Faithfully Speaking

By Job Brother

Originally published on Advocate.com March 27 2009 12:00 AM ET

Marianne Faithfull is
one of those rare entertainers whose life story is
more intriguing, juicy, and dramatic than any role she has
played for cinema or stage, and more full of woe and redemption
than any song she's sung.

In 1964, at age 17 --
so the famous story goes -- Faithfull was spotted at a party by
the Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who described
her as "an angel with big tits." Before long she had
her own singing career which, while successful, was eclipsed by
her notoriously swinging relationship with Mick Jagger. The
excesses of the '60s sent Faithfull into a downward spiral
of drug addiction, a suicide attempt, and alienation from her
circle of famous friends.

After years of living
as an anonymous junkie on the streets of SoHo, Faithfull
slowly, but brilliantly, rose from the depths to create one
landmark album after another, each one securing the talents of
music industry greats, many of whom cite Marianne as an
influence and muse.

Her latest album,
Easy Come, Easy Go

, is yet another triumph. Contributors to the project include
Cat Power, Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Antony Hegarty, Keith
Richards, and Jarvis Cocker, among others.

Advocate.com:Iwas listening to your new album and the song "The
Phoenix" [by Judee Sill] began playing, and I gave an
excited, audible yelp that startled my poor boyfriend. Can you
tell me what drew you to record this song?
Marianne Faithfull:

There was a connection, you know -- [Judee Sill] became a
junkie and died in a hole somewhere, but she wrote all these
wonderful songs. And I think people need to turn back. I think
if my record can help with that -- that people will listen to
Bessie Smith or Judee Sill, even Billie Holiday -- all this is
a great help. Judee Sill really needs to be found again.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL 02 X390 (PATRIC ZWIRC) | ADVOCATE.COM

That dark parallel -- between your life story and artists
like you just mentioned -- do you ask yourself why it is that
you survived when others didn't?

No idea. I cannot believe it. I know there's so many times I
should've just died, especially in Australia [where in 1969
Faithfull took an overdose of sleeping pills that resulted in a
six-day coma].

You also cover a recent song by Morrissey, who's a big fan
of yours. Was that his doing, or did you seek it out?

Hal [Wilner,
Easy Come, Easy Go

's producer] found it. The minute I heard it, I thought it
was a fantastic, gothic, transgressive song.

How aware are you of your gay fan base?

Oh, I am all there! I think it's one of the best things for me,
because it helps me keep up my standards, you know? [
Laughs

] I know I have to do things like have my manicure and pedicure
and wear diamond earrings and all those things -- my
gay fans care. Scrub up properly! [
Laughs

]

Besides the obvious, being your charm, wit, talent,
intelligence, and beauty-

Ah, darling!

Why do you think you appeal to gays and lesbians?

Well, of course I have dabbled in lesbianism. And I've
always had a lot of gay friends. It's a natural thing to me,
because I really like people who don't judge -- I don't
judge people, and the nearest thing I can find to people who
don't judge are usually gay.

I mean, what else could
it be? Outcasts together? I've never seen gay people as
different. They're just the same as me. We're all in this
together. Does that make any sense, or is that terribly
patronizing? [
Laughs

]

As you said, in the past you explored bisexuality. What led
you to that?

I was 17 and this beautiful girl, who was gay, we just ended up
in bed together. My poor mum walked into the bedroom! [
Laughs

] And she said nothing. She just shut the door and never
mentioned it.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL 03 XLRG (PATRIC ZWIRC) | ADVOCATE.COM

Never?

No. I think she was pretty cool about stuff like that. She had
relationships with women when she was a young dancer in
Berlin.

Was it just a one-night stand?

Yeah, it was. I've never really fallen in love with a
woman.

Was that the extent of your romantic experiences with
women?

No, I've had other relationships, and I enjoyed them very
much. They were wonderful, sexual relationships.

In reading your past interviews I'm struck by two images
of your mother, one that speaks perhaps too frankly about her
sexual past -- consequently diminishing your innocence -- and
the other, a woman desperate to protect your virtue. Can you
talk more about this juxtaposition?

