Faithfull, Marianne (Contemporary Musicians)
Long before Madonna made reinvention her artistic byword, Marianne Faithfull had resurrected herself many times over. Yet the British singer-songwriter's endeavors have consistently been upstaged by personal scandal and vice. Her early years as a Euro-waif pop singer coincided with a well-chronicled relationship with Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, and her recordings were often overshadowed by the couple's legendary exploits.
Faithfull began her musical career while still a teenager with timely, well-packaged singles that never quite achieved their full potential; meanwhile, life among the Stones entourage led to bouts with heroin addiction and alcohol abuse. Faithfull was implicated in a notorious 1967 drug bust involving the band, and her relationship with Jagger came to an end in 1969. She spent much of the 1970s battling her addictions while intermittently acting in theater productions and recording a few overlooked albums.
The singer made a dramatic comeback in late 1979 with the release of Broken English, a critical success that prompted Rolling Stone writer Greil Marcus to remark, "Fifteen years after making her first single, Marianne Faithfull has made her first real album." During this incarnation, Faithfull's ability to embody pain and pathos led many to view her and the ultimate survivor/chanteuse rock version of Marlene Dietrich. Subsequently, she recorded several albums during the 1980s, like Broken English, that were lauded by critics for their searing vocals and choice backing musicians. More importantly, after a serious confrontation with her addictions she also regained some ballast in her life, which resulted in renewed faith in her abilities.
Early Fame Linked to Rolling Stones
Faithfull was born on December 29, 1946, in Hampstead, London, to an Austrian baroness and a British intelligence officer who had met in Vienna during World War II. Her father, a devotee of Utopian social schemes, relocated his family to a communal farm in Oxfordshire in 1950, but after two years the Faithfulls' marriage disintegrated and Marianne and her mother moved to Reading, England. Living in rather reduced circumstances, Faithfull's girlhood was marred by bouts with tuberculosis and her charity-boarder status at the local convent school.
Despite these early hardships, Faithfull emerged as a fashionable, vivacious teenager and soon began partaking in London's exploding social scene. In early 1964 she attended a record-industry party with John Dunbarn art student she later marriednd there a chance meeting with Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones' manager, led to a contract with Decca Records. Her first single, "As Tears Go By" reworking of an old English lyrical poemas written by Oldham, Jagger, and Stones guitarist Keith Richards; it reached number nine on the British charts and number 22 in America by the fall of that year. A colorful spark-plug of the swinging London scene, Faithfull was a few months short of her eighteenth birthday.
Faithfull became an overnight Top 40 sensation, known for her ethereal, whispery vocals and angelic face. Artistic differences led to a falling out with Oldham, but the teenager continued to record singles for Decca over the next few years, including covers of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and the Beatles' "Yesterday." She had her biggest successes in 1965 with Jackie DeShannon's "Come and Stay With Me" and "This Little Bird." Her first full-length album, Marianne Faithfull, appeared in April of 1965, followed by Go Away From My World in November of the same year and Faithfull Forever in 1966.
Drugs Ruined Early Promise
Faithfull's dramatic personal life matched the fast-paced lifestyle her high-profile career demanded. In between appearances on such American rock music shows as Shindig and Hullabaloo, she had a son with Dunbar in November of 1965, but the couple separated shortly thereafter. By then she and Jagger had become an item, and their subsequent drug-fueled, jet-set exploits made her a household name for all the wrong reasons. In 1967 a party at Richards's fourteenth-century manse was raided by English law enforcement authorities, and Jagger and Richards were brought up on drug-related charges. Headlines proclaimed that Faithfull was in attendance wearing nothing but a fur rug. In an interview 27 years later with A. M. Homes for Details, Faithfull discussed her wilder days and admitted that the drug bust-fur rug incident had ravaged her personal life: "It destroyed me. To be a male drug addict and to act like that is always enhancing and glamorizing. A woman in that situation becomes a slut and a bad mother."
The young singer's recording career never fulfilled its early popstar promise, but the ready availability of drugs and alcohol offered some temporary solace. In 1969 she cut her last single for Decca, "Something Better," a record more notable for its B-side, "Sister Morphine." Faithfull had cowritten this song harrowing tale of heroin addictionith Jagger and Richards but didn't receive official credit for it until 1984. Another version of the song appeared on the Stones' 1971 album Sticky Fingers, along with the cut "Wild Horses." The latter is considered to be Jagger's lyrical parting tribute to Faithfull, written around the time their relationship was disintegrating in 1969; the break-up was apparently precipitated by her suicide attempt in an Australian hotel room during Jagger's filming of the movie Ned Kelly.
