Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Read - Faithfull: An Autobiography

I am honestly fascinated/enamored/in awe of the life Marianne Faithfull has lived. Her story – marked by addictions, glamour, great successes, and even greater tragedies – resembles more of a Thomas Hardy novel than someone’s autobiography. As heartbreaking and unbelievable Faithfull’s story is, it is her story, and it is the truth; she emerges as Hardy’s romantic heroine of the Swingin’ Sixties. In comparison to the any number of memoirs written about the sixties, Faithfull’s book is far and away the most tragic of the bunch. After reading this rather emotionally-draining tale that could’ve encompassed four or five lifetimes, it’s hard to believe she was only 47 when this was published. Growing up in a strict Roman Catholic household, Faithfull was a child of divorce whose early years were marked by attacks of tuberculosis and poverty. After leaving school at seventeen, Marianne found success as a folk singer in London. Just as her singing career took off (her first single, “As Tears Go By,” released in mid-1964), she married John Dunbar in 1965 and had a son six months later. It was during this time she began hanging out with such luminaries as Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. At this point in the book, Marianne reveals her romantic entanglements with Dylan, Jagger, Richards, and Brian Jones. She also admits that although she was an international superstar, her artistic input over her image and her music slowly diminished; she continually rejected the innocent, angelic image the press and her music label forced on her. After recounting her reign as pop princess, Faithfull switches gears to describe her downfall – her breakup with Mick, her deeper descent in drugs, her loss of custody rights over her son, several suicide attempts, and her eventual homelessness during the Seventies and eighties. This part of the book is easily the most depressing – her many misfortunes are rarely offset by luck in Ms. Faithfull’s life (apart from her comeback of sorts in “Broken English”). A strength I found in Faithfull’s book is that she admits all her mistakes, at times taking more blame than I believed she deserved. She describes herself as a victim of cool, both indulgently describing and mocking the hedonistic nature of the 1960s, the “free love, psychedelic drugs, fashion, Zen, Nietzsche, tribal trinkets, customized Existentialism” that was so much a part of her life. The maturity Ms. Faithfull possesses is apparent when reading her reflections on her youth. She gives balanced and personal descriptions of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg, Anita Pallenberg, and the Rolling Stones, most touchingly of Mick Jagger. She doesn’t describe their relationship in terms of sensationalism – it seems like a genuine relationship of young love, recounting the ups, the downs, the headiness, the detachment, the romance and the melancholy that comes from a true love affair. It was her ironic and dry sense of humor that saved this book from becoming the most depressing book ever written. An example of her wit was when she contemplated, “Who was the great love of [Mick Jagger’s] life? Actually, I think it was Keith.” And in the end, realizing her story was far from complete at only 47 years old, Faithfull ends her book with a set of cooking recipes and tips.

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