The Curious Case of the Multiplying Mariannes
David Dalton talks with Marianne Faithfull

Gadfly: How did the idea of Kissin Time come about? The concept of working with all these younger rock musicians?

Marianne: I said to Francois [Ravard, Marianne’s manager], "I want to do something completely different. I want to make a happy record, celebrating love and life." Francois said, "Make a wish list of who you’d like to work with. We’ll ring them up and see." We did, and they all said yes.

Although I think it provides an interesting foil for your voice, I have to say I was a little put off by the electronica on the first couple of tracks.

Well, you know, Broken English was very electronic—we were just twenty-two years ahead of equipment. One of the reasons I wanted to make this record was I realized that there was all this new stuff I didn’t know about, and I like to be in on the beginning of things.

Listening to this CD—and this is true of any album of yours, is like following the adventures of a voice. In that respect, it’s a little like listening to Ray Charles—it doesn’t really matter what he’s singing. He once said, "Man, I’d do a Christmas album if I could find enough songs."

Well, I don’t know about that, but are you trying to say I could sing the telephone directory? Thank you, darling. I learned a lot from singing Kurt Weill. It was like going back to school. You really learn how to tell a story.

"Song For Nico" comes to mind. What a great, sad story, and it’s a great song, probably my favorite on the album.

People really don’t understand. They think I wrote it because of my similarities to Nico, and, of course, there are certain similarities, but in fact it is a song of contrast. All my life I’ve had people saying, "Oh, your tragic life. What a tragic life." But I had a mother and a father who, whatever they thought of each other, and they did not like each other very much, really both loved me. I had a wonderful name given to me by my father. I had a reasonably happy childhood, actually. Stable. No money, but a great education. I came up to London for my first party at seventeen and bumped straight into Andrew [Loog Oldham], Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who treated me like a queen. I then met everyone else you could possibly want to meet. I knew Paul and John before that, and they all treated me like a queen, an absolute jewel. They would have done anything for me. At the end of the sixties, I was finished. I was burned out. I had to save myself. I ran away to my wall. Then I did save myself. When I had had enough, I came back.

And what a bang that—when you came back! Pop music is all about comebacks because, basically every three years, you have to recreate yourself. But your reemergence on Broken English was astonishing. Coming from the tarnished angel of pop, your new incarnation was almost like the creature in Alien erupting out of you. It’s still a shocking record today.

It’s just incredible. Who must they have thought I was? It was a lot of fun. There was much pleasure. All my life, I have been trying to get people to come with me into the truth of what I am. They started off on this dopey image of me, and I’ve been trying to be moving it closer to who I am ever since. I didn’t know Nico. I didn’t get around to that Andy Warhol scene until 1980. I went once to New York with Andrew. I was so scared. I realized I would die if I stayed there. What we thought of heavy drug taking in London was nothing to what was going on in New York. Well, the point of "Song For Nico" was that I finally decided: Okay, you want to see a tragic life? Watch this. This is a tragic life, and I don’t even take it to the end.

It’s interesting that you call her innocent.

She was. What did she ever do wrong? Really? The most awful thing about the story is that she falls in love with Alain Delon. Madly in love. Has that baby. And never, to this day, admits to the paternity. Never gave her any financial help. When his mother gave her financial help—very little because she wasn’t rich—he never spoke to his mother again. That’s the way it ends, as it does, and I just throw it away. It would be nice if people could understand that song. The things Nico and I have in common are the least interesting things. We have nothing in common, except we did heroin at one point. But I never met her. I didn’t know her. I think The Marble Index is a masterpiece. Nico is Broken English. I wish she was alive, and I’ve been quite frankly haunted for five years by Nico about my song. "Where’s my song?" I knew John Cale very well, and he has written some very beautiful songs about Nico. I kept thinking Lou would do it. He was never a lazy bugger. In the end, I realized it was because I didn’t know her that I could really write the song. I had no axe to grind. What I have in common with Nico is the understanding of her furious frustration at not being recognized. And not only did she do all of this, she did it in a completely foreign language. You wouldn’t believe the stories John has told me. He was preparing The Marble Index, the music. Talk about living in your own movie, she really lived in hers. She had a different time frame to other people. The beats she heard were not like one-two-three-four or one-two-three, one-two-three or even six-eight. She had a completely different one. He had to figure it out somehow. He was doing that and worrying terribly about the lyrics. Not only was she writing those wonderful lyrics, like "Frozen Warnings," that is one of the masterpieces of all times. She got to the session the first day; she took out this book, like a huge old ancient Martin Luther Bible, bound in vellum. And in it, handwritten in German gothic script, was every lyric in The Marble Index. That’s an artist. It is very easy to brush people like that away and say, "Icon this and icon that." Bullshit! She was just pulling herself together actually when she had that terrible accident. It’s like the death of Bessie Smith, clinging to death twelve hours on the side of the road in Ibiza. Yes, obviously I had to write a song for Nico. I couldn’t go on. I was being haunted. She is pleased. I tell you I can feel it.