Faithfull also played a small part in the genesis of "Sympathy for the Devil," released on the 1968 Stones album Beggar's Banquet and considered by some critics to be one of their most noteworthy compositions. Jagger penned the lyrics to the song after Faithfull encouraged him one night to read an obscure novel written by early-twentieth-century Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov entitled The Master and Margarita.
Film and Television Actress
Despite her continuing drug problems, Faithfull harbored ambitions for greater things than cutting Top 40 records. In 1967 she appeared in two films, I'll Never Forget Whats is name and the racy Girl on a Motorcycle, the latter with French actor Alain Delon. Two years later she made her stage debut at London's Royal Court Theatre in Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters and the following year played Ophelia in a film version of Hamlet. In the early 1970s Faithfull's heroin addiction led to intermittent hospitalization, and at one point she registered with Britain's National Health Service as an addict in order to receive a regular ration of the drug for free. Small royalties from "Sister Morphine" were sometimes her only source of income. She produced little in the way of recording, and the attempts made were disastrously ignored, such as 1975's country-and-western-inspired Dreaming My Dreams and Faithless, released in 1978.
By the late 1970s things were beginning to look better for Faithfull. She had put together a band and began touring British clubs, and the gigs led to a deal with Island Records. In June of 1979 she married punk bassist Ben Brierly, and a few months later her new label released Broken English, a fierce comeback that garnered critical acclaim. In a raspy, harsh voice light years away from her whispery teenage vocals, Faithfull sang of despair, jealousy, rage, and redemption. Her backing band included Brierly and guitarist-songwriter Barry Reynolds. Faithfull cowrote the title track as well as two other songs, but the album earned special praise for her covers of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and Shel Silverstein's "Ballad of Lucy Jordan."
In a Rolling Stone review, Greil Marcus looked back at the long road the singer had traveled since her 1964 debut, calling Broken English "a stunning account of the life that goes on after the end, an awful, liberating, harridan's laugh at the life that came before." The profanity-laden track "Why D'Ya Do It?," a terrifying rant against a faithless lover based on a poem by Heathcote Williams, contributed to a decision by EMIsland's British distributoro boycott the record, although it did manage to reach number 57 on the British charts and number 82 in the United States.
"I'm so, so strong," Faithfull told Debra Rae Cohen of Rolling Stone a few months after the release of the album. "People have no clue." Her pride in Broken English was apparent: "I've never worked very hard at anything before; it's the first time musical demands have been made on me." In his review Marcus termed the album "a perfectly intentional, controlled, unique statement about fury, defeat and rancor.... It isn't anything we've heard before, from anyone."
Despite her newfound success, Faithfull continued to battle the twin demons of heroin and alcohol. A disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live was blamed on too many rehearsals, but it was suspected that drugs had caused her vocal cords to seize up. A second album for Island, Dangerous Acquaintances, was released in 1981 and featured a more upbeat mood and a track written by Steve Winwood, formerly of the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith. The album just missed breaking the top 100 in the United States but reached number 45 in the United Kingdom. "Faithfull fairly revels in her newfound strength," wrote Parke Puterbaugh in Rolling Stone. "Dangerous Acquaintances quakes with a darkly luminescent power, as the singer meditates on the transience and intransigence of affairs of the heart."
During the 1980s Faithfull moved between London and New York, her heroin addiction helping to obliterate the reality of her sometimes squalid living conditions and equally squalid acquaintances. Her third LP for Island, A Child's Adventure, was released in 1983 but achieved only scant commercial success. Though he praised the musicianship of the record, Rolling Stone's Puterbaugh mused that Faithfull had perhaps "overextended her poetic license, for the allusions are far too vague, the protagonist of these living nightmares too swollen with her own suffering."
During the mid-1980s Faithfull's chemical addictions began to catch up with hern a chemical-induced stupor she took a bad fall down a flight of stairs, and in another incident her heart actually stopped. Extensive rehabilitation, including a stint at the famed Hazelden facility, helped her overcome her demons by the time Strange Weather was released in 1987. The album of covers was produced by Hal Willner after the two had spent numerous weekends listening to hundreds of songs from the annals of twentieth-century music. They chose to record such diverse tracks as Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and "Yesterdays," written by Broadway composers Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. The work also includes tunes first made notable by such blues luminaries as Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith; latter-day beat-virtuoso Tom Waits penned the title track.
