might not turn out like that [Laughs]. They have their own life, in a funny way.

PCC:
You find that, when youíre writing a song?

FAITHFULL:
Yeah, you canít always control - I canít, anyway - exactly whatís going to happen. But some beautiful stuff is coming out. Iím very, very happy. Iíve done five songs, five lyrics, anyway. And Iíve got a few more to do.

PCC:
The gift for songwriting, lyric-writing, is that something that was inherent in you?

FAITHFULL:
It seems to be, yes. Itís not always... itís not like a trap, I have to say. The last record I made, I found it very hard to write. But this one is going more smoothly. Iím not forcing myself in any direction. Iím accepting what God sends me.

PCC:
So do you tend to just wait...

FAITHFULL:
Well, thatís what Iím doing now. Itís just fantastic. Iíve got to finish one. I canít be writing more than one at a time. When I finish it... and IĎve settled, given myself a few weeks off, then another idea comes up.

PCC:
And do you tend to know right away when a song is finished?

FAITHFULL:
No, no. I play around with it. Polish it up. F--ck about, you know.

PCC:
I have read that you never wanted to be a pop star.

FAITHFULL:
No, of course not. Whoíd want to do that? But itís where I went. Itís what happened. And I reckon Iíve made the best of it.

PCC:
When you hate being recognized, how did you learn to live with all the attention, the fame?

FAITHFULL:
Well, one of the things I decided, I suppose, is that what I didnít like was being in the charts and having hits. I hated mass success. I donít want to be like that. So Iíve gone the other way. I approach it like a jazz musician would, just trying to do really great work and leave that to speak for itself. So Iím not trying to be commercial or this or that, you know. Occasionally, I am commercial, in spite of that. But I donít want to be in that world, which I started in.

PCC:
What about revealing yourself through your art. Has that ever been difficult?

FAITHFULL:
Oh, thatís all right. Iím happy to do that. Yeah.

PCC:
There was never any self-consciousness about that, when you started?

FAITHFULL:
Well, no, it wasnít like that, when I started. It was just being a little pop princess and having hits. And I didnít like the fame and the attention.

PCC:
It must have been overwhelming, early on, to be caught up in all of that.

FAITHFULL:
Oh, it was awful, to be suddenly famous like that, having people... Oh, I hated it. So now, as you can see, Iím very low-key about it all.

PCC:
ĎAs Tears Go By,í did you have an affinity for that song right away?

FAITHFULL:
First thing I ever recorded. I didnít like it particularly, when I did it. But, over time, Iíve come to really love it. Now I do love it, yeah. It had to grow on me.

PCC:
And how did your involvement in the writing of The Stonesí ĎSister Morphineí come about?

FAITHFULL:
Well, itís all in my book, man [Laughs]. Itís just a tune that Mick kept playing around the house for about six months. And, in the end, I got so sick of it, I wrote those lyrics and said, ĎHere, put it to that!í And he did. And it was ĎSister Morphine.í Yeah.

PCC:
Being around that dysfunctional Stones family for that time, in retrospect, did that relationship mean a lot to you, in terms of your artistic development?

FAITHFULL:
[Laughs] Oh, yes! I learned so much.

PCC:
What sorts of things?

FAITHFULL:
Well, I learned how to make records and how to write songs and lots of things... how to take drugs.

PCC:
Youíve said that you viewed drug-taking as a means of disappearing...

FAITHFULL:
Iím not going to bang on about drugs. [Laughs] Iím really not in the mood. I havenít taken drugs in a long time.

PCC:
I was just wondering whether you still had the urge to vanish sometimes.

FAITHFULL:
No, no, no. I lead a very nice, quiet, anonymous life. I donít have to take anything to feel like that. Iím in Paris. Iím left alone. I have a lovely life.

PCC:
London in the Ď60s, it was such a fertile place for creativity. Was it exhilarating to be around all of that?

FAITHFULL:
Well, it wasnít so great, being a woman. It was a very misogynistic world.

PCC:
So it was difficult to be taken seriously as an artist?

FAITHFULL:
No women were taken seriously as an artist. Even Nina Simone wasnít taken seriously.

PCC:
In that rebellious time, were you rebelling against anything?

FAITHFULL:
Well, of course I was, yes. I canít remember what. But Iím sure I was. Yes.

PCC:
Though youíre often associated with the Ď60s, you seem to be able to reflect every decade in which youíve worked...

FAITHFULL:
Yes, well, that was always very important to me to do that. I didnít want to just be associated with the Ď60s, great though it was, especially for the audience. I think it might have been better for the audiences than for the actual protagonists.

PCC:
Do you think it was just a willingness to grow and change that allowed you to do that?

FAITHFULL:
Over the years? Yeah. But also a real determination to leave my mark on every decade I went through. To work. To work hard. And leave a mark. Yeah.

PCC:
When you returned with ĎBroken English,í did you consider that a great risk? Or an artistic resurrection?

FAITHFULL:
Well, that was something I had to do. I didnít think of it like that. I just knew I had to make that record. And I didnít care if I died after that. At least I would have left a record of who I was.

PCC:
And then, interpreting such a wide variety of songwritersí material...

FAITHFULL:
I love doing that... And Iím very good at it. Thatís one of the reasons I like it, you know.

PCC:
Do you find thereís any common thread in terms of the kind of songs...

