Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22

Marianne Faithfull

always change and change again

interview by SABINE HELLER
portrait in her Paris apartment by GIASCO BERTOLI


1960s sex kitten. Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. Homeless heroin junkie. For the last 50 years, Marianne Faithfull has lived a life as varied as the labels that have defined her. But today, as the iconic singer- songwriter-actress releases her 50th-anniversary album, starts a world tour, and publishes a new book about her life, it is Marianne — defiant, self-possessed, candid, and yet vulnerable — defining her- self on her own terms. A far cry from the silenced, naked woman wrapped in a fur rug you might remember, Marianne expresses her- self freely — and with real strength and sensitivity.


SABINE HELLER — Who is Marianne Faithfull today?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I’m very connected to all the different periods and times I’ve ever been through, but I always change, and change again. For instance, I’ve stopped smoking. I haven’t had a cigarette for five months, and that’s changed my voice. And I guess it’s changed my skin, too. This is my first interview without a cigarette.

SABINE HELLER — What was it like to return to London to record your recent album, Give My Love To London?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — It was very hard. I hate London! Though in a way, I love London. It’s where my son and my grandchildren are, and I go to London to see them, and I have one or two friends there, like my darling Charlotte Rampling. But on the whole, it’s too fast and too much for me now. I’ve done it, you know. I’ve done London years ago, and I’ve done it very high and very low. I don’t really need to do it again. But of course, for musicians and record- ing studios, it’s excellent. And this time, I had a rather wonderful time because of the music, the musi- cians, the engineer, the producers, François [Ravard], the hotel where we were staying.

SABINE HELLER — So there’s a hint of sarcasm in Give My Love To London?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yeah, the song came to me in a fury after I had returned to London from a promo tour for my last record. Some young journalist truly said to me, “So do tell me Ms. Faithfull, why did you kill Jim Morrison?” I never actu- ally met Jim Morrison, I did not kill Jim Morrison, I never even met Ms. Pamela [Courson, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend]. I never met any of them, but of course my flaw was that I was with a man, Jean de Breteuil, who was a drug dealer, an aristocrat, and who did kill Jim Morrison. And the night it happened, I was in Paris, and I had done what I used to do in those days: I’d taken a handful of sleeping pills, and I’d gone to sleep. When Jean got back to L’Hotel, where we were staying, he was in the most terrible state, and I didn’t know why. He beat me up, and we went immediately to Morocco, and I didn’t understand why at the time. I didn’t even know Jim Morrison was in Paris, and I certainly didn’t know he was dead. And then, of course, it all came out in the press, and when I realized what had happened, I never saw Jean again. He once came to the cottage where I was in the country in England, trying to beg me to see him again. He was incred- ibly beautiful. He had one green eye and one gold eye. And he was of one of those French-Moroccan families. Very grand. You know, very deca- dent, really. All those people are dead now, every one of them: poor Jim Morrison, poor Ms. Pamela, Jean de Breteuil, his sidekick, everybody.

SABINE HELLER — But you’re here, and about to go on your 50th anniversary tour.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I hate tour- ing, though I love performing. I love the bond with the audience, and I love singing. I love my work and the great luxury and privilege of expressing myself. It’s lovely to be able to continue making records and writing songs and communicat- ing with my public. I’m not ambitious like Madonna, for example. There’s something pretty smart about her. She’s very clever. She made a lot of money. I’m doing it for completely different motives. I’m really where I want to be, but I just don’t have a load of money. I wish I did. But maybe it’s not a really good thing either, for my son or my grandchil- dren. For everyone I know who’s ever inherited money, it’s been a curse.

SABINE HELLER — You live in Paris and Ireland, both places that occupy the fringes of where your life has been — New York and London.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I’ve been very happy in Ireland. I’ve lived there for 15 years, and also I have a won- derful Paris life.

SABINE HELLER — Would you say you’re an outsider-insider?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Ha, I suppose I am! That’s a good way of putting it. I wish I could have felt like that when I was young and before all that shit went down. Then I felt incredibly like an insider, and frightfully cool and all that stuff. I really did.

SABINE HELLER — Though your song “Working Class Hero” celebrated being an outsider.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Well, yeah. It wasn’t understood by many people at the time because I have an “inter- esting” background.

SABINE HELLER — You mean you come from aristocracy.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — That is true, although I play it down because people have always played it up too much. I’m not a Hapsburg princess, and I don’t want to be. My great-great uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote “Venus in Furs,” among other books, and my grandfather, Theodore, was a sexologist who invented a Frigidity Machine. I don’t really know, though. I heard about it from my wicked mother, who despised poor Theodore.

