Return of a Rock-and-Roll Survivor
In the '60s, Marianne Faithfull Lived Hard, and She's Not Sorry

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

There's a disconnect between the 1965 video of the blond, innocent-looking, 17-year-old Marianne Faithfull singing "As Tears Go By," the song that made her famous, and the Marianne Faithfull of legend, the one who spent years addicted to drugs, dated Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, lived on the London streets for a time and attempted suicide twice.

"It's an incredible trajectory," she said. in a recent interview from Paris. Now 62 and sober since the late '80s, she marvels. "I can't even believe it. I am amazed. How the hell did I manage it?"

The London-born Faithfull epitomized the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll lifestyle. And she has no problem with that. She writes of numerous sexual encounters in her first of two books, "Faithfull: An Autobiography." (Her second, "Memories, Dreams and Reflections," came out this year.) In 1969, she took 160 sleeping pills and sank into a coma. Her "Why d'Ya Do It," a crass speak-song from her 1979 album, "Broken English," was banned from Australian radio for obscenity.

"It was very exciting, you see. We were making it up as we went along in the '60s. That was what was so crazy, and it can't be like that again," she says.

It all started when Faithfull met Jagger and Keith Richards at a party. They recruited her to record their song "As Tears Go By."

"I was very pretty, and I was very natural," she says. "I didn't jump about. I was just as I was. I didn't have any affectation. Naivete can be very, very, very attractive, and I was incredibly naive."

But that naivete quickly disappeared. She jumped on the rock wave and rode it, meeting such icons-to-be as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. In 1967 she was famously caught in a drug bust wearing nothing but a fur rug. She also acted in film and onstage and in 1969 played the role of Hamlet's Ophelia in a play while she was supposedly high on heroin.

"It was a very intense time to be alive, and I was right in the middle of it, and it was kind of wonderful." At the same time, she admits, she is lucky to have survived. "There is some kind of game to [rock-and-roll], and it still destroys people, and some people are strong and some are not."

Twenty-two albums later, Faithfull has no regrets. (A 2008 album is called just that: "No Regrets.") She has survived drugs, failed relationships, breast cancer in 2006 and, yes, rock-and-roll.

Through her career, she has collaborated with musicians as varied as Metallica and Emmylou Harris. She has sung cabaret and jazz, and in 1997 she released an album of mostly Kurt Weill songs, something she seems particularly proud of. Recently, she received a letter from Dolly Parton applauding her rendition of "Down From Dover," which was written by Parton. Next, Faithfull is planning to act in a show in London.

"It's taken me a long time to grow up . . . but I've done it, and I think things have all turned out for the best, really," she said.

She wonders why people are so interested in her life. "I guess I have a very pragmatic view of life," Faithfull says. "What happens is what you have to make the best of. Of course you can make mistakes, but you can right them, too. It doesn't have to destroy you."

Today she says she appreciates audience members who come to her shows purely for the music, without all the "baggage" of knowing her past. Her newest album, "Easy Come Easy Go," is a collection of well-arranged, simple cover songs. Of the album title, she says: "I'm not at all like that, but I can be. I think I am pretty easy come, easy go now, but it's taken a long time to get here."

For her own listening pleasure, she likes artists who at times have "the voice of God," she says: Blur, Nick Cave, Beck, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke are a few.

Faithfull's own voice, after so many years of abuse, is different from the one she started with. It's gravelly, low and stiff. Yet it is also strong and cutting. It's the voice of someone who has lived hard. Is it also the voice of God?

"I don't know," she says. "I have my moments."

Marianne Faithfull Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Show starts at 7:30. Tickets: $49.50; 703-549-7500 or http://www.birchmere.com The Download: For a sampling of Marianne Faithfull's music, check out: From "Easy Come Easy Go": -- "Hold On, Hold On" -- "The Crane Wife 3" -- "Easy Come Easy Go" From "Broken English": -- "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" -- "Broken English" -- "Working Class Hero"

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