The Curse of the Multiplying Mariannes
David Dalton talks to Marianne Faithfull

Gadfly: I wanted to start by asking you to describe the various Mariannes who have manifested themselves over the years.

Marianne: There were quite a few.

We begin with the angelic one… the virgin on the pedestal.

But quite unlike Britney, in that I never said I was a virgin. In my day, we couldn't wait to lose our virginity.

You looked so much more pure and innocent. Britney looks like a slut. She has a hard, used look—like a hooker.

Well, darling, they're not real virgins, are they? I lost my virginity when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was just before Gered [Mankowitz] took that picture, which I read somewhere is one of the hundred best rock and roll pictures of the last fifty years—the one of me in the white socks, looking like butter wouldn't melt. I was a very sweet little girl, but I wasn't a virgin, that's all. Didn't smoke or drink or do drugs, but I did have sex and I liked it.

We move on to the Sister Morphine Marianne.

"Sister Morphine," as you know, was the beginning of the big mistake that everything that I write about is autobiographical. I think I may have started this bullshit. I am amazed that people think I am what I sing about, that they relate to these images…. I’m much too clever to want to write about myself all the time. It would bore me to death. "Sister Morphine" was written before I ever took morphine. It's a story I made up, as I have been saying for years. I merely ask to be treated earnestly, but people will believe what they want to believe. Marie Antoinette and I have a similar problem in that regard. At the moment, I'm reading this fantastic book about Marie Antoinette by Antonia Frazier—the lies and the libels that were written about Marie Antoinette that, to this day, people still believe. So I'm beginning to realize that there is nothing I can do about it, except to stick to the truth. All I can say is that, after writing "Sister Morphine," I learned that you must be very careful what you write about because it may come true. Years later I wrote a song called "Demon Lover." I remembered that, and I've never let it out.

In a way then, the "Sister Morphine" misunderstanding is similar to The Virgin on the Pedestal because you weren't that either. What I am talking about really is the parade of Mariannes, the images you’ve accrued.

The other day I did a couple of interviews. I've now, thank God, graduated to The Independent and The Financial Times. They are really interesting and really funny people to talk to. One of them, the guy from The Independent, came to me and said, "Listen, I don't want you to get me wrong. I'm on your side, but as I was talking to my editor today, about coming to see you, he said, ‘Well, don't forget to ask about the bit where she's on the wall and she's shooting heroine and she goes on the game.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. I've just read Faithfull and she never went on the game.’ He said, ‘Yes, I know she did.’" They had a huge row about it.

People just assume you were on the game. How else would she have been able to support her habit?

The story—and you should know, you wrote it!—is that on the wall I found not degradation but the goodness of humanity. I ran up twenty thousand pounds in drug bills. People gave me things. They looked after me. People miss the whole point thinking like that.

Who’s the next Marianne Faithfull we encounter?

Well, now, we get to a very interesting remnant because at the turn of the millennium I had some fine Irish mushrooms—which are the best, they would be!—in London while I was watching the fireworks. The River Thames seemed on fire, and I had a blinding psychic experience where I felt the past leave. I felt myself transformed into a new person. I really did. I did not think much of it at the time. I just thought, "How great. I'm another Marianne. It's over." The past is really never gone, though. I'm not trying to say that I deny it or regret it or anything—my movie is still my movie—but it's a new movie now. This was the realization I came to.

We skipped over a few Mariannes here.

From "Sister Morphine" I skipped to 1999! After you and I wrote the book, I had feelings that I had not put in the book that I would have wanted to. I had begun to get into the habit of memory—and it is a habit—and then the book came out. And I was left with all these other things—things that were not really stories or anything I could put into words. Just feelings, and so I put them into my album, Vagabond Ways, which came out in 1999. Vagabond Ways is my line in the sand, really. I didn't know I was doing it. I was not doing it that consciously. I just do the right thing intuitively, says I! Writing the end of that Book of Marianne, and it said, "The End." Then it went to 2000. I had my experience. Then I began to think about what was my next being.

After the virgin on the pedestal, the little angel with big tits, what was the next incarnation?

The next one was the bad mother who runs away with Mick Jaguar. Then there was "The Bust."

Miss X, nude in a fur rug.

I remember how amazed you were when you realized how fast it all went. The other thing we both know, and it's in our book, too, is what does a nineteen-year-old girl who is being kept as sort of a virgin or angel on a pedestal want to do? What do you think she wants to do?

Go wild.

