Marianne Faithfull has had a long, fascinating career since her days as the ‘It Girl’ of the Swingin’ London scene in the 1960s. Indeed, her best and far more interesting work has been done since those sometimes scandalous days. Tanya Pearson, founder and director of the Women of Rock Oral History Project, has drawn the line in that sand with a passionate and timely tome called Why Marianne Faithfull Matters, out in early July. Sharon Hannon spoke with Pearson about the musical legacy and cultural importance of Marianne Faithfull.

The It Girl of the Swinging Sixties. Teenage pop star. Actress. Muse and lover of a Rolling Stone. Songwriter. Drug addict. Chanteuse. Master interpreter of others’ songs.

Marianne Faithfull, all of that and more, is now the subject of the new book, Why Marianne Faithfull Matters, written by Tanya Pearson, founder and director of the Women of Rock Oral History Project. The book–available for pre-order and officially released July 6–is published by University of Texas Press as part of their Music Matters series, which features “short, sharp polemics [that] make the musical, cultural, experiential, and personal case for the artists we love.”

As with other books in the series, Why Marianne Faithfull Matters assumes readers have at least some familiarity with the subject. Pearson notes upfront that she is “disinterested in presenting myself as an ultimate authority on [Faithfull] or her catalogue or to sling this book as a seminal Marianne Faithful text.” Her goal, she writes, “is to present my perspective and to usurp the hierarchical, often carceral gatekeeping inherent in rock writing and scholarship. I hope to present a thought-provoking text that encourages curiosity and personal investigation.” [It did in this case. After reading Pearson’s book I was compelled to reread Faithfull’s 1994 autobiography, Faithfull, and catch up on some of her music from the past 20 years that I’ve missed.]

“She Walks in Beauty”-Marianne Faithfull, spoken word performance of Lord Byron poem:




But Pearson does provide enough of Faithfull’s biography to demonstrate her key points, which include how the singer’s physical beauty created stumbling blocks to her cultural relevance, how relationships with famous men have overshadowed her work and legacy, and how Faithfull has managed to maintain credibility in the music industry over a 50-plus-year career.

Like many, perhaps most, hardcore music fans, Pearson has spent time searching for commonalities between her life and the artists she connects with musically. Throughout this deeply personal book, she describes the connections she’s found with Faithfull, and how the singer’s life and work has inspired and comforted her.

In her introduction, Pearson writes, “I am interested in writing about how Faithfull’s music makes me feel, about how our lives have intersected, about gender, legacy, and aging. About addiction, survival, relationships, and sleeping with books instead of human beings. … About a widespread cultural amnesia that continues to venerate men as creators of timeless work without considering the intersection of gender in rock ’n’ roll culture and history. About how the hell Marianne Faithfull has made it this far.”

“In My Own Particular Way”-Marianne Faithfull, from Negative Capability (2018):





In a recent conversation, Pearson talked with PKM about Faithfull’s life and legacy and gave us an update on what’s happening with the Women of Rock Oral History Project.

PKM: When we last talked in early 2019 you had just signed the contract to write Why Marianne Faithfull Matters, and now here it is. It’s out. Tell me a little about the series and how you got involved with them.

Tanya Pearson: Most of the authors of the series are women and most of the subjects are about women. So I love that. They’re these short polemics. A friend, Gianna Lamorte of University of Texas Press, reached out to me based on an essay I had written, “Marianne Faithfull: Diary of a Lesbian Spinster in Winter.” She asked if I’d consider turning the essay into a book.

Photo: Peter Seeger – 1967

The authors in the Music Matters series are mostly scholars or music critics or have a background in music. I insisted I write something that was very much my own, to interweave my own personal story. I didn’t want to place myself as an authority on Marianne Faithfull and write a standard biography because she doesn’t like biographers and I don’t want her to hate me! I also wanted to write this book before interviewing her for the Women of Rock Oral History Project and to write a cultural biography from the perspective of a 40-year-old lesbian spinster.

I just sent her and her manager, Francois Ravard, copies of the book and he told me, and I quote, “She really liked it.” We’re scheduling an interview in the coming weeks.


There’s a difference between being an icon and being a celebrity: An icon is known, authentic, revered, and usually broke! Celebrities might be icons, but the difference is they have money.


PKM: It seems fitting that this book is coming out now given that she had a terrible battle with COVID last year and almost died. But she amazingly pulled through.

