Marianne keeps the Faith


IN CONCERT -- Marianne Faithfull

Marianne keeps the Faith


Marianne Faithfull

Where: The Centre, 777 Homer St.

When: Tonight at 8

Tickets: $68.90 at Ticketmaster

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The arc of Marianne Faithfull's amazing public life from demure British convent girl with a soft, plummy accent to Mick Jagger's debauched and discarded junkie plaything is enough to make any publicist sob quietly with gratitude. But it's nothing without the rich back story.

Daddy was Major Robert Glynn Faithfull, a superior linguist and Allied spy frequently dropped behind enemy lines during the Second World War, where he blended in with the local colour, able to speak whatever language or dialect necessary without accent. His own father is described as a sexologist who forsook the marital home for a hoochie-kootchie circus gal and once invented a Frigidity Machine intended, according to Faithfull's autobiography, to "unblock the primal libidinal energy."

Mummy was the Baroness Eva Erisso of Vienna who, in her youth, danced for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and whose great-uncle was nobleman Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of a famed 19th-century erotic novel called Venus In Furs. It's the tale of a besotted man willingly becoming a woman's slave for a year, making von Sacher-Masoch the source of the term "masochist."

The Major spirited the half-Jewish Baroness away from Nazi Vienna to London where they married and had a daughter before separating after six years. Her mother raised Marianne "like one of her cats" and when she opted to place the child in a convent school, her father complained the nuns "would give her a problem with sex for the rest of her life." Um, dad?

"In fact, I was excommunicated," says Faithfull in her husky, cigarette alto. "I got the whole book and candle, back in something like '68. I am very proud of that. Me, Mick and Anita (Pallenberg). Of course, they didn't care because they hadn't been brought up Catholic but I felt a bit weird. But I've got well over that now."

Faithfull was still in the convent school when she fell in with the Stones in 1964 London and a year later was part of the ultra-hip entourage when Bob Dylan came to town. He was, like every other male around, transfixed by this most '60s of doe-eyed, soft-focused girls and dashed-off a poem to her, which would make interesting reading today had he not torn it up when she rebuffed his advances.

Soon, she was romantically bouncing from an ineffectual Brian Jones to Keith Richards ("the best night I've ever had in my life") to the swaggering Mick Jagger. He and Richards wrote "As Tears Go By" for her which she recorded in a hushed, tremulous folk style and just like that, for better or worse, Marianne Faithfull was an international pop star. She was barely 19 years old.

Things went swimmingly for a while, if you didn't count the drug busts, and it was a fun, eventful way to pass your early 20s. Faithfull was the inspiration for songs like "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want," though she soon enough became a casualty of the Rolling Stones' sucking vortex of excess.

A week after Brian Jones was found dead in Winnie the Pooh's pool (he had bought A.A. Milne's mansion), Faithfull attempted suicide, was in a coma for days -- it's said the first thing she muttered on waking was "wild horses couldn't drag me away" -- and the beginning of the end of her Mick saga was upon her.

She went away for years, lost in drugs and alcohol, and emerged utterly transformed in 1979 with the album Broken English, just in time for the punks. She was a car wreck singing in a ragged voice, mascara and lipstick smudged all over it, and the world stared as she made new, heart-searing creations of Shel Silverstein's "Ballad of Lucy Jordan" and John Lennon's "Working Class Hero."

More than a dozen albums and on-and-off struggles with addiction later, the 61-year-old Faithfull now lives in Paris with husband/manager Francois Ravard. She smokes a lot. She survived a breast cancer scare last year -- $5 of every concert ticket goes to breast-cancer research -- and last month announced she was anxious for her financial future. There is zero money in the fact she recently inherited her mother's title, is now herself Baroness, and she's apparently concerned about becoming a "penniless pensioner."

"Ah yes, oh, how tragic that would be, yes," Faithfull cackles. "Well, first of all, I never made a lot of money and although I make a very nice living, I work very hard for it and I won't be able to work this hard at 70. My records don't sell much, so I don't make huge royalties. The best sums I get are from my lyrics for 'Sister Morphine' (from the Stones' Let It Bleed). So I have to start saving for my old age, to fund my pension plan."

Still, what an amazing ride it's been for her, I offer. How conventional and hidebound she makes the rest of us seem. "It has been tiring, yes," says the Baroness, inhaling deeply on yet another cigarette. "But a lot of fun."


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