"Wherever I Go," which precedes the Nico song, is almost like a mock mid-sixties pop song, like a soundtrack to an Audrey Hepburn movie.

It’s a love song. Well, what Billy [Corgan] decided was that what I needed was a proper AOR hit. We don’t talk about it. Nobody knows who I love. But, of course, they all did. We wrote a love song. All these guys knew my early work. What they did, which was so extraordinary—apart from "Nobody’s Fault"—is that all these guys on the album pretended that after 1966 I disappeared completely. Never ran away with Mick Jagger; never became a junkie; never did any of that; never wrote "Sister Morphine"; never made Broken English; never did anything after "As Tears Go By." And then, like Sleeping Beauty, I suddenly reappeared with Kissin Time, as if nothing happened. They just wiped out the whole middle-eight of my life. Not to deny it because, of course, it did happen. But they are just sort of as-if stories—what we did is impossible, of course. If I hadn’t run off with Mick, not written "Sister Morphine," not this, not that—all those nots—I could not have made this record. They are all connected. But still, that is the illusion, and it is a beautiful one. The lovely little folky Beck song "Like Being Born" is the same sort of thing.

About your family.

Not really about my family. The first verse is about my parents. The second half is about my lover—he touches me lightly with his hand—it feels like being born. That is not my father.

Your voice is like some interior historian who chronicles the seismic shifts in your life. Like "I’m On Fire," when you say "happiness," you pronounce it with such gothic patina.

It’s just a beautiful word. It’s a word I’ve never said in a song before. I don’t know where it came from. It was just a moment; that’s all a song is. It’s not the facts, the truth, forever. I did not know what was coming. If you’d said the word happiness to me three weeks ago, I would have thrown up! Happiness and no more pain, hah! I’m much better now. I’m fine.

"Sliding Through Life On Charm," now that one you did with that tree-hugger group, Pulp—not that I haven’t communed with trees in my time.

Yes. So cute, Pulp playing to all the British trees. They’re Irish. When they said they were going to do a tour for all the ancient forests of Britain and Brittany and Ireland, I actually imagined they were going to play just to the trees. They brought me back down to earth, saying, "Well, Marianne, there will actually be people there, too." What an idea! There are some of us left.

Trees and music are an ancient pairing. There used to be the Tree of Hope at the Apollo. It was the trunk of the tree that actors in the old days used to stand under when they were looking for parts. In the thirties, it got cut down and they took the trunk of this tree and varnished it and put it backstage where the performers come on stage. It’s all shiny from where people have rubbed their hands on it for good luck. Um, getting back to "Sliding Through Life On Charm."

I knew this was a great title. I’ve had it for twenty years. It started off as fun, like these ideas do. Then I did one of my faults. I got hung up on the rhyme and, of course, that was a mistake. There are five or maybe six rhymes for "charm" in English: "arm," "alarm," "farm," "calm," "marm" and "smarm." These are not the makings of a rock and roll song. So twenty-two years later, or maybe eighteen years later, I was in despair. I was flipping. I knew it was still a great title. I thought, now who can I get to write it? My eyes lit upon the young Jarvis Cocker, who was walking one way as I was walking the other way in a TV studio. I knew he’d been to my shows, and I’ve been to his. As we crossed paths, I just grabbed him and said, "Jarvis, if I give you a title, can you write the song?" He’s very laconic. "Maybe," he said. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, very slowly and very clearly, "Sliding Through Life on Charm." I could see something happening in his eyes. He does look Robert Mitchum-like in a very skinny way. He said, "Well, yeah. Any other information?" I said, "No." We moved on. He said, "I’ll try." Three years later, I got a package in the mail in Dublin, and it was the demo and the lyrics scribbled in pencil on the back of an envelope of "Sliding Through Life on Charm." At first, I couldn’t even understand them. Only when we recorded it did he tell me what he did. He read your book (Faithfull by David Dalton and Marianne Faithfull). He took it out of your book, facts. He told me himself that it was an absolute revelation. He didn’t get it wrong. He decided to stand up for me. What amazed me—and I’ve noticed this with these great, great people, especially these young ones—they can look into your soul. And what he did was say what I really think but was too afraid to say. Because after Redlands [the Stones’ drug bust], I was fucking terrified. I’ll never recover really. To this day, Francois says things like, "You know we could rent the flat that Kate [Moss] is moving out of." But I am too scared to move back.