She wants to smash it, and so I did. I think I might have gone a little too far. But on the other hand, I don't think so. I had a lot of fun.

I am glad to hear you say that. A lot of people who have recovered deny everything, even the good times.

You wouldn’t let me, David! It's like there is the real me that you know, who is in our book. That is why we are never getting this story made into a movie in our lifetime because it's too subtle. Then there is a sort of shadow Marianne. This other figure that has nothing to do with me and is not in my movie—the shadow that is not my shadow. I have my own shadow. It is private, of course. It's mine. The public unconscious shadow was made up, and not by me. I remember I had a revelation recently when I told you that the German journalist from Der Stern had said to me, "So what exactly is the size of Mick Jagger’s penis?" The first thing you said is, "My God, he could be related to Michael Pietsch [VP of Little, Brown]. Michael told me to ask you that very question when we were working on the book." I never knew that. You never told me, obviously. I thought about it. I thought, oh my God, he could have had a row with Michael Pietsch about that. You were too much of a gentleman to pass it on. I mean, if I even told Ronnie or Keith what this German journalist told me, they’d kill him.

On the whole, to keep my sanity, I have to avoid thinking too much about the shadow, the public’s misconception of me, because it's not even my projection. It's not even my words. It's not even yours. It's so strange that the true story of my life on the wall—where that Chinese restaurant let me wash my clothes and Gypsy looked after me and even the cops watched over me—has been turned into Marianne Faithfull on heroin and on the game. Even in the mind of the editor of the English Independent.

So the-girl-on-the-wall Marianne was the next incarnation.

You’re forgetting something. There was a very happy, but not very long, domestic bit when Mick and I were very, very happy. I adored Keith, but I did love Mick. All these things are so obvious. I can't understand why people don't realize it. Of course, a great one-night stand, like the one with Keith, can be ecstatic. We know that, and we know a real relationship is very hard. We work on them if we are lucky enough to find somebody. If you can see clearly that it is not going to work out, you get out.

Leaving Mick put me in a very difficult position. One minute I had total protection, and then I ran and I went where no one could find me. On the wall of a bombed-out building in Soho. Two people used to come and find me—apart from Mike Leander, who came by and made me make a record. One was Francis Bacon, who would occasionally walk past, pick me up, say, "You look like you need a meal" and take me to Wheelers, feed me and give me lots of very good pudding and take me back to my wall.

Did he know who you were?

I knew Francis. You know why? Very few people knew who I was. Francis Bacon was a man who could really see. The people I knew on the street did not know my name. They did not know who I was. But Francis would come staggering out of The French and see me sitting there. And I thought I was invisible, I really did, but it didn't surprise me at all that Francis could see me. He would say, "You look like you have not eaten for a long time. Come along, dear." We would go to Wheelers, just the two of us, and he would feed me. He had the respect to know what I was doing, which was healing myself in the only way I could.

Francis Bacon knew a lot about pain, he really did, and he knew what I was doing in a strange way. All he did was give me food and drink and take me back to my wall to continue my healing process, which I did. What a wonderful man. We used to talk about it if we were alone, but we never told anybody. It was really private.

The other person who used to come and check on me was [the writer and composer] Brion Gysin. People say, well, it doesn't say too much about your other friends, but the truth is you couldn't have found me if you’d wanted to. Why do you think I was living on a fucking wall? It’s just that Francis would happen to be staggering by. You had to be a magical person to find me. I'm sure he didn't have any idea where I was. I had just disappeared.

The next incarnation we sort of know about was the punk Marianne. That was a complete shock to everybody, I suppose, because most people didn't really know what had happened to you.

Or care. The next real incarnation came about when I began to feel that people cared about me again. And that is why I live in Dublin. "Dreaming My Dreams," becoming number one in Ireland. That is when I began to realize I still had something to say. I don't do things for people who don't want it. The Irish are very forgiving. And, of course, anyone whom the English hate, the Irish welcome with open arms! I seem to be ending up with one great record a decade. I’ll take it! From Broken English on. Strange Weather, Blazing Away, Vagabond Ways. There have been a few, but my current album, Kissing Time, is my favorite.

Just before Broken English, I honestly believed that I was going to die, but I felt strongly that before I died I had to reveal myself as I was at that time. And that’s how Broken English came about. That's a long time ago now. Of course, I am not that person, and I never will be again. I fully expected to drop dead. I had thought it would be a simple matter. But it wasn't going to be that easy.

Part 2: Sex With Strangers