I think you're right, yeah. She talked to me about lots of
things I'd have preferred not to know -- not just her
sexual past, though that was pretty mind-blowing, but also
[problems with] money. That was a very hard thing to have to
listen to at 8. I came out of it with a decadent
perspective that I've always had. But I don't think
decadence is about what you do, I think it's something you
are.

But she really loved
me, and my shrink told me that one of the reasons I was able to
get better, from addiction, was because I had my mother's love.
If you've never had your mother's love it must be very
hard. I know she certainly wasn't conventional, but she was
a fairly loving and great mother. I think [she] was very much
the right mother for me -- indiscretions and all.

Your life story is so rich, and while it gives plenty to
talk about, are you ever bored or annoyed by people referencing
the more notorious aspects of it?

Of course I am! I'm really fed up with it! [
Laughs

] This is the other thing I'm working on: new ways to deal
with it, which won't be much fun for the journalists. I
can't go on like this, you know. I'm going to say,
"Listen, it was 45 years ago, I wrote it all in my
autobiography, I can't remember anymore." [
Laughs

]

Tell us about your experience working on
Absolutely Fabulous.

Jennifer Saunders [the show's creator and star] came to my
show, I think with [comedian] Ruby Wax -- it was when I was
doing the Kurt Weill show. Jen asked me if I'd like to be
in
AbFab

. I said, "Well, I don't want to play myself -- I want
a character." I didn't want to be one of those dopey
celebrities on
AbFab

. And Jennifer looked at me very haughtily and said,
"Well, would God do?" So of course I couldn't say
no. I said, "Yes, yes. God would be fine." [
Laughs

]

How does one prepare for the role of the Almighty?

[
Laughs

] Well, it's not that hard, actually.

In her recent tour, Sandra Bernhard tells an amusing story
of spending Thanksgiving with you.

I've been in a lot of social situations with Sandra… She's
always amusing. We were at a
Vanity Fair

party together, which was highly amusing because Madonna was
there. I must say I find Madonna a bit irritating.

And I can quote you on that?

Yes.

Joni Mitchell once described herself as a "painter
derailed by circumstance." Is there a gift or aspect of
your life that is as much a part of you as singing or acting
that we don't know about?

No. No. I would've liked to have gone to university. It
would've been great for me, because I could have got three
years to grow up a bit. When I left home, at 17, my mother was
still buying my clothes. I didn't know anything about money
or looking after myself.

What do you think your major would have been?

English lit or philosophy. It would have been a lot of fun,
though not very useful. Anyway, I didn't do that. And for 17
years I regretted it, then sometime -- maybe around
Strange Weather

[her album released in 1987] -- I suddenly realized that if I
just accepted my life it would be a lot easier. Acceptance is
the key to happiness.

There's a beautiful irony in your being skeptical about a
major in English lit being useful when you ended up becoming so
successful in the impossibly unsure field of pop-star
celebrity.

When I look back, I must say, I was very lucky to make a record
and have a success.

Luck is something you consistently remark on in interviews.
When you say "luck," what does that really mean to you?

I don't really know if I believe in destiny. Maybe I'm
beginning to believe a bit more. I think for a long time I did
believe it was luck. Of course there was an awful lot of hard
work.

I read an interesting
interview with Elvis Presley when I was young, in which he
attributed his success to luck, which I thought was very wise,
because obviously it wasn't just luck -- he had enormous
talent. But it looked very modest.

Well, I think there are a lot of other good qualities you
have as a person as well that you're not so eager to voice
-- but I'll do it. I'll sing your praises and you sing
the Kurt Weill.

[
Laughs

] Thank you. Don't make me do it.

You've worked with some fantastic artists on your
albums. Anyone left you'd still like to record with?

Morrissey. I think that generation is perfect for me.

Do you see yourself in the newest generation of artists,
whether they're musicians or actors or others?

Not exactly. I'm not the right person to do that. I
don't think of myself much in my "iconic
capacity," 'cause I think of myself here and now, but
I have to remember that everything affects everything.

Who are your heroes?

Oscar Wilde. Elizabeth I.

And you're a
South Park

fan. Do you have a favorite episode?

Yeah, I do. The one with Britney Spears. Have you seen that
one?

[
Laughs

] I have, it's grisly! She shoots half her face off!

It's so good.