Marianne Faithfull Speaks ‘Broken English’ with Glenn O’Brien
Photography Robert Mapplethorpe
Published April 7, 2017
Marianne Faithfull hasn’t had a hit record since As Tears Go By in 1966. That song, written for her by Jagger and Richards, instantly transformed a bright beautiful schoolgirl into a pop romantic ideal: the pre-Raphaelite English rose heroine plaintively observing life pass her by, an ancient sensibility lost in a mod world. Her singing career was almost ended by what started it off, standing in the shadow of the Rolling Stones. She was a living legend as a girl friend. She came as close as a woman could get to being a Rolling Stone, and maybe made it honorarily, being co-author of Sister Morphine. When police invaded a Stones’ home for their first bust, it went on record that Marianne was found by the constables wearing a fur rug and nothing else. It became her legend most. She finally dropped out of pop, making a well received debut as an actress, but again, she was nearly done in by the roles in which she was cast. But Ms. Faithfull is a practicing survivor, and her come-back is a surprising, inspiring pleasure. She’s really a strong singer now; her voice is almost entirely new, making the ravishes all work for her. Her voice has the tone of experience, and her songs are appropriately wise and worldly. Broken English, the title track of her new album on Antilles Records, could be her first hit in thirteen years. But if she chooses to keep at it, she’ll write and sing more. She’s got a great voice that runs deep and is easily filled with wit and whimsy. She’s got a beauty that’s wild and surprising, and a delightfully difficult command of the English language.
GLENN O’BRIEN: Some people have air conditioners just to put them to sleep.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL: I find it very, very secure.
O’BRIEN: Some people have white noise generators, or maybe pink noise generators.
FAITHFULL: Where I used to live in London, the heavy traffic starts at four o’clock in the morning. You get so used to hearing it that you can’t sleep without it.
FAITHFULL: I’ve been there without a stop for ten years. Oh, well I did go away. I’ve been to Singapore. I’ve been to India, I’ve been to Australia, Los Angeles and now New York. But really I’ve been in London all the time.
O’BRIEN: What have you been doing for the last ten years?
FAITHFULL: Not very much. What have you been doing?
O’BRIEN: I’ve been doing the same thing, over and over again. But hopefully I do it better now.
FAITHFULL: I’ve had a horrible time.
FAITHFULL: No self-confidence.
O’BRIEN: When I run out of self-confidence I always look around at what everybody else is doing and when I realize there’s not much happening it makes me feel better.
FAITHFULL: You also have the ability to lean on other people, when you’re not producing yourself. At first you think you can only ever rely on yourself, but that’s not quite true.
O’BRIEN: How long had it been since you made a record, before Broken English?
FAITHFULL: The last time I made a record was in sixty something … five or six.
O’BRIEN: How did Broken English come about?
FAITHFULL: First of all I needed some money, so I said I had a band. I went out and got some gigs, and then I got the band, then we did the gigs, then we wrote some songs, then we did the record deal and then we made the record and here we are.
O’BRIEN: All by objective.
FAITHFULL: Yes, it was all quite logical, rational. I need to gig so I can write. And it keeps me in shape. If I don’t go on stage I don’t keep myself in shape properly. I might gain weight, all sorts of things. I can’t write. But if you’re in a hotel room with nothing else to do, you might write. Perhaps that’s just all theory, I might just be talking about the way I think things should be or I want them to be. But it is definitely good for me to be working on a stage in front of people.
O’BRIEN: Do you play an instrument?
O’BRIEN: What do you do when you’re not singing?
FAITHFULL: Stand about. Ben, my husband, did a video of the first gig I did in London. The bass guitar amp broke down after the first two seconds, so the video was running while we were standing around waiting to start. It’s really good; there’s a lot of backchat, heckling and replying, heckling and replying. It was a great show.
O’BRIEN: Are you a witch?
FAITHFULL: No! No, no, no. I really have nothing to do with black magic or…
O’BRIEN: I didn’t say black magic. The reason I asked is “The Witches Song” on your album.
FAITHFULL: It’s not that serious. I really put my foot in my mouth in L.A. I made a sort of stupid joke about the Manson family in relation to that song—really nothing—they still take it seriously. It was a real social gaffe of monumental proportions. There was deathly silence. I was fascinated. It was like being a sociology student. It was wonderful … as a slice of life.