The chain saw thing at the beginning….

Not a real tree, of course. It’s a family tree. "The family tree was chain sawed Wednesday week." What’s interesting is that he [Jarvis] thought I came from a very grand family with a lot of money. Not true about the lots-of-money bit, of course. But on my mother’s side, I come from almost as grand as you can get. Back to Charlemagne, eight hundred years. That’s quite grand. On my father’s side, there’s the wonderful, nutty Faithfulls—missionaries and teachers and professors of Renaissance studies and such like and sexologists running off with circus dancers. I don’t really know what his words mean…yet I do. I just love 'em. That thing about, "Go ahead, why don’t you leave me to these thugs and creeps who want to fuck a nun on drugs?" He just nailed it.

Great lines—"I had to know how far was going too far" and "I wonder why the schools don’t teach anything useful nowadays, like how to fall from grace and slide with elegance from a pedestal I never asked to be on in the first place."

Talk about hitting the nail on the head!

"Love and Money"…

…is a lovely little Dave Courts/Marianne song. David wrote the music, and I wrote the lyrics. But in a songwriting partnership you can’t say, "I did everything on this level, and he did everything on this level." You really can’t. It’s always fifty-fifty. David isn’t a musician; it’s his hobby. As you know, he’s Keith’s personal jeweler.

Maker of the infamous skull ring.

We wanted it to sound like it came from another era. David and I and David Boyd, who runs my record company, took it down to Chris Potter, who is one of the great engineers/producers/mixers of all time. On Rolling Stones recording time, he mixed it for nothing. He gave it that sound, as if it had been lying in a vault since 1967. Actually, it was written two years ago. David doesn’t write for anybody else. I like that. He’s mine.

"Nobody’s Fault"…

…is, as you know, a Beck original from Mutations, and the minute I heard it, I started jumping up and down. I was saying, "That’s mine. That’s mine." Beck agreed to do one song. I knew him well enough to know that if I could catch him, it would really get his interest. I might be able to get that out of him, but I was ready for a "no" and able to take it. He went for it. He was about to arrive. I was sitting in Olive Garden in Venice, California, staring at the ducks, holding my notebook, thinking, I’ve got a genius arriving in an hour and I haven’t got anything written. I quickly went through my notes of the last two years and knocked out the final version of "Sex with Strangers," which had been cooking away quietly for a while. I took a lot of it from Intimacy. Intimacy is a film I was in that won the Berlin Film Festival, and it is about sex with strangers. So that’s where it comes from, not personal experience, darling. I hate to disappoint you, but it’s not actually about Beck or having sex with strangers. It’s really a construct. But a sexy one. I am fascinated by other people’s sex lives. I insist on keeping my own private, but I am very curious. And I know from my gay friends especially about sex with strangers. I personally prefer sex with friends. I always have. I’m too careful a person to have sex with strangers. But I can imagine it. I ran into Mick at the Warhol party. He came up to me and said, "So, Marianne, sex with strangers, huh?" And, thank Christ, I managed to say, "Yes, Mick, life does go on." In my heart, I do feel terrible about what became of Mick; he can be such a phony socially. But what was I supposed to do, stay with him and save his soul? It wasn’t my job. My way of dealing with Mick at social events these days is to lie. He laps it up; he never questions it. He’s completely different when I see him at Marina’s or the [director John] Boormans’—in private he’s wonderful, the same person he’s always been.

I guess sex with strangers is more of a male fantasy.

In my song, it isn't. The way I did it at the Barbican Center on the tenth of March was in a raincoat with a hat and a cigarette and leaning against a lamppost. It wasn't any male fantasy.

On Kissin Time, you really seem to gel with the band.

Like "Nobody’s Fault"—it’s real musicians playing in real time.

The high voice on Kissin Time

…is Damon [Albarn], of course. That’s another thing that people don’t realize—the incredible goodness and generosity of musicians to each other. They didn’t need to do that. All these guys. They did it for nothing. They’re all superstars in the middle of huge careers, particularly Damon. There I was, just behaving as usual, and Damon would be waiting for me to arrive at the studio for two hours.

What was it like working with Beck, Blur, Billy Corgan, Pulp, all these younger musicians?

It was so interesting. The teen rock star, as far as I know the species from the boys—they’re not boys, of course, they’re young men I worked with on this record—is that they are a very interesting generation to work with. They’ve gone through the early bit where they think they’re God. They were all at very interesting points of their own lives. Crossroads. They had a moment to do this. I am very careful right now. I have great respect for artists. I would not hustle people. If they didn’t want to do it or didn’t have the time, I would respect that. But they all did want to. I just got an e-mail from Billy saying, "When do we start on the next record?"

Part 1: The Scattered Selves