Marianne Faithfull talks to Dave Simpson about being cast as a sex kitten of the ’60s, drugs, homelessness, and why she will never sell Mick Jagger’s love letters.
Dave Simpson: Hello, Marianne. How are you?
Marianne Faithfull: I’m well, thank you. I’ve been appearing in Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins in Linz, Austria, so I’ve been very happy. It’s a very violent, sexy piece.
DS: Do Austrians know you as Marianne Faithfull or by your title, Baroness von Sacher-Masoch (1)?
MF: F*** off! [Laughter] I’m Marianne Faithfull.
DS: We’re approaching half a century since your first single, 1964’s “As Tears Go By”.
MF: I know, I can’t believe it. On the other hand, I can’t do anything else and never wanted to. I once asked my father what he wanted me to be. To my horror, he said, “sociologist”. But I’m interested in the ’60s and trying to understand the phenomena, sociologically. Obviously it had to happen after the Second World War – there won’t be another war like it. They’ve learned this trick of having wars far away. So they’ll kill people in Afghanistan; anywhere but here.
DS: Can you remember being discovered by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham?
MF: I was at a launch party and Andrew came up and said: “I’m going to make you a star.” He gave me the first ever Jagger-Richards composition to sing for my first record. What a way to start.
DS: You made one of the ’60s’ most iconic films, The Girl on a Motorcycle (2). Have you ever actually ridden one?
MF: Of course not! I sat on one, in front of rolling paper scenery. I had a great stunt man called Reg. He did all the difficult stuff, with a blond wig and a helmet. It’s a completely phoney, silly film. But I know a lot of people love it.
DS: People called it the Swinging ’60s. You seem to have experienced a darker ’60s.
MF: I can’t say I didn’t have a great time, some of the time. I really did. It was wonderful hanging out with the Stones, and I loved Mick. (3)
DS: When you wrote “Sister Morphine” with Mick Jagger, you weren’t an addict, were you?
MF: Not yet. I liked the name, and loved Lou Reed’s work, “Sister Ray” and “Heroin”. I liked the idea poetically. It isn’t exactly what happened to me, but my feelings about it are probably the same. I attempted suicide after Brian Jones died. It was a terrible time.
DS: You were homeless for a while in the early ’70s. Have you got advice for anyone made homeless now?
MF: Oh, I don’t know what they’d do now. I was lucky. People looked after me, the meths drinkers, junkies. I learned that human beings are all right. I didn’t know that from my posh life in the ’60s. It was bitchy and people were cruel to each other. I was on the street for two years.
DS: There’s a fantastic YouTube clip of you in 1973, wearing a nun’s outfit, singing with David Bowie at the Marquee club. It’s like watching an early Lady Gaga.
MF: I’ve known that ever since Lady Gaga came along, I did it much better! Working with Bowie was interesting, but I couldn’t surrender to it. I should have let him produce a record for me, but I’m very perverse in some ways.
DS: You’re re-releasing your 1979 album, Broken English, which was influenced by the cold war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and punk. We don’t think of you as a punk icon, but you were involved. You even married a Vibrator (4).
MF: I did, and we had a good time. We’re still friends. I wish people didn’t just think of me in the ’60s. I just go on and on. The Vibrators were good, though some of the gigs were pretty bad. But I got off on the energy. The Clash and the Sex Pistols were very exciting.
DS: Do you listen to much current pop?
MF: It’s complete shite. I like Blur, Nick Cave, Polly Harvey, but they’re not pop.
DS: Did you go to the Stones gigs at London’s 02 Arena?
MF: No. I love the Stones, but I’ve gone to a lot of gigs. I felt a bit guilty that I didn’t go. Mick’s a fabulous, cultivated, kind man. People don’t know that. Keith is easier to read. Mick is very complex. I know him as well as anybody. Our whole friendship and love is outside the public experience, and I’ll keep it that way. I’m not selling my love letters.
Notes: (1) Marianne is a descendant of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who gave his name to masochism.
(2) A 1968 film starring a leather-clad Marianne and featuring a lot of sex.
(3) Marianne dated three Stones – Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards. She told NME: ‘’The lead singer seemed the best bet.
(4) Ben Brierly. They divorced in 1987.
- Sunday Magazine