SABINE HELLER — When I think Marianne Faithfull, I think hip. It’s almost like you invented the term.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Well, dar- ling! That’s very sweet of you to say. There were people much hipper than me, but, yes, I know what you mean.

SABINE HELLER — You were able to create a cultural presence for your- self while existing in a fraternity of sorts, made up of the Rolling Stones and men with the biggest egos in history.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Oh my god. When I look back and I remember the misogyny, I cannot believe I survived.

SABINE HELLER — How was it to be with Mick Jagger for so long?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I did fall in love with him, and he fell in love with me, but what a terrible choice for me, and for him, because I just wasn’t what he wanted, really. Of course, I was beautiful, funny, clever, all that, you know, but I wasn’t for show. I’m really not like that. I’m not the sort of person who always wants to be dressed up and wear make- up and be out on somebody’s arm. I just hate that, and that’s how it was, that’s how he is, poor thing.

SABINE HELLER — It seems like you really admired Keith Richards for being the opposite of Mick in so many ways.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I’m not going to say that I don’t admire Mick. I do not underestimate his incredible talent and his stardom. He’s brilliant. But, yes, of course I love Keith. I’m very, very fond of Keith. He’s a real friend.

SABINE HELLER — Your personal life and your musical life were so publicly tied to the Rolling Stones.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Mick and Keith wrote “As Tears Go By” for me. And Mick and I wrote “Sister Morphine.” One of the greatest gifts Mick ever gave me was the chance to write those lyrics. Mick did a lot of wonderful things for me.

SABINE HELLER — How were you able to create a personal narrative that was separate from them?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — With difficulty. It has been a very long, hard road. And it’s always going to be there. You know, there’s going to be Marianne Faithfull with her life. And then somewhere else is going to be me, who also happens to be Marianne Faithfull. So it’s been quite confusing to work that out, but I think I have. And the fact that it’s my real name helps, too.

SABINE HELLER — You have an amazing name.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — With my name, there was no way out. There’s nowhere to run. There was nothing to hide behind.

SABINE HELLER — Sort of like you being found naked wrapped in a fur rug during that notorious drug bust at Keith’s home in Sussex. You were the naked, silent woman in the tabloids, accused of having a Mars bar in her pussy, and then not even allowed to testify in court.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Well, that’s where everything really went wrong for me. Mick and Keith thought they were protecting me, I think. I knew they were wrong. Mick and his lawyer believed that I was much too fragile to have a day in court. I would have loved it, and I would have done brilliantly, and it would have been my chance to tear down the establishment and show them what I thought of them because they were hypocrites. We were set up. That’s also one of the reasons I love living in Paris and Dublin: I’ve got the strong republican streak of those women and freedom fighters.

SABINE HELLER — Joan of Arc.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yes, and some from the revolution. I love them all. Liberty!

SABINE HELLER — You would have been great at being a crusader.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I was a silly little girl in some ways, and it would have been like a role in other ways. It would have been very naughty, but I would have done it. But actually, Keith was very good. Mick was just so upset and shattered, poor thing. He couldn’t handle it at all. He didn’t have any revolutionary tradition to fall back on. Whereas I did, and so did Keith. My mother, Eva, made absolutely damn sure I got the most fantastic education. I’m strong, I’m beautiful, I’m healthy, actually, in spite of everything.

SABINE HELLER — And you get your strength from books, too.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I’m an avid reader. In this business, you’d just die without books. You survive on the road by reading and swapping books, music, and conversation.

SABINE HELLER — Who are some of the writers to have influenced your thinking?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — It changes all the time. At the moment, I love history. I’m very interested in Henry VIII and even more in Elizabeth I. I just found a very interesting book about Thomas Wyatt, who was a poet and an alleged lover of Anne Boleyn. Anyway, he supposedly died a terrible death and was hung by the neck, cut down alive, and had his liver cut out and burnt in front of him. So you know, what happened to me, on the whole, is not that bad. It could’ve been worse!

SABINE HELLER — You’ve been persecuted, too, but by the media.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yes, but I don’t give a flying fuck. And as you can see, I can seriously defend myself.

SABINE HELLER — Between acting and music, your two loves, which is your favorite?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Oh, music. I’m not an actress. I could have been a very good actress. I loved pretending to be someone else. But you have to give your attention to one thing. You can’t ride two horses at the same time, or I can’t.

SABINE HELLER — And when you are performing in music, are you being yourself or someone else?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — In my performance, I aim for authenticity. I’m not playing a part. I think I’m more myself than any other time.