O’BRIEN: I think they still think about it a lot out there, up in the hills.
FAITHFULL: They do. You can’t make a joke about it. It’s not funny.
O’BRIEN: How do you like the pope?
FAITHFULL: He’s a star. I saw him on TV in Ireland. He’s extraordinary. And he says such reactionary things in such a sweet way that you don’t ever realize he’s doing it.
O’BRIEN: Do you think men evolved from apes?
FAITHFULL: Yeah. I believe in Darwin.
O’BRIEN: Do you believe in reincarnation?
O’BRIEN: Do you have any ideas about who you might have been if you were?
FAITHFULL: I don’t know. But I feel very tied to this planet. If a spaceship arrived tomorrow and they asked me if I’d like to visit such and such a place, I wouldn’t want to leave. I want to be on the earth for a bit.
O’BRIEN: Do you have any weapons?
FAITHFULL: Yes, a flick knife.
O’BRIEN: What’s your favorite cocktail?
FAITHFULL: A banana daiquiri. I’d love to have one now.
O’BRIEN: Do you have any fetishes?
O’BRIEN: Do you have any superstitions?
FAITHFULL: Yes: mustn’t whistle in the dressing room or say the word “Macbeth.”
O’BRIEN: Do you gamble?
FAITHFULL: No. Well, I do bet a little on the horses. But I wouldn’t call that gambling.
O’BRIEN: You’ve been an actress…
FAITHFULL: The first thing I did was Chekov, The Three Sisters, at the Royal Court. And then I played Ophelia with Nicol Williamson as Hamlet at the Roundhouse. Then I went mad.
O’BRIEN: From playing Ophelia?
O’BRIEN: How long did that last?
FAITHFULL: Quite a while. A year or two.
O’BRIEN: Do you ever have Ophelia flashbacks?
FAITHFULL: No. But I know I’ve done it.
O’BRIEN: Why do you think it’s such a powerful play?
FAITHFULL: I don’t know. But it is a powerful play. You don’t know that unless you’ve seen it. If you’re doing it, it’s really strong. And there are a lot of powerful parallels, paintings of Ophelia, like the one by Millais.
O’BRIEN: Do you know any secret gossip about Shakespeare?
FAITHFULL: I do know the gossip about Shakespeare, the dark lady of the sonnets. I like Christopher Marlowe very much, but all those theories that Shakespeare could never have done it, that it was all written by a mixture of the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Leicester and Henry Herbert and Christopher Marlowe….
O’BRIEN: Or Francis Bacon.
FAITHFULL: Or Francis Bacon. I find that all obscene. It’s terribly important to know that Shakespeare really was this man who didn’t seem to have ever travelled or had that much education but had a vision that has never been surpassed. And it all went on in his head.
O’BRIEN: Were you ever in any movies?
FAITHFULL: One. The Girl on the Motorbike with Alain Delon. It must have been 1966.
O’BRIEN: Were you a mod back in those mod days?
FAITHFULL: Yeah, more than a rocker. But I wasn’t really involved. I wasn’t actually on the seafront at Brighton in 1964. I think I’m really a rocker.
O’BRIEN: Is Marianne Faithfull your real name?
O’BRIEN: Have you ever been drunk on television?
O’BRIEN: What’s your tattoo?
FAITHFULL: It’s a swallow.
O’BRIEN: When did you get it?
FAITHFULL: When I was nineteen. It was done by hand and gone over with an electric needle.
O’BRIEN: Did you ever get sick of it?
FAITHFULL: Oh, yeah.
GLENN: Do you write letters?
FAITHFULL: No, I never answer letters.
O’BRIEN: Do you own any stocks or bonds?
O’BRIEN: Is there anything you always do before you go on stage?
FAITHFULL: Yeah. Breathing. Have a drink.
O’BRIEN: Do you remember your dreams?
FAITHFULL: Not often.
O’BRIEN: What’s the last one that you can recall?
FAITHFULL: My cat had puppies.
FAITHFULL: And it’s a Tomcat.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY 1980 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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