September 6, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Marianne Faithfull is an unassailably cool
embodiment of rock history, a living link to the Swinging London of the
mid-’60s (“As Tears Go By”), the hedonistic decadence of the early ’70s
(“Sister Morphine”), and the angry punk from later in that decade (“Broken
Unlike many of her peers, Faithfull isn’t
content to rest on her laurels: Her new album “Kissin Time” is her strongest
since 1981’s “Dangerous Acquaintances.”
Yes, the singer gets a welcome boost from an
all-star cast of Generation X collaborators, including Beck, former Smashing
Pumpkin Billy Corgan, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, and Damon Albarn of Blur and
Gorillaz. But giving too much credit to the hired help shortchanges own
biggest assets: the distinctive croak of that famously raspy voice, and the
piercing wit of those literary-to-licentious lyrics.
Faithfull performs at the Park West, 322 W.
Armitage, at 8 p.m. on Sept. 13 (tickets are $22.50—a much better bargain
than her old mates in the Rolling Stones, who perform at Comiskey Park the
same night). I spoke to her from her home in Dublin shortly before the start
of this tour.
Q. It was a pleasure to see you singing with
Zwan a few months ago at the Q101 Jamboree. Do you get the impression that
Corgan is having fun with his new band?
A. I’m really pleased about that, and it’s nice
to see that Billy is working with [drummer] Jimmy [Chamberlin], because I
love Jimmy. I like the other guys very much, as well, and they’re good, too.
Billy has really proved himself, and he’s now free to go where he likes and
do what he likes. He’s lightened up a lot, and he’s having much more fun.
That’s not to put down the Pumpkins, but they did go through a hell of a
scene, didn’t they? They lived through the rock ’n’ roll nightmare, but a
lot of people do. Anyway, Billy has got through that, and thank god is still
there, still working, still creating, still himself.
Q. “Kissin [CQ] Time” is a really strong album.
I’m interested in how you chose the people you collaborated with.
A. It was so simple, really. I knew them all, so
that was one thing; that just made it easier to call them up and organize
it. But it was a very simple criteria: First, I had to know their records
and like them very much. Secondly, I had to have seen them live on stage and
liked their performance and thought they were really good.
Q. Why did that matter?
A. It just does. I think like that. I know there
are some records that are just records, and they’re not meant to be
reproduced live, but I like songs that when you take them out, they change a
little bit. I want songs to live and breathe and have a life of their own.
So yes, I had to see them live. Then, I had to like them as people. When you
collaborate eyeball to eyeball, which is what we did, you have to like
someone. And the other thing which is very important is they had to like me.
Lots of people don’t, and that’s fine. [Laughs] I wouldn’t want to make a
mistake and go to somebody who really can’t bear me and ask them to work
with me. That would be a drag, wouldn’t it?
Q. How did the collaborating actually work?
A. The only time I actually had something ready,
because I was a bit scared, was with Beck. I had ideas in my head, but an
hour before Beck arrived—alone, driving a car himself—I suddenly got
absolutely terrible horrors, because I do know Beck, and I know that you
have to get his interest very quickly. He hasn’t got endless patience; you
have to interest him immediately. So I sat down an hour before he arrived
and I wrote down the final version of “Sex With Strangers.” Then I was
sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, watching the ducks and sucking my
pencil, and I thought, “Should I do something else?” Because he only agreed
to do one. But I thought, “Why not?” Then I had one of those lovely
experiences, which alas do not happen very often, and I wrote “Like Being
Born” completely. So when he arrived I had two things to show him, and both
he absolutely loved. The next day we went in to start work on “Sex With
Strangers,” the basic track.
With Billy and I, we literally walked around
each other like cheetahs or something. Like an animal courtship. He’s really
intense. He’s not a difficult person to work with, I can tell you. He’s not
a pushover; he expects a lot. But so do every one of my collaborators. Damon
[Albarn]--that was frightening. I had the lyrics to “Kissin Time,” and I was
so afraid that he wouldn’t like them. And I don’t know if he did like all of
them. It was one of those situations which is inevitable if you’re a
lyricist as well as a musician, where there was his tune and I had written
my words, and they weren’t exactly the words he would have written. But with
Billy and I, it was like making love through music. Which is a famous old
trick—I’ve even seen the Everly Brothers do it, back in 1965. They leaned
together so close and sang off the bones of each other’s face, and that’s
how Billy and I were working. There are other intimate things, but I tell
you, writing a song with somebody is one of the highest intimate forms there
is, and very sexy. I’m certainly not denying that.
Q. To what extent was there a Mrs. Robinson
crush sort of thing happening with the men you worked with?
A. If you’re talking about a slight erotic
element, which you are, yes, of course there is! [Laughs] They’re not
expecting to shag me or anything, but yes, there is an erotic element, and
it’s quite obvious. It gives the record a special fizz.
Q. It’s a very un-politically correct album.
Most of your collaborators are members of Generation X, my peers, and we
grew up in a world where sex is potentially lethal, which is very different
from the Swinging London of the ’60s that you represent.