SABINE HELLER — Tell me about sex — it’s such a big part of who you are.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Sex?! I’ve retired from that. I really have. I’m three years till 70, and I think the wise and proper thing to do is to retire, really.

SABINE HELLER — Lots of people still have sex at your age!
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I really have retired. I can’t imagine it, no.

Copyright David Redfern / Getty Images

SABINE HELLER — Even when you were younger, there were things about sex you didn’t enjoy.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I don’t think the convent helped. I remember my mother and my father having a huge row in the fields outside Rose’s Pub. They were yelling at each other, and one of the things my father said to my mother was, “If you send her to St. Joseph’s Convent, you’ll destroy her sex life forever.” And blow me down, he was right.

SABINE HELLER — But still, there was a lot of sex, and with so many people.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — There was quite a lot, yeah. And to be honest, I have had sex that I have enjoyed a lot. I was just very inhibited. It took a lot for me to sort of let go. But cer- tain things I never managed to do. We don’t need to go into it, but there are things I’ve never done in my life.

SABINE HELLER — You also once said you preferred men who were less manly.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — When I was young, “too manly” frightened me. Because I thought, wrongly, less manly men would be kinder, but that is not true. They are in fact crueler.

SABINE HELLER — And it seems like you enjoyed sex with women more.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — My mother was a ballet and cabaret dancer in Weimar-era Berlin. She was bisexual, too. I was a sexual person, and I was also on drugs, which did help me to cut down my inhibitions. I was able to do things on drugs, like be with girls, that I would not have been able to do if I were completely straight. The acid was wonderful. I believed it was there to open my mind, so I took it very seriously.

SABINE HELLER — When we were in Morocco together, you told me a great story of being on acid the last time you traveled there.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yeah, we were certainly tripping. It was the time I came with Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones. And there was nothing in my suitcase but a couple of Edmund Dulac picture books and an Indian sari. I didn’t even have a pair of knickers — nothing. I don’t think that the customs people could believe it. And I was so pretty that I didn’t need anything. There was soap and water. Anita had a sort of jasmine oil. There’s a lovely pic- ture of us tripping, going through Heathrow, Anita and I together, with our feathers and our boots. It was such fun.

SABINE HELLER — You’ve lived such a full existence. Is there something you wish you had done?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — My greatest regret in my whole life is that I couldn’t do anything with Jimi Hendrix because Mick was on the other side of me when he was whispering in my ear and trying to get me into bed. What was I meant to do? Stand up and say, “Hey man, thanks Mick! It was a great three months. See ya!” And walk out with Hendrix? I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t.

Courtesy Marianne Faithfull archives

SABINE HELLER — Bob Dylan was also an admirer. There was a mutual admiration.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — We still love each other. When he tried to have sex with me, I was 17 and pregnant with Nicholas. I was about to get married to John, my first hus- band. I think Bob wanted me to go to America, and I even asked him what he would have done with the baby. He was like, “No problem.” But I couldn’t. He was a big fan of a lot of my music. There’s a whole area of music that he knows so much about that I don’t. We always have a very good time.

SABINE HELLER — Later in your life, you had some rough patches.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — That’s so sweet to say it like that! But to be honest, it was a total decline. I fell apart completely. My son, Nicholas, was taken away from me. I went to live on the street. I became a registered heroin addict. I don’t think I could have gone any lower if I tried. And I wanted to die because I did love Mick, and leaving

SABINE HELLER — You did actually try to commit suicide.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yes, in Sydney. Mick woke up, saw what happened, and took me to a hospital where I went into a coma for six days. Thank god, I came out and I’m alive, and here we are. He saved my life, and that’s that.

SABINE HELLER — Was there a silver lining in all your troubles?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — There was. I had lived in such a funny sort of overprivileged and too-rich world around the Stones, and that didn’t suit me. It wasn’t the way I was brought up at all. And I had kind of lost touch with who I really was, and I almost believed I was a better human being than anyone else. And then when I was living on the street at St. Anne’s Court with nothing, people were really kind to me, even though they didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know my name or who I was. They just saw this girl with anorexia. This was a long time ago, so anorexia wasn’t known at all. I was incredibly thin, shooting smack, with obviously nowhere to go, but very proud, and I didn’t want any help. But people were very generous to me: the guy with the tea stall; the Chinese laun- dry that let me wash my clothes. Even the people who sold me drugs were kind.