Tanya Pearson: She got COVID from a caregiver who came in and out of her apartment. She had started recording a record before COVID, then she came out of the hospital and finished recording the album. While I was writing I was thinking she was going to die, and I felt very conflicted about writing a book about her while she was on the verge of death — capitalist guilt or something? But I also just felt devastated because I wasn’t ready to let her go, and much like David Bowie, I can’t imagine living on this planet without her.

PKM: Now she has a new album out, She Walks in Beauty. On it she works with Warren Ellis, Nick Cave, Brian Eno and others. Now that you’ve had a chance to listen to it, what do you think?

Tanya Pearson: I love everything that she does, and one of the reasons is because she’s so cultured and I’m not. I had no prior knowledge of those poets. I had no prior knowledge of, or interest in, romanticism, but I got interested because I know how she feels about Keats and Wordsworth. I listen to vinyl at home, and I listen intently. Marianne has one of my favorite singing voices, but she has a really distinct speaking voice, too. I sat in my living room, put the record on, and read along to the poems as she recited them.

This is an album she has wanted to make for quite a while, and COVID wreaked havoc on her lungs, so she can’t sing anymore. It seems like another one of those mystical coincidences that she began a spoken word album before she got sick and was able to finish the album because it was spoken word and not a standard rock album.

PKM: She was so young, 16, when she met the Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and recorded “As Tears Go By,” it was as if she fell into her fame. After rereading her autobiography Faithfull, I wondered how much that early career meant to her at the time. I didn’t sense a lot of joy or satisfaction in what she was doing at that time.

Tanya Pearson: I think that’s accurate from what I know. From reading Marianne Faithfull: As Years Go By [by Mark Hodkinson], it’s a very well-researched book, it did happen organically. It was ultimately because of her boobs, and a titty-centered analysis, were the harbingers of her success. Just these kind of fluke meetings and things that happen organically. She was very intelligent and probably would have considered going back to school if it hadn’t happened.

“As Tears Go By”-Marianne Faithfull, teen pop star:





So many of the women I’ve interviewed who have attained some level of commercial success or celebrity, attribute their success to being in the right place at the right time, and I think this was true for Marianne having found success during the first wave of the British Invasion. She didn’t intend to become a singer or a rock star and kind of fell into it by way of her first husband who happened to be a hipster, hung out with Paul McCartney and the Stones.

PKM: Reading your book, it dawned on me how difficult it can be for people to change their public image once they’re widely known. In her case, it was swinging London/British Invasion pop singer, then girlfriend of Mick Jagger, and later a drug addict. It’s hard to imagine a second or third act after that, yet she managed to have them.

Tanya Pearson: When I was researching and writing, I found so many articles about her are still about Mick Jagger’s one-time muse. It was such an iconic time period (the British Invasion), so it probably made it just that much more difficult to extricate herself from that.

PKM: Drugs and her battle with addiction are an important part of her story. From what she’s written about it, it seems that she had an addictive personality early and then eventually became a serious drug addict for about 17 years. How do you see that period in her life?

Tanya Pearson: In everybody’s story there’s a predisposition and there’s the stressors and predictors. She was predisposed to become an addict and then entered into an environment that enabled her to become an addict. I feel close to her in that sort of way. Heroin is the hardest thing. I was depressed well before I started drinking, but I didn’t know it. When I read about her family, her childhood, her marriage, I think she has an addictive personality in a takes-one-to-know-one kind of way. I think just from years of therapy I was predisposed to be an addict. My upbringing was unstable and chaotic. My sister who was two years younger took a different route.

To me, addiction is a brain disease. I can only speak from personal experience, but I physically feel myself and my personality change when I do anything that triggers those pleasure receptors — drinking, smoking, doing drugs, sex — and now in sobriety I pursue hobbies and accomplishments the same way. There’s the high of being really productive and busy, of making something and putting it out into the world, and then the comedown when it’s finished. Obviously writing books is a lot less detrimental to my health than drinking or drugs.

Marianne had the classic sort of ‘broken home’ backstory, the predisposition that a lot of addicts have, but she had the fortune/misfortune of becoming a celebrity at the height of the sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll revolution. Where we differ, is that she wanted a normal life — she married young and had a son at 19 — but also wanted to enjoy the scene and the drugs. I never imagined myself in a relationship. I’ve never wanted kids and a house or anything like that. I wanted to be the drugged out, smoking, drinking rock star.

Marianne Faithfull by James Robjant-2021

PKM: In the book, you make a good case about the profound impact she’s had on you. I imagine some people remember her from the ’60s and the early ’80s, but I wonder how many people are aware of how much music she’s put out since the 1980s. She’s continued to put out an album every three years, on average.

