MARIANNE FAITHFULL, OR THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY
Marianne’s audiences tend to be small, not at all commensurate with the greatness of her art. Why?
Marianne Faithfull | Dennis Morris, 1979
I – MARIANNE FAITHFULL: THE MUSIC MACHINE, CAMDEN HIGH STREET, 1978
An autumn evening in 1978. The Music Machine, Camden High Street, London. Despite the name, there’s nothing techno about the place: a three-tier theatre in faded red and gold, it dates from Victorian times. I like this marriage of the chic and the seedy, the louche air of it all: I imagine a powdered tart with scarlet lips drinking sherry in a brothel lounge, a shiny trinket dangling between her hard-working tits.
The house lights go down, the band steps on stage. Two guitars, bass and drums, the centre mike unmanned. As the stage lights go up, the band launches into the ‘Sweet Jane’ intro, silvering the electricity of Steve Hunter’s majestic lines. Listen! The burning tears of Orpheus emerging from the underworld, a phoenix rising defiant from smouldering ruins. Look! Waiting in the wings, Marianne Faithfull stands, smoke curling from her fingers, the pallor of her body bright against her black mini-dress. There’s an expectant calm in her expression; I sense the fire and ice in her veins. The intro segues into Lou Reed’s signature riff, the cue for Marianne to step on stage: she doesn’t take it. No matter, keep it going: the riff’s meant to be repetitive. Still Marianne stands, a contented spectator. Turning to face her, the Strat guitarist coaxes her to come out. A touch of sass in her stride, she walks to the microphone. ‘Standing on a corner, suitcase in my hand’: Gravelly, the voice comes; instantly I am transported. To where? To where I belong.
Midway through the concert Marianne sang a new song: ‘Brain Drain’. To end the evening, another new one: ‘Why D’Ya Do It?’. And thus, to the two hundred or so of us in the audience, she let it be known that Marianne Faithfull is back, and back on her own terms: From now on, she will be no-one but herself. The beauty of that self, still struggling with heroin, touched me deeply. And when, a few months later, Broken English was released, I felt in every fibre of my being the freedom that comes when pretences fall.
II – MARIANNE FAITHFULL: COURAGE AND ENDURANCE
Marianne Faithfull sings dark songs. Never-ending longing, not happy endings; courage and endurance, not flash-in-the-pan bravado. Though she may venture out into spring and summer, autumn and winter are her seasons. Falling leaves and driving snow, not honeyed sunlight and hyacinths. Hers is the world of night, not daylight; beauty, not prettiness. It is a world where I am at home.
I am, I realize, one of a relative few. Not many people are at home in such a world: Marianne’s audiences tend to be small, not at all commensurate with the greatness of her art. This is not surprising. The nerve she touches in the heart is a nerve connected to vulnerability: a state that puts us at risk. Indeed, heightening our humanity, vulnerability calls forth kindness; making us cut the crap, it forces us to get real. For many people, this is a terrifying prospect. Whatever the cost, the self-satisfactions of narcissism, the safety of ‘self-sufficiency’, are what they prefer. Fools, I say. And they return the compliment. How can you be attracted to someone so dark and depressing? they ask. Normally I just smile and walk away, but now I’ll try to provide an answer. And for that, I’ll turn to Greek tragedy.
III – MARIANNE FAITHFULL: EVERY SYMPTOM IS AN ATTEMPT AT SELF-CURE
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By Richard Jonathan | © Mara Marietta Culture Blog, 2022 | All rights reserved