A. The album was written and made in another
world, really. The world has changed so much [post-9/11]. I don’t know what
the next record will be like; it won’t be this. But “Sex With Strangers,”
for me and Beck, it was really a bit of fun. Obviously, I don’t have to tell
you—all of you are much more sophisticated now then we were at your age when
it was all starting, really. But occasionally I speak to an idiot and I have
to say, “Well, let me tell you this does not mean that Beck and I go out and
have sex with strangers. It’s not a song promoting sex with strangers, just
like ‘Sister Morphine’ was not a song promoting morphine.” But I suppose
this does fit into this [post-9/11] world, because I suppose I still do
think: “Have as much fun as you can, because you may not have long to live.”
Q. I’m not sure the world has changed all [ITAL]
that [ITAL] much. I was reading a sociologist who documented a huge baby
boom exactly nine months after 9/11; sometimes when the world is ending,
people turn to each other with renewed vigor.
A. There’s got to be one! That’s really what
“Sex With Strangers” is about, that sort of apocalyptic vibe. And O.K., if I
have to be P.C., which I must say I’m not, use a condom! I believe you all
do anyway, all my friends of your age. They are so well trained, they
wouldn’t shag without a condom. Me, I can’t bear it. That’s why I’m in a
relationship: The thought of having to make love to somebody with a condom,
I couldn’t bear it. I’m in another generation, we’re not used to that. But
just because of AIDs and things like that, that doesn’t mean you can’t have
a lot of fun.
Q. Nico, the former chanteuse with the Velvet
Underground, is another iconic woman from your generation. What inspired you
to write “Song for Nico”?
A. Two things: I really like her work; I didn’t
know her as a person. I felt it was time somebody wrote a real homage to
Nico, and I thought I was ideal to do it—partly because I didn’t know her,
so I had no personal ax to grind. I really could write from the perfect
position, which is detachment. And secondly, I felt for so long people have
said to me, “Oh, your tragic life, your tragic life.” And what I wanted, one
of the points of that song, is as a contrast. A lot of people don’t get
that. They think I’m writing about me, in a way, but I’m really not, I’m
writing about Nico and I’m writing about a [ITAL] truly [ITAL] tragic life.
I’m trying to show, “Come, come: Get some sense of real life or death here.
Get your tragedy right. Do not mistake a charmed life, which is what I’ve
had, with a really tragic story, which is Nico’s. Don’t put people into a
Q. Rock has resorted to the horrible cliches of
the “Behind the Music” world, where everything has three acts.
A. Well, yeah, but that’s bulls--- and we know
it. I notice they haven’t done a “Behind the Music” on Nico.
Q. There was a good documentary, “Nico: Icon,”
and an excellent biography, [ITAL] Nico: The End [ITAL], written by James
A. That’s the one I read. I was writing “The
Pleasure Song” with Etienne Dahos and staying with him in Paris, and in the
meantime I was reading this biography, and that’s when I got the idea.
That’s when I realized what I didn’t know; I only knew her work. I didn’t
know that she had such a tragic life, and so I wrote “Song for Nico.” It’s
got various positions in the record: It is a song for Nico, and I do want
people to go and listen to “The Marble Index,” which is a masterpiece. But I
also put it in there because in case you think I’ve had a tragic life, just
look at what a tragic life is. I’ve had my ups and downs—I call the sad
period of my life, which is the drug period, “my learning curve.”
Q. You have always been against living in the
past, but it’s a short list of your peers who take a similar stance against
A. The Stones do quite well.
Q. Do you really think so? I’ve seen every tour
in the last 20 years, and I never need to hear them play “Honky Tonk Woman”
A. There was a golden moment, and I was very
lucky to be involved. I’ve seen a lot of Rolling Stones shows, and I’ve seen
a lot of great ones, and I’ve seen some pretty dodgy ones. But it’s a great
show, especially for somebody who’s never seen it before.
Q. Still, they don’t challenge themselves
creatively the way you do. You’re always pushing yourself out on the edge.
A. I only do it creatively. But I’m not
interested in nostalgia, correct. How do I say no when I’m offered all that
money to go on ’60s nostalgia tours? I just say, “I don’t do nostalgia.
Sorry.” I mean, nobody asks me anymore. They’ve got that now.
Q. What are you planning for this performance?
A. I do quite a lot from the new album. I try to
pull a lot of old stuff, too, but it’s quite impossible to do something from
every record I’ve made. What does get left out is anything from that lovely
record I made with Angelo [Badalamenti, “A Secret Life”], because in a way I
think that’s a record that’s meant to be performed as a piece. You’re not
really meant to take things out of it. I think it was the beginning of my
classical period, really, and it’s a great shame that it was never performed
as Angelo and I wanted it to be, which was at Carnegie Hall with an
orchestra. That’s what we wanted.
But I’ve got a whole new audience out there that
has no baggage, and I’m working particularly for them. I’ve heard that the
new album is going down quite well, and I’m really pleased. I think it was
time; I think people were ready to let go of the old thing, and it was time
for me to be allowed to do something else. Not that I haven’t done a lot of
different things. [Laughs] But especially after the Kurt Weill stuff, it was
great to make a lovely pop album like this.