Tanya Pearson: I wanted to make the distinction between the American music industry and Europe where people are much more aware of her. She’s a valued institution in the UK. My favorite era is Broken English (1979) and everything following that.

She’s created a really interesting, versatile catalogue because of the people she’s chosen to write and collaborate with, people like Nick Cave, Anna Calvi, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Brian Eno, Tom Waits, Warren Ellis, Billy Corgan, Damon Albarn, Beck, and the list goes on. Her manager, Francois Ravard, helped to coordinate a lot of those collaborations, and those collaborations situated her very concretely on the pulse of contemporary, underground, pop culture/counterculture. But this is why people in the U.S. probably aren’t as familiar with her later albums. We’re ageist, we’re sexist, and we’re grossly capitalist. If it doesn’t make money, it’s not going to get mainstream coverage, and then younger generations of music listeners miss out. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, are still touring and making bank on nostalgia. Marianne could do that, but she doesn’t. She’s an artist, not a celebrity.

PKM: What many people thought of as her comeback, Broken English, did well in the U.S. but going by chart success, she’s definitely one of those artists who had far greater success in Europe and Canada than in the U.S.

Tanya Pearson: I think we have really bad taste here in the United States. It’s hard to make money here, too. A lot of women have had to go to Europe to make the kind of music they want to make or to make a decent living. Lydia Lunch, Gail Ann Dorsey, Grace Jones, even Josephine Baker went to Europe. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily an insult that Marianne hasn’t found huge success in the U.S. It’s more of a compliment.


Marianne had the classic sort of ‘broken home’ backstory, the predisposition that a lot of addicts have, but she had the fortune/misfortune of becoming a celebrity at the height of the sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll revolution.


PKM: With Strange Weather (1987), the first album after she became sober, you say she reinforced her role as a torch singer, chanteuse, and interpreter. It’s been 30 years since that album. Is that still how you see her?

Tanya Pearson: I still see her that way. That’s what drew me in initially. Someone who could just hold a microphone and captivate an audience. That’s my archetype. The aging, kind of punk, singer of standards. I found that transition more punk than Broken English because it upended people’s expectations. I admire that she didn’t remake Broken English a million times. I see her as an interpreter of songs and a conveyer of emotion. When I was younger and playing in bands, I looked down on vocalists if that was all they did. In my 20s, I got really into Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Etta James … all of these people ‘just sang.’ But you remember them for a reason. Anyone can sing “Strange Fruit,” but only Billie Holiday can sing it that way. I feel that way about Marianne. One of my favorite covers of hers is an old blues standard called “Trouble in Mind.” It’s been done a million times but only Marianne Faithfull sounds like Marianne Faithfull. It’s a totally unique rendition. She covers her own songs the same way.

“Trouble in Mind”-Marianne Faithfull, live performance: 




PKM: I love her voice as she’s aged. In 2002, she did a great version of “Blood in My Eyes,” the old Mississippi Sheiks song that Dylan also covered, and her rich, weathered voice is perfect for it. For people who haven’t heard her in a long time, what songs would you recommend they listen to from her more recent recordings?

Tanya Pearson: Negative Capability is a perfect album, and it is mostly originals. It inspired me to write the essay that became the book! “In My Own Particular Way” is amazing. It’s not often we’re given the opportunity to hear that kind of vulnerability coming from a woman in her 70s. I really love the rock albums from the early to mid-2000s as well: Before the Poison, Horses and High Heels and Give My Love to London.

PKM: Possibly the most well-known song she’s written is “Sister Morphine” from the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album, which originally showed up as a Jagger-Richards collaboration before she took them to court to have her name added. How much songwriting has she done over the years?

Tanya Pearson: She writes lyrics all the time, and from what I’ve gathered from her memoirs, is that she’ll reach out to a musician or arranger who might be good for a particular song or project. She’s very well read, very literary, and a wordsmith, so to her songwriting is coming up the words and melody. I think the actual writing/recording process is a different thing altogether.

PKM: I was surprised by what you wrote about money. By the time she reached her 60s, she had no cash, and never had a mortgage or a house, so her son helped her. Given that she had an ongoing career for decades, this surprised me.

