There’s something deliciously ironic about Marianne Faithfull’s calling her eye-opening memoirs Faithfull: An Autobiography (Little, Brown, $22.95). In the swinging London of the mid-’60s, Faithfull was known for two roles: thin- voiced, model-perfect pop waif and Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. His girlfriend most of the time, anyway. She was married and a mother when she fell in with Jagger, having already bedded fellow Stones Brian Jones and Keith Richards. Later, she regrets not doing the same with Jimi Hendrix. ”If it felt good you did it,” she writes unapologetically. ”It would have been hypocritical not to sleep with someone simply because he or she was involved with someone else!”
The image of the ’60s as an all-you-can-eat playground of naked bodies and ”endless joint-rolling” isn’t exactly new, but the clearheaded recollections of Faithfull are. Most pop-music autobiographies are random notes; it’s easy to believe David Crosby and Dion inhaled heavily simply because their memories are so vague. Faithfull, on the other hand, can recall most of the faces and places involved with her sundry rises and drug-sodden crashes of the last three decades. Faithfull, written with veteran rock writer David Dalton, works its way through them all, yet it’s never lurid. The book unblinkingly stares down her (and rock’s) excesses with the same forthrightness and self-laceration of Faithfull’s best music, and in doing so, it may be the most honest rock memoir yet published.
Plucked from a sheltered life by producer Andrew Loog Oldham, Faithfull hit the big time in 1964 with a Jagger-Richards throwaway, ”As Tears Go By.” Soon thereafter, she became Jagger’s partner in limelight. Although she was in the ! coveted position of hanging with the Stones during their most fertile period (1966-70), her own career stalled as her drug intake increased. Not long after she attempted suicide in 1969, her affair with Jagger ended, and she quickly plunged into a life literally on the streets of London, in search of her next heroin fix.
Salvation came in 1979, when out of the blue Faithfull released Broken English, an unexpectedly stark album that can now be seen as paving the trail currently traveled by the likes of Sinead O’Connor and Liz Phair. The comeback didn’t last long, though; Faithfull fell back into old habits and was, by the mid-’80s, in detox. For anyone else, the story would end there. But after leaving rehab and informing her drug-addicted boyfriend that she had to move on, she watched him walk into their bedroom. Not hearing him anymore, she went over to the window and saw his body 36 floors below. He looked, she notes, like ”beautiful red flowers.”
A saga like that is bound to be stash-full of anecdotes, and Faithfull, written in a tone that alternates between harsh introspection and ladylike bemusement, doesn’t disappoint. Faithfull’s ’60s memories include getting hit on by Roy Orbison and sort-of-courted by Bob Dylan. The early Stones were ”yobby schoolboys,” the Kinks ”creepy.” She praises Jagger for being ”a saint” as she went off the deep end, while noting he did nothing to stop her: ”Mick is the classic codependent. He gets his energy from being around drug addicts.” Claiming that Jagger wrote ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” about ”my romance with drugs,” she later writes, with dry archness, ”Maybe the most you can expect from a relationship that goes bad is to come out of it with a few good songs.”
Faithfull is also a beggars’ banquet of Stones dirt, with tidbits on Jagger’s bisexuality, their infamous 1967 drug bust (Faithfull recalls Jagger sobbing uncontrollably behind bars), and Jones’ sad disintegration, which, Faithfull notes, was callously ignored by those around him. One of the most insightful moments in Faithfull comes when the author admits she learned more about the beauty of humanity from her fellow junkies than from the Stones, which isn’t hard to believe. (After her ’80s recovery, she runs into Dylan and Richards, who can’t comprehend her newfound sobriety: ”His (Dylan’s) reaction was fairly typical of the rock contingent. They liked me better on heroin.”) Yet Faithfull isn’t judgmental of her rock pals’ old ways, nor is it a born- again, just-say-no admonishment. Fessing up to times both good and bad, while maintaining only a few regrets (like not being there for her son), Faithfull simply has no expectations to pass that way again. A