As I am frequently caught up in the history of 1967, there is a character who pops up again and again: Marianne Faithfull.
Known to most as Mick Jagger’s girlfriend – she was the “naked girl in the fur rug” when Jagger and Richards were busted on February 12, as detailed in Week Six: February 12-18 (London) – she was a lot more than that as the years rolled on.
The same year, as an actor in the film I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname (with Orson Wells and Oliver Reed), Faithfull became infamous as the first person to utter the word “fuck” in a major motion picture. A dubious distinction, for sure, but still…she was on the edge.
In some ways, she was fighting against a too-pure image that didn’t suit her. Marianne Faithfull became a pop star at 17, when Mick ‘n’ Keith wrote “As Tears Go By” for her, which became one of the big early hits of the British Invasion, the first real hit single written by that duo. She is also one of the few people to have ever shared a songwriting credit with those two (more than poor bandmate Bill Wyman could say, even though he wrote the riff that animated “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”), for her work on “Sister Morphine.”
Sadly, that song was all-too-prophetic, and Faithfull fell into the pit of heroin addiction that kept her out of action for much of the next decade, yet another casualty of the Stones’ rock ‘n’ roll circus. At least she came by it to some degree genetically: Her great great uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose erotic novel, Venus in Furs, spawned the word masochism – and was the title of a key 1967 track by the Velvet Underground.
Faithfull was Jagger’s muse for a time, which is never where you really want to be: Besides “Sister Morphine,” she is said to have inspired “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ which couldn’t have been fun. “Wild Horses” was at least a bit more flattering. (Hey, at least it wasn’t one of the songs Jagger supposedly wrote about his previous girlfriend, Chrissie Shrimpton: “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl.”)
But she reappeared in 1979 with a remarkable album, Broken English. Her first album in 12 years (the last was 1967’s Loveinamist), it was produced by the sympathetic Mark Miller Mundy, who heard in her cigarettes and whiskey voice the sound of real emotion, Faithfull’s return was timed perfectly to the punk/new wave era. Anyone who was around then remembers this veteran voice, this sadder-but-wiser woman whose anger was finally coming out, in songs like “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” and especially, the amazing punk reggae fusion, “Why D’ya Do It?”
Nearly ten years later, in 1987, she did a wonderful album with another sympathetic producer, Hal Willner, Strange Weather. Willner, a spectacular talent who is his own story and then some, died just two weeks ago, on April 7, of COVID-19, an enormous loss mourned by a portion of the music community.
So when I heard that Faithfull, 73, was in the hospital with COVID-19, I was all-but-sure that that was the end of her. After all, a body can only take so much, and her history of decades of drug addiction, not to mention age, didn’t suggest good odds. A biopic announced in February seemed like a potential epitaph.
But there she is, out of the hospital, and still kicking. Looks like her old friend Keith Richards isn’t the only indestructible force still with us from rock’s most-destructive era.
Live long, Ms. Faithfull!!