08 Feb 2019

Marianne Faithfull -- I fell elegantly into the role of a masochist

We’re not a simple species. We focus on ourselves, not in an affirmative way, but in a masochistic one. It’s always about ourselves, and its always painful.

Wysokie Obcasy
Karolina Sulej Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Marianne Faithfull -- I fell elegantly into the role of a masochist - NewsMavens
Marianne Faithfull, 2014, Wikimedia Commons

The following selections from Karolina Sulej's interview with Marianne Faithfull originally appeared in the Polish weekly "Wysokie Obcasy" in October 2015

 “I can’t stand interviews. Don’t think you can come up with questions I haven’t heard before. It’s impossible.” Marianne Faithfull -- pop culture icon, singer, actor, and muse -- greeted me with these words in the vestibule of her apartment in the Montparnasse district of Paris.

She has nourished a burning hatred toward journalists since the infamous scandal of 1967, when the police arrived at the home of Keith Richards during a party with The Rolling Stones. Marianne had just gotten out of the shower. Naked, she had wrapped herself in a fur rug. There were eight men there -- including her boyfriend, Mick Jagger -- and her, the only woman. They would be charged with possession and sale of narcotics. Public condemnation of 19-year-old Marianne was swift. But what happened to the men involved? Nothing much. After all, they were men -- you know -- they are all stupid sometimes. But Marianne was labeled dissolute and shameless -- a symbol of the corruption of swinging London. Her reputation was in tatters.

The press had even more to write about when Marianne broke up with Mick and she became addicted to heroin. For years, she was the favorite fallen star of the British media. When Marianne managed to get better, she limited her contact with the press. She wrote an autobiography so that those who wanted to write about her would have to hear from her directly.

In 1994, she moved to Paris -- and her notoriety eased.

We have to get on with the interview, Marianne wants to eat lunch and has a dentist’s appointment. When I ask a question, she often responds, as if to herself, “Oh, this song is beautiful,” or “I’m not so wise as you’d imagine,” and she stresses [the fact that], “Interviews bore me, but I love my songs, and I want people to know about them.” So I ask about the songs and Marianne says what she wants.

Karolina Sulej: Your album, “Give My Love to London”, recorded after a half-century of professional work, seems very youthful and -- excuse my words -- full of piss and vinegar.

Marianne Faithfull: And people over sixty don’t have the right to be pissed at the world?

Anger is a strong motivation for me. I am emotional, and full of anxiety. That hasn’t changed with age.

I’m definitely just as radical as I was when I was young, and now, in addition, I’m not afraid to express my opinion, and I don’t care what other people think. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem.

KS: I sense your strongest anger in the song, “Mother Wolf,” where you howl like a wolf. It’s an accusation against humanity.

That’s a song about how angry I am at people who harm animals. I’m angry at the fact that our desire to kill knows no limits. I took the figure of the female wolf from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. It is from animals that little Mowgli learns how to be good. People don’t have a monopoly on ethics. We’ve lost respect for animals and for each other. It’s up to us to shout these wrongs out loud. Animals don’t have a voice. We must do it on their behalf.

KS: In the song,“Late Victorian Holocaust,” which Nick Cave wrote for you in 2014, you reminiscence about when you were an addict.

I wasn’t able to sing about it before, but more than a quarter century has passed since then, and enough time has passed so that I could allow myself a little sentimentalism without racing back across the bridge to addiction. Because, after all, it’s not true that you can’t be happy in addiction. There are beautiful moments, too. But you’ve got to tell yourself simply -- a junkie’s life is only about the next fix. And it was the same for me too, it wasn’t about anything else. [I think of Amy Winehouse in this case], I’m certain that for her, just as for me, there were moments of happiness in her addiction.

KS: You sang a song for her once.

I felt that she was a kindred spirit. We went through similar experiences -- alcohol, narcotics -- and we were both too sensitive for show business. She sensed that I could see through her and see how she ran away from it, ran away from her emotions.

I saw the same narcissism in her, the same self-hatred that characterized me. All addicts have it. But through the years I’ve seen that all people have it in general, some to a lesser extent, some more. Some want to stifle those emotions with drugs, others with alcohol, and others through diet, fitness, or raising children.

We’re not a simple species. We focus on ourselves, not in an affirmative way, but in a masochistic way. It’s always about ourselves, and its always painful.

I was a masochist, too. I elegantly packed myself into this role, as if I’d had no choice. After all, the newspapers had already put me into the role of a decadent. “If that’s what I’m supposed to be, then that’s what I’ll be,” I decided. Oh, the irony, that my ancestor, Sacher-Masoch wrote the first definition of masochism in the book, "Venus in Furs".

KS: And the British policemen even found you wrapped in a fur rug.

I had an enormous feeling of guilt [about that] and I had it for a long, long time. This was surely the result of my Catholic education. I had attended a school run by nuns. So [outside] I was like this liberated Marianne, and on the inside I was still punishing myself, still ashamed. I was and am still very emotional.

Once I was convinced that my life had been a huge disaster and I did everything I could not to feel or care. That's why I started to get high. When you take drugs, no one can reach you. There is a glass wall between you and the love of other people. You can see them, but nothing touches you. Today, however, I know that it is better to feel something than to be a "half-dead corpse". There are no emotions when you are high.

Of course, emotions can be negative and hurt, but that is life and you can not run away from it. I was lucky -- I managed to get back to myself.

I recorded records. I fell in love. I have a beloved son and grandchildren.

KS: You once said, bitterly, that all the problems in your life started when you were eighteen years old and sang "As Tears Go By".

It wasn’t fair that I said that. I’m very grateful for Keith and Mick’s song. It started my whole career. But I much prefer the version on the record, “Strange Weather,” which I put out as a 40-year-old after giving up drugs. I only really understood it then. I still sing it every night to this day.

It’s a story of a lonely woman, who looks at the world through a window, at the smiling faces, at the children. It's associated for me with the “Lady of Shalott” from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem. The Lady of Shalott is condemned to live in a tower that she isn’t allowed to leave. She can only watch the world reflected in a mirror. So she watches and weaves beautiful carpets. If she goes outside, she dies.

This is a very good description of how I felt, of how every artist feels. They look at the world reflected in the mirror of their art. [For the Lady in the poem], it is her curse, but it also protects her. If she rejects its mediation, the world will deprive her of her strength and destroy her. However, art protects the artist at a certain price. They cannot participate in the world like other people. They must sit in their tower with their songs.


Marianne Faithfull – released her first song “As Tears Go By” in 1964. Heroin addiction put her career on hiatus for much of the 1970s. After getting clean, she released the critically acclaimed album "Broken English" in 1979. Since then she has released sporadic but well-reviewed albums and also starred in the film Irina Palm in 2007. Faithfull received the World Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Women's World Awards and was also been awarded the Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2011.

--Translated from Polish by David A. Goldfarb


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