Made Comeback on Island Records
Coming full circle, the renewed Faithfull cut another recording of "As Tears Go By" for Strange Weather, this time in a tighter, more gravelly voice. The singer confessed to a lingering irritation with her first hit. "I always childishly thought that was where my problems started, with that damn song," she told Jay Cocks in Time, but she came to terms with it as well as with her past. In a 1987 interview with Rory O'Connor of Vogue, Faithfull declared, "forty is the age to sing it, not seventeen."
In 1990 Faithfull released Blazing Away, a live retrospective recorded at St. Anne's Cathedral in Brooklyn. The 13 selections include "Sister Morphine," a cover of Edith Piaf's "Les Prisons du Roy," and the controversial "Why D'Ya Do It?" from Broken English. Alanna Nash of Stereo Review commended the musicians whom Faithfull had chosen to back herongtime guitarist Reynolds was joined by former Band member Garth Hudson and pianist Dr. John.
Nash was also impressed with the album's autobiographical tone, noting "Faithfull's gritty alto is a cracked and halting rasp, the voice of a woman who's been to hell and back on the excursion farehich, of course, she has." The reviewer extolled Faithfull as "one of the most challenging and artful of women artists," and Rolling Stone writer Fred Goodman asserted: "Blazing Away is a fine retrospectiveroof that we can still expect great things from this graying, jaded contessa."
Faithfull next took a hiatus from performing and lived in relative isolation in Ireland for a few years. She returned to the stage for a 1991 Dublin revival of The Threepenny Opera and played a ghost who comes back to torment her abusive husband in the film When Pigs Fly. She also spent time with writer David Dalton in compiling her 1994 autobiography, Faithfull, and released an album of the same name in August of that year. The book, as expected, is loaded with the singer's forthright reminiscences of being caught up in the orbit of the Rolling Stones and her difficult attempts to break free of those years, recounted "with witty, humorous detachment and in a voice as distinctive as her latter-day rasp," according to Billboard writer Chris Morris.
The 1994 album Faithfull, subtitled A Collection of Her Best Recordings, contains Faithfull's original version of "As Tears Go By," several cuts from Broken English, and a song written by Patti Smith scheduled for inclusion on an Irish AIDS benefit album. This track, "Ghost Dance"uggested to Faithfull by a friend who later died of AIDSas made with a trio of old acquaintances: Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and guitarist Ron Wood backed Faithfull's vocals on the song while Richards coproduced it. The retrospective album also features one live track, "Times Square," as well as Faithfull's return to songwriting with "She," penned with acclaimed composer and arranger Angelo Badalamenti.
Best known for his work scoring projects for filmmaker and Twin Peaks creator David Lynch, Badalamenti teamed up with Faithfull for A Secret Life, her first full-length studio effort since 1987. Vanity Fair writer Cathy Horyn predicted in September of 1994 that this Island Records collaboration, released in March of 1995, "will almost certainly restore this fallen angel to her rightful place: as one of the great interpretive singers of our time."
A Respected Icon
Faithful returned to songwriting full-time with the 1999 album Vagabond Ways for Instinct. Co-writing most of the material, she turned in an emotionally resonant performance that cemented her status as both the supreme interpreter of personal torment and contemporary creative force to be reckoned with. At the age of 56, she simultaneously enjoyed the role of a burgeoning art-film actress in such movies as Far From China, and Intimacy, and as the patron saint for a new wave of musicians. Indeed, her 2002 EMI album Kissin' Time featured remarkable collaborations with the likes of such modern day artists as Beck, Blur, Pulp, Dave Stewart, and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame. The result was her finest, most emotionally revealing disc since Broken English, one that won her the admiration of a new generation of discerning music fans, albeit not much action on the mainstream charts. Looking back, which she often asked to do by interviewers, she has only one regret. "I wish I'd never taken heroin," she told told Charles R. Cross of the Seattle Weekly. "It seems to me now, looking back on it, from a long way in time, that it was just a waste of my time."
"As Tears Go By" / "Greensleeves," Decca, 1964.
"What Have I Done Wrong?" / "Come and Stay With Me," Decca, 1965.
"This Little Bird" / "Morning Sun," Decca, 1965.
"Summer Nights" / "The Sha La La Song," Decca, 1965.
"Go Away From My World" / "Oh Look Around You," Decca, 1965.
"Counting" / "Tomorrow's Calling," Decca, 1966.
"Is This What I Get for Loving You?" / "Tomorrow's Calling," Decca, 1967.
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Marianne Faithfull, Decca, 1965.
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arol Brennan and Ken Burke