Marianne Faithfull Interview: As Years Go By

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Marianne Faithfull in the 1968 film The Girl on a Motorcycle

Singer Marianne Faithfull has had two distinctly different careers during her 70+ years on the planet. In the first, she was one of the women of the British Invasion, first coming to our attention in late 1964 with a song called “As Tears Go By.” Written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the plaintive ballad displayed the singer’s clear voice and casual manner; it sold well and landed at #22 on the Billboard singles chart in the U.S.

Faithfull, born December 29, 1946, placed another five singles—all on London Records—on the American chart into 1967, by which time she had achieved notoriety of a different sort as Jagger’s girlfriend, caught up in all sorts of mischief and mayhem with the Stones—she was famously found wearing nothing but a fur rug when band members were busted for drugs—while also appearing in films and theatrical productions.

Watch Marianne Faithfull sing “As Tears Go By” on Hullabaloo

Related: When the British Invasion dominated the U.S. charts

During the ’70s, Faithfull’s life took a downturn as she became engulfed in personal struggles. Although she kept recording, her style evolving all along, most fans lost track of her. When she re-emerged in 1979 with a new album called Broken English, few recognized her as the same woman who’d had the hit with “As Tears Ago By” nearly 15 years earlier. Her voice was now scratchy, deeper and raw, and her songs were often brutal in content.

But Marianne Faithfull managed to find a new audience with her new self, and she is still active today. BCB Editor Jeff Tamarkin caught up with her in 2011 on the release of her then-new album, Horses and High Heels. After some discussion about that recording, she spoke openly about the past. 

Do you prefer being an interpreter of songs or writing your own?
I find writing my own to be much harder work and I’m very lazy. If you ask Nick Cave to give you a rundown of my faults, he’d say, “She’s incredibly talented but she’s very lazy and she needs a kick up the ass.”

It seems unfair that some critics are comparing the new album to Broken English, which is 32 years old.
It does, doesn’t it? I think this is so much better. I don’t really care, actually. I’m determined to not compete with myself. That way lies madness.

Do you ever do that though? Do you look back at an album like Strange Weather [1987] and wonder if you can do better?
I think Strange Weather is perfect. The only record I’d love to remix and rework is Dangerous Acquaintances [1981]. It just wasn’t well produced. Every other one is perfect.

Looking back to an even earlier time, did Keith Richards get your relationship with the Stones right in his autobiography?
Honestly, I’m so tired of all that, I don’t even want to hear about it again. It’s over for me. End of story.

Marianne Faithfull at the Women’s World Award 2009 (Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria–used with permission)

OK, then let’s talk about your acting career. You’ve been in many films and theatrical productions but they don’t get nearly as much attention as your music.
I’ve been overshadowed by certain people a lot, and I’ve been held back by certain people a lot, and fuck ’em is all I can say. It’ll all come out in the wash, and it has.

You made a wonderful but little noticed film called Irena Palm in 2007, in which you starred as an older worker in a sex shop.
It’s a lovely film! It was great and I’m really proud of it. It nearly won the Berlinale [Berlin International Film Festival], but it didn’t.

Do you want to do more acting?
Who knows? I don’t plan. My main thing is music. I love acting because I love playing other people, but music has saved my life. My greatest commitment is to my music and to my songwriting. I’m very busy. Don’t worry!

If someone looks back at reviews of your music over the years, the word that turns up most often is eclectic.
I knew you were gonna say that!

Do you still perform a lot of the older songs?
Oh yeah, it’s mixed. It’s quite a lot of the new material but it’s interspersed with beautiful songs from all the other records.

There was a long period when you wanted nothing to do with “As Tears Go By,” and then you brought it back as a melancholy sort of dirge.
Oh, I got over that years ago. It was a very interesting thing to do at the time [reworking the song]. I now play the first [hit] version. I don’t even mention their names [Mick Jagger and Keith Richards]. I just say, “This is my first song, ‘As Tears Go By.’” It’s over for me. Those people are written out of my picture.

Do you always have a backlog of ideas or do you come up with them as needed?
I have a backlog but I also have a deadline. At the moment I’ve got plenty of time, but I’m starting to put things together. I’m starting to have ideas. I would like to write more songs than I did on this one. It seems that fans are really, really keen on my songs. They like to get little windows into me.

And you’re not shy about opening those windows.
No, I’m not. I’m just lazy. I need a bollocking from Nick Cave.

Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t done?
I’ve done it. I’d like to make a garden. Apart from that, just music.

Listen to Marianne Faithfull sing “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” from the Broken English album

Related: Faithfull had a significant medical scare when she was hospitalized with Covid-19

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Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. WLD
    #1 WLD 30 September, 2017, 16:31

    Who would have guessed 50 years ago that Marianne Faithfull would not only still be alive now, but also a vastly more interesting creative artist than the Stones currently are?

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