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Marianne Faithfull’s chant of resistance

Categories: Catherine Vigier, ZiR


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Sixties icon Marianne Faithfull, who now lives in Paris, did a great concert in Rouen a few weeks ago. I was intrigued by ‘Mother Wolf’, one of the songs she sang from her new album, Give My Love to London. Mother Wolf, a character taken from Kipling’s Jungle Book, is of harboring a cub that isn’t hers. She defies her accusers, replying that he is hers now and that she’ll fight to the death anyone who says he isn’t. She spits out her contempt for the humans who treat their dogs better than they treat one another, and who make war on one another without any justification. The song is anti-war, but it is also an answer to those who claim that each community should look after its own, and expel outsiders and foreigners. It’s good to see that someone originally inspired by Joan Baez is still writing songs that express anger at the state of the world, but also optimism that things can be changed.

Faithfull’s ability to write songs that express anger has been sharpened by the fact that she has always had to fight for the right to be something other than Mick Jagger’s ex-girlfriend. When she released a version of ‘Sister Morphine’, which she co-wrote with Jagger and Keith Richards, the record company pulled it from the shelves. As Faithfull says in her autobiography, she was not to be allowed to deviate from her public image:

‘Sister Morphine’ was released in England in February of 1969. It was out for a mere two days when Decca freaked and unceremoniously yanked it off the shelves. There was no explanation, no apology. Mick went to see Sir Edward Lewis at Decca to protest but he got absolutely nowhere. I was crushed. It was as if I had been busted again. Decca, I assume, wasn’t going to allow me to contaminate the minds of young people! When it came out on Sticky Fingers two years later, however, there wasn’t one peep about it, so perhaps it was the timing. Perhaps it was because they were men. Perhaps it was my cursed image.

The song must have come as a bit of a surprise to the old dears up at Decca. My previous album, Love in a Mist, three years earlier, had not signaled that much of a departure from my other records. I felt trapped; I wasn’t going to be allowed to break out of my ridiculous image. I was being told that I would not be permitted to leave that wretched, tawdry doll behind. If I went on doing my nice little folky songs I could go on making records. Otherwise, I would not be permitted to do so.

Faithfull didn’t really come into her own as an artist until she released Broken English, an album heavily influenced by punk rock, in 1979. The angry, critical stance she adopted then is still present in her new album. Her autobiography gives some idea of the struggle she had to wage for the right to produce these songs.

– Catherine Vigier, Zeteo contributing Writer


References

Marianne Faithfull, with David Dalton, An Autobiography. New York, Cooper Square Press, 2000.
Albums
Marianne Faithfull, Give My Love To London, 2014
Marianne Faithfull, Broken English, 1979
Marianne Faithfull, Love in a Mist, 1967

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