Why Marianne Faithfull Matters
published: 16 /
Nicky Crewe finds that Tanya Pearson's new book is a fascinating insight into Marianne Faithfull’s life and career by a writer who isn’t afraid to bring her own experience to the exploration of the myth and reality of Faithfull’s story and legacy.
Tanya Pearson is a public historian and director of the Women of Rock Oral History Project, a collection of digital interviews and written transcripts documenting the lives and careers of women-identified rock musicians. This book is one of Faber’s Music Matters series which considers the roles and reputations of women musicians.
Before Pearson found her path in life and her role as a music journalist, she discovered Marianne Faithfull’s music and story. As a ‘closeted teenage homosexual’ in the States in the late 1990s she first saw Faithfull appearing on 'Saturday Night Live' with Metallica. She was influenced by her music and identified with her, eventually sharing a history of addiction and recovery through her adult life.
She brings a feminist approach to her exploration of Marianne Faithfull’s career and legacy which is particularly relevant given that a misogynistic male-dominated music business has often denied Faithfull the recognition she deserves, while negatively contributing to how she was defined as an individual.
While this book is part biography, with quotes and a timeline, it is so much more. Pearson examines the misogyny and ageism inherent in the music business. She understands the times Marianne Faithfull lived through and the driving forces of trauma and addiction on her life and career. She balances this life story with a serious and thoughtful look at Faithfull’s own impact on the music business, inspiring other women musicians with her resilience and talent. Along the way she also interrogates who writes the history of rock music. Music journalism can be as misogynous and manipulative as any other aspect of the music industry and can make or break a reputation and a career.
The book celebrates Faithfull’s later career, her wise choices of musical collaborators and songwriters and her ability to interpret songs with her mature voice. We are asked to consider our attitudes to ageing in relation to her and other women musicians and singers of her generation. We are invited to consider the legend, to reinterpret what we know and what we think we know about her.
There are aspects of Faithfull’s life that I identified with too. As a convent schoolgirl a few years behind her, I couldn’t help but be in awe of her success with ‘As Tears Go By’ and envious of her involvement with the Stones, Mick Jagger in particular.
There is information about Marianne Faithfull’s life in this book that I was aware of, including the Redlands drugs bust and the scandal that followed it, particularly aimed at Faithfull. I knew she had lived rough, but not about the Wall or Francis Bacon, that she had divorced her first husband John Dunbar and lost custody of her son. I knew she had moved to Ireland, remarried, eventually given up her heroin habit, overcome cancer and more recently Covid, and produced some great music in her later career.
I didn’t know that Faithfull is her family surname. I had always assumed it was chosen by Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager, for its virginal convent girl association as he manipulated her image in those early days. The Stones embraced a wild and macho image and Faithfull seemed to be collateral damage with her fragile beauty and gentle voice. "In a matter of four years, Marianne was transformed from virginal pop princess to defamed junkie whore." (From ‘As Tears Go By' to 'Sister Morphine’, which incidentally she wasn’t credited for co-writing until 1994).
I also knew that her mother was related to the von Sacher-Masoch family, but I hadn’t appreciated how trauma, including the failed and successful suicide attempts of others, had been such a part of her life. I’d related Nico’s story to my awareness of Faithfull’s, but sadly Nico didn’t emerge from the other side of addiction.
Marianne Faithfull has written two autobiographies, ‘Faithfull’ and ‘Memories, Dreams and Reflections’. She has always resisted being described as a survivor or a victim, but we have to acknowledge and appreciate her resilience, personally and professionally, through the insights and revelations of this book.
Tanya Pearson hasn’t yet been able to interview Faithfull for her project. Covid made that an impossibility, but I live in hope. The final thought in her book: ‘I hope I’ve made you curious about Marianne Faithfull and that you talk about her, and that the conversation continues forever.’
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