Copyright Arnaud Baumann

SABINE HELLER — Ultimately, what saved you?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Eventually, I went to stay with my friend Pamela Mayall, and it was through Pamela that I was sent to see Dr. Willis, who was running a free drug clinic in London. He was brilliant. He really got it, which was something I didn’t understand at all, but I had equated heroin with love, psychologically. And so he took a chance and gave me as much heroin as I wanted thinking maybe I’ll have enough, and I did have enough, and I got off.

SABINE HELLER — He gave it to you himself?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Yes, he let me have as much as I wanted. I went into his hospital and had 24 jacks of heroin a day, and then I began to come down. And it took eight months. The longest detox known in history, but I did get off. I didn’t stay off, but I did get off and stayed off for a while. And only at the very end, just before I went to Hazelton, did I ever shoot heroin again. I never went back. And then after Hazelton, I’ve never gone back. That’s that. Finished.

SABINE HELLER — An interesting theme that seems to come up in your life is an adoration of women, pagan goddesses, and witchcraft.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I am not and never have been a witch. I do not believe in witchcraft, per se, at all, or black magic. People have thought I did, but I don’t. My mum thought she was a witch, definitely. But it seems to me that throughout endless ages of history, if you want to get rid of a clever, intelligent, powerful woman, in any society — whether it’s in Africa, India, or any- where — if you say witchcraft, they’re done for.

SABINE HELLER — Condemning a woman as mad is a powerful misogynistic tool.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Oh yeah, it always has been. Killing a woman for witchcraft was so easy. Person- ally, I’m anti-Christian and I’m anti- religion, but I really do believe more in “the gods.” I see things in a rather pagan way. Religion is the reason people are killing each other. But being anti-religion, I’m not going to go off and become a Wiccan, either. That really would defeat my purpose.

Beat magazine, September 23, 1967

SABINE HELLER — So what’s the Holy Grail for you today? Is it happiness, art, beauty?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — It’s life, of course, as it always has been. It’s a good life. Living the life. Living life properly, as well as I can. It’s not always easy, but I’ve never stopped trying and never will. And I have a feeling now, being as old as I am, that it never stops, and that’s the Holy Grail.

SABINE HELLER — What doesn’t stop?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — The mis- sion, the task. You can’t give up. You have to go on. You have to keep trying. And I certainly don’t see any point in explaining anything. There’s fuck all I can do now. There is just the ability to learn from the past and to change with it and correct myself.

SABINE HELLER — And this very special album you’ve just put out is part of that process?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway. Whether I’m managing it or not, I do not know, but that’s my mission. I’m trying to be who I can be, what I can be. But yes, making this album has been part of my process, and I’m very pleased. I think it’s something special. At least it could be. I wrote seven of the 10 songs, and we did some wonderful covers as well. But of course I work in collaboration. I never work alone. I am alone. I live alone, but at the same time, I’m not really alone.

SABINE HELLER — How did you go about writing your songs?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — Well, I write the words, but then I turn them over to someone else, like Nick Cave or Ed Harcourt; or Patrick Leonard, who works with Leonard Cohen and wrote “Mother Wolf,” which is one of my most important songs. He wrote the music. Nick always changes my lyrics slightly, and I have to cope with that. He’s a great lyricist. It’s quite tough to ask a lyricist to just write music. I feel like I can’t really do that. If he wants to change a word or two — I always say that, you know, if you feel like you can do something better than I did, do it. It breaks my heart, but I do it.

Copyright Mandrakimage / Antoine Giacomoni

SABINE HELLER — Does this feel like a culmination?
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I’ve always behaved as if it is the end, but experiences have taught me that it’s not actually the end. There will be another record to make. I some- times work myself up into a sort of state thinking that this is the last chance I’ll ever have to say what I have to say because I might die tomorrow. It’s that old one, you know: I could be run over by a bus! And it is quite effective on the adren- aline level. But no, of course not! This record is a stop along the way.

SABINE HELLER — You’re not fucking about.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — And I don’t fuck about in my songs either. I’m almost brutally direct, and people find that quite hard because when you’re young, you do twist and turn.

SABINE HELLER — So you’ve become more direct over the years.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — I have, but I still keep certain things hidden. It’s all there, but I don’t say so in so many words. Some get it, some don’t.

SABINE HELLER — I’m sure you’ve learned to keep a lot hidden, given your life has been so public since you were 17.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — It’s been public forever. But I don’t go out much. I don’t go to parties much. I don’t let people use me.


New album: Give My Love To London, Naïve / Dramatico, released on September 2014.

Marianne Faithfull: A Life On Record, edited by Marianne Faithfull and François Ravard, art direction by Marc Ascoli, published at Rizzoli, November 2014.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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