Tanya Pearson: I am constantly surprised when I interview women, icons, who are not rich. Marianne squandered away what money she had in the ‘60s on clothes and drugs and stuff like that. She got an advance for Broken English, but obviously spent that on drugs. Giving drug addicts money is a terrible idea. She grew up poor, and I can really identify with that feeling of having a bunch of money and wanting to buy all of the things you could never afford, and that’s likely what happened in the ‘60s when she was still a teenager with a big hit. The record industry has always taken advantage of artists and these days you have to tour incessantly to make money. When she reached her ‘60s and discovered that she was broke, didn’t own anything, and had nothing to fall back on, she decided to tour and focus on saving money. Now that her health is so poor, she physically can’t tour, and you don’t make money from selling records.

I interviewed Melanie Safka a few weeks ago, and she is completely broke. She had a few huge hits — Miley Cyrus just used “Brand New Key” in a Gucci ad, but Melanie doesn’t own the publishing rights, so she makes nothing. And that’s a song that’s in commercials, movies, TV shows. She should be set for life, but her record company slipped some kind of addendum into her contract.

I think we should subsidize our cherished artists into retirement. {Melanie Safka web store}


She’s created a really interesting, versatile catalogue because of the people she’s chosen to write and collaborate with, people like Nick Cave, Anna Calvi, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Brian Eno, Tom Waits, Warren Ellis, Billy Corgan, Damon Albarn, Beck, and the list goes on.


PKM: About Faithfull’s legacy, you wrote, “… most importantly her legacy is her prolificacy and the range and diversity of her musical output for more than 50 years. It is almost unheard of for an artist to maintain their credibility in the music industry for that long.” What do you think has allowed her to do that?

Tanya Pearson: Like I say in the book, not falling into the ‘nostalgia’ trap. She could have rehashed her ’60s hits or Broken English and built a career out of that. Her entire story matters — the ’60s matters because it put her on the map, but she has always maintained her integrity. There’s a difference between being an icon and being a celebrity: An icon is known, authentic, revered, and usually broke! Celebrities might be icons, but the difference is they have money. They’re in the industry and concerned with relevancy. Marianne has maintained her artistic integrity and credibility by remaining authentic — not making an album because it might sell really well at a particular point in time.

“Blood in My Eyes”-Marianne Faithfull (2008):




PKM: And that’s clear from the work she’s done the past 35 years. Congratulations on the book! While we’re talking, can you give us an update of what’s going on with the Women of Rock Oral History Project?

Tanya Pearson: I got a literary agent and am working on a book proposal with that agent to put together an oral history of rock music from the 1950s-2000s. The [Women of Rock Oral History Project] interviews are the basis for that and it’s a huge project.

I haven’t done any in-person interviews because of COVID, so I’ve started doing Zoom interviews and releasing those as podcast interviews. I started the Women of Rock Oral History Project Podcast, so now I’m working on Season 2 and most of those are brand new interviews. Season 1 is available in full and those are condensed/edited versions of previously released video interviews. The podcast is on Spotify, iTunes, Apple music and wherever else you can listen to podcasts. I’ve updated the YouTube channel so every interview I have permission to make public can be found there.

I’m doing some interviews this summer with Marianne Faithfull, Jone Stebbins, Lesley Woods (Au Pairs) and Ana da Silva (The Raincoats).

photo by Tim Walker

I just turned 40 and finished my annual birthday fundraiser, but people can donate year-round via my website (WomenofRock.org). I’m always looking for long-term funding sources, and the documentary work continues. Sophia Cacciola is working on that in Los Angeles.

I’m a Ph.D. candidate in history at UMass Amherst and I teach history classes. I’m writing my dissertation about the disappearance of ’90s rock women after 9/11. It’s a cultural, feminist history that follows this progression of events from the death of Kurt Cobain, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Woodstock ’99, and the consolidation of rock radio in the early aughts. The cultural return to Cold War gender roles and the outspoken, abrasive women who had found mainstream success in the early to mid-’90s couldn’t get played on the radio after 9/11.

PKM: You had previously mentioned you hoped to interview Grace Slick at some point. Any movement on that front?

Tanya Pearson: I don’t think Grace Slick will ever talk to me! I even sent someone to her art show in Los Angeles to approach her manager in person and he was like, “Yeah, nope. She doesn’t do interviews anymore.” It’s a shame because I’d love to talk to her — and it would probably be the first interview not focused on her sex life or Janis Joplin. I’m an optimist and I won’t give up. Maybe she’ll come around one of these days.

Marianne Faithfull interviewed by Nick Cave (2018):




Marianne Faithfull website

Why Marianne Faithfull Matters – website

http://www.pleasekillme.com

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