FAITHFULL:
No. Not at all. I can do anything I want. If I really want to do something, I can find a way to do it.

PCC:
But in terms of why you want to do a particular song, is it usually the emotion, the honesty? What attracts you?

FAITHFULL:
It can be a mixture of things. It can be something in the lyric. It can be something in the tune. I mean, thereís a lot of things I love that I wouldnít dream of interpreting, because theyíre so perfect as they are. But, itís great fun doing covers.

PCC:
Working on ĎStrange Weatherí...

FAITHFULL:
That was a wonderful experience, too, yeah.

PCC:
Obviously you felt a great rapport for those songs.

FAITHFULL:
Yes... I mean, itís not my favorite of my records, you know.

PCC:
Which is your favorite?

FAITHFULL:
Well, my favorite, there are several things. I love ĎVagabond Way.í I love ĎKissing Time.í And I love ĎA Secret Life.Ē

PCC:
And what is it about them?

FAITHFULL:
I donít really know what it is, because theyíre all very different. But I just feel that I really succeeded in getting what I wanted on those records.

PCC:
Youíve been among the most memorable interpreters of Kurt Weill...

FAITHFULL:
Oh, yes. Well, thatís a natural gift, I think. From my mother, probably.

PCC:
Her dancing?

FAITHFULL:
Yes. And living in Weimar, Germany. Yeah, I picked that all up.

PCC:
Did your mother encourage you at all...

FAITHFULL:
No, she just wanted to forget about it. She hated the memory of that time, because, of course, it all turned into the second World War and she had a very hard time.

PCC:
Was she keen on your pursuing the artistic side of life?

FAITHFULL:
I donít know. I mean, yes, she was all right. We never talked about it. I did what I had to do and she had to put up with it.

PCC:
And the acting, did you always enjoy immersing yourself in another persona?

FAITHFULL:
Well, Iíve stopped that now. Iím cutting down on my work. I donít want to work so hard. So Iím not going to do anymore acting or film. But I do enjoy it. I did enjoy it, when I did it.

PCC:
Was that the element of it that you did enjoy, exploring of other characters, getting to be somebody else?

FAITHFULL:
Yeah, I love being someone else. Not me.

PCC:
The self-destructive tendency, is that something you still have to battle in some ways?

FAITHFULL:
Nah, Iíve learned how to cope with that now. Itís something thatís in a lot of people.

PCC:
Youíve explored so many artistic avenues. Is that a matter of just trying to keep yourself creatively stimulated?

FAITHFULL:
No. Itís not that hard. The main thing is to stay really well and be healthy. And I get a lot of help. I go to acupuncture. And I have lymphatic drainage massage. I eat really well. I do a lot of things that keep me well. Iím in really good form at the moment, because Iíve just found a really great acupuncturist. So thatís very exciting. Itís like a drug, actually, the way it makes me feel.

PCC:
Being able to be a survivor...

FAITHFULL:
Iím more than a survivor. Iím a winner.

PCC:
Being able to persevere, is that just your nature?

FAITHFULL:
Anyone can be a survivor. Any fool can survive all sorts of things. But thereís more to it than that.

PCC:
And that would be...

FAITHFULL:
Itís knowing what youíre doing. And knowing who you are and what you want. Itís very different to just being a victim and surviving. Thatís not what Iíve done, actually.

PCC:
You donít waste time on regrets the?.

FAITHFULL:
No. Not at all. What a waste of my time that would be. I keep my head down and work hard.

PCC:
Projecting a particular image, has that ever meant much to you?

FAITHFULL:
Oh, I never, never, never thought about that. Thatís what Andrew Oldham did. I mean, I probably should have thought more about it, because of course, Iíve been through an awful lot of shit like that. People have been very nasty about me. And I probably should have paid more attention. But I never did.

PCC:
Any unfulfilled dreams or goals?

FAITHFULL:
No, not really. I mean, Iíve cut down on a lot of things. Iím just still making records and performing. Thatís all I ever wanted. My shows sell out in an hour. Sometimes 15 minutes. Sometimes in five. Thatís what I wanted.

PCC:
It must be gratifying to have that kind of rapport...

FAITHFULL:
Itís fantastic! What more could I want?

PCC:
Having had self-esteem issues...

FAITHFULL:
The self-esteem is not bad at the moment. But it goes up and down. Youíd be lying, if you said you were completely okay with all of it. [Laughs]

PCC:
So have you found a way to love yourself?

FAITHFULL:
Oh, I think so, yeah. Mainly to be around people who love me. And who I love. Thatís what I need. I live a very sheltered, protected life, if Iím only around people who love me [Laughs]. Iím very lucky. I hardly go out. If I donít put myself in situations where I might meet hostile people, Iím cool.

PCC:
You said once that you wanted to be remembered for being a nice person, rather than for what youíve accomplished in the arts.

FAITHFULL:
Well, Iíd like to be remembered as a sort of okay person, who loves her friends and family and did good work. Yeah. With these questions, I could bang on for hours, darling, but Iíve a friend here and Iíve got to go cook dinner. May I go and cook dinner now? [Laughs]

PCC:
[Laughs]. You may. I appreciate your taking the time and weíre looking forward to seeing you in California.

FAITHFULL:
Iím really looking forward to it, as well. And Iíll be there soon.

For more on this legendary artist, visit mariannefaithfull.org.uk.