In the Electric Mist
Music has certainly made London one of the world's most influential capital cities. Marianne Faithfull is more than a celebrated rock singer; She is a symbol of that era when britannia ruled the airwaves. Read our interview with a legend.
With the 2012 games fast approaching, london is in olympic form. Londoners have been asked to freshen up their paint work, ensure that the street lighting is working and generally tidy up, as if to encourage the athlete who will carry the torch of the 30th Olympiad to its cauldron in the Olympic Stadium, Stratford. It seems that this old capital of the United Kingdom has not worked this hard to polish its appearance since it hosted the great World Fairs of the 19th century. Right now, it is without doubt the most beautiful city in the world. When Marianne Faithfull came up to London from the Royal County of Berkshire where she grew up at the beginning of the 1960s, the Thames docks were still serving their famous mushy peas and striped suits and brown bowler hats were sadly disappearing with the last breaths of the dying empire. Bouncing back to life, London decided to make its mark on the half-century that was slipping from its grasp and ended up defi ning the era.
At the height of the sixties, London came close to changing the very face of the world.
Idol. At the height of the sixties, London came close to changing the very face of the world single-handedly, and needed neither the high-tech weapons of the Cold War superpowers nor the philosophical systems of Left Bank Parisian cafés to do so. Back then, no-one could resist a Paul McCartney riff or a Keith Richards guitar solo. Marianne Faithfull was more than just a privileged eye-witness or frontline participant in the golden age of British pop music. More than just a rocker, more than the unforgettable performer of “As Tears Go By”, more than the muse of the Rolling Stones and more than just the former companion of Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull has iconic status as an idol, forever a metaphor of that bygone age. She is a symbol of London and the sixties. Many people still remember the angelic face of this pretty blonde who fell from the heights of society to the lowest circles of musical hell, a mortal sin in the eyes of the clean-living aristocracy, who disliked few things as much as a bad marriage and the failure to live up to one’s class or position.
Baroness. “I had a fairly unconventional upbringing. My mother was a feminist before her time. She was a baroness who used to dance in the cabarets of Berlin during the time of the Weimar Republic. Instead of settling down into a good marriage, she married my father, a gentlemanspy with whom she had fallen in love during the war. My childhood was haunted by memories of balls, Hungarian dukes and carriages drawn by eight white horses racing down ruler-straight avenues. That was during the fi fties, when we had nothing. So it was all a bit incongruous.” Listening to Marianne, you get the impression that London was even better then than it is now. It was smaller, more provincial and “everyone” frequented the same places. The way she talks about the Beatles and the Stones like they were old neighbours is captivating. “London is much bigger now, but I always felt like you needed a passport to get from Chelsea to Maida Vale. Four miles in this city is a long way.”
Out-Of-Step. London has bequeathed her a kind of contingent glory, which sits uncomfortably with her success as an artist. “My life has been a bit wild. As I am not one to follow the crowd, I have shocked some people. Plus, I’ve had to contend with the gossip of the self-righteous press who are obsessed by sex and class anomalies. The sixties could have transformed our lives, but today people still try to reduce them to a decade of obscene scandals.” While she loves London society for its willingness to give a new life to anyone courageous enough to seize it, she fears the general desire for upward mobility and the pervasiveness of middle-class triviality - those people who drink their bog-standard cup of tea with their little fi nger in the air. She has now been living in Paris for eight years, on the other side of the Channel, one-hour out-of-step with London. She has found a kind of privacy there, a sort of oxygen that artists like her need to breathe. When you live in the public eye, the lights never go down and you end up not even noticing the fact that you’re on a billboard in your underwear. You become an effi gy on show, a caricature.
“I always felt like you needed a passport to get from Chelsea to Maida Vale.”
Jazz. “But I would like to return to London and make my peace with it. Time’s a great healer. I would do what I’ve always done there: admire the collections at the Tate Britain, listen to a Covent Garden opera or head over to Primrose Hill, where we used to love hiding away and taking in the view, which is the best in London. The place is now so well known, it’s even become the place to be seen walking your dog. I would also go and listen to musicians jamming in Soho, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. I love black music, which I discovered when I was very young and which has infl uenced my musical tastes. I wish I’d been born black.” She has decided to record her next album, which she will be introducing on her next world tour, in New Orleans. “The studios over there are a lot easier to get into and the musicians are amazingly good. I also love the fact that New Orleans’s airport is named after Louis Armstrong.”
Text : Julien Bouré - Photography : Jean-Claude Amiel - Production : Sandrine Giacobetti
MARIANNE FAITHFULL IN 10 DATES1946 : Born 29th December, in Hampstead, London.
1964 : Leaves Berkshire where she lived with her mother and moves to London. Is discovered by the manager of the Rolling Stones and shoots to fame singing "As Tears Go By", written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
1965 : Marries gallery-owner John Dunbar and gives birth to their son Nicholas in November. Leaves her husband for Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
1966 : The couple become a symbol of "Swinging London". She influences the music of the Rolling Stones (writing, in particular, the single "Sister Morphine").
1970 : Separates from Mick Jagger and enters a period of depression.
1979 : Releases the album "Broken English", which marks her comeback with a new sound.
1981 : Releases her new album entitled "Dangerous Acquaintances", followed by "A Child's Adventure" in 1983. Moves to New York.
1987 : Releases "Strange Weather".
1994 : Publishes her autobiography, entitled "Faithfull".
2011 : Plans to release her new album "Horses and High Heels" and embark on a worldwide tour in March. Tour dates available on www.mariannefaithfull.org.uk.