Bless the Child Marianne Faithfull’s life after the poison
After 40 years, Marianne Faithfull has just quit smoking. Can you imagine? But the way she talks about it — her voice as throaty over the phone as you’d imagine — giving up her Marlboro Lights wasn’t surrender. It was just change — awful, real, good change.
Faithfull is not afraid of good, painful change, and this is partly why, at 58, she’s just made the album of her career, Before the Poison (on which she collaborates with Polly Jean Harvey, Nick Cave, Jon Brion and Damon Albarn). Harvey demanded Faithfull take singing lessons to regain her upper register — and Faithfull dutifully did so. (“It cost a fortune,” she says — “but I got my range back.”)
So much is made of artists who die young, especially those musicians who didn’t survive the ’60s. It’s time we got over that shit and considered the gift artists give us when they don’t die — ladies especially. Like Loretta Lynn and Nancy Sinatra (who also recorded career-topping albums recently with young indie dudes), Faithfull really does get better with age — and I’m not saying that to sound cozy. It’s the fucking truth. It’s as if there’s a warm wind blowing through her life now. Maybe it’s just love.
L.A. Weekly: Congratulations on quitting smoking. That’s a big accomplishment.
Marianne Faithfull: Not yet! It’ll be an accomplishment if I manage to get through it. But I will. I’ve come off worse . . . I don’t know actually if that’s true. I think coming off cigarettes is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Of course, the big worry, as you know, is that I’m going to get very fat. That’s basically the reason we smoke. [Laughs.]
As somebody who interprets other people’s songs really well — I channel them — that’s what I’m doing.
L.A. Weekly: Did you choose from a lot of songs for this album?
Marianne Faithfull: Well, this album is very unusual, because there are only four people on it. I love Kissin’ Time [her 2002 album, which involved Beck, Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Billy Corgan et al.]. But there were too many people on it. It would have been better without Dave Stewart. I found working with four people [on Poison] much better. And of course Polly did a lot of it, and Nick, and there’s one with Damon Albarn and one with Jon Brion — which is one of my favorites. “City of Quartz.” It’s about Los Angeles. But it’s also taken from The Third Man.
L.A. Weekly: The movie? Is that a movie?
Marianne Faithfull: Is that a movie? Where have you been? You better go and rent it!
L.A. Weekly: I have bizarre patches of ignorance.
Marianne Faithfull: Go and rent it immediately. If you haven’t seen The Third Man, you haven’t lived.
L.A. Weekly: Oh good, I was wondering what was missing!
Marianne Faithfull: Sorry — my father was a university lecturer, and I’ve obviously got some of that! [Laughs.] My mother was a teacher, too, so I’m a terrible didactic kind of person!
L.A. Weekly: Being yelled at by Marianne Faithfull is okay by me. I read a comment somewhere that this album was “a good Polly Harvey record.”
Marianne Faithfull: Stupid. I met Polly in Los Angeles — we had to meet to see if we liked each other. And we kind of fell in love. But musicians never know much about what’s going to happen — except we knew one thing, me and Polly. We said we’re going to make a very, very dark record. And we did. And then she came to Paris, and that’s when we did the sort of John-and-Paul, eyeball-to-eyeball writing business. I took her to a French dinner party, and she’s very, very shy, and I think she was quite freaked out. But the next morning she wrote this very beautiful song called “My Friends Have,” with both our perspectives in it. I really believe that song, but Polly’s perspective is a lot more ironic. I know, because I know Polly.
L.A. Weekly: Also, it was cool, as someone who grew up with indie rock, to hear an artist from a different generation being presented with that aesthetic.
Marianne Faithfull: Yep. Yep. That’s exactly what she wanted. And I’m very good at that. She’s the producer, she tells me what to do, and I do it! And she’s very bossy, too. Well, in a very gentle way. In her own passive-aggressive way she was very, very clear.
L.A. Weekly: I’m a big fan of Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call.
Marianne Faithfull: Oh, it’s so beautiful.
L.A. Weekly: One of the interesting things about that album is the legend that half of it is about Polly.
Marianne Faithfull: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah; blah, blah, blah. Who shagged who? I’m so over that. Let’s leave that alone. He’s very happily married, she’s got a fabulous boyfriend. It’s years ago. Nick was quite wary of doing a record on which Polly Harvey was, and Polly, too. They’re way over it.
L.A. Weekly: Fair enough.
Marianne Faithfull: The big love affairs on this record are me and Polly, and me and Nick. And maybe me and Jon Brion [giggles]. I’m a bit over Damon, I must admit.
L.A. Weekly: Is Polly going to sing with you in L.A.?
Marianne Faithfull: I don’t know. I’m shy to ask her. Polly has given so much to this record — I’m not sure if I want her to feel in any way used. That’s one thing I’m very careful about. I don’t use people.
L.A. Weekly: My mother says that life begins at 50.
Marianne Faithfull: [Laughs.] That’s true. Yeah. You get more comfortable in your skin. And with any luck you find your great love.
L.A. Weekly: You mean . . .
Marianne Faithfull: Yesss. Real love.
L.A. Weekly: It takes that long?
Marianne Faithfull: Well, it did for me. It took me a long time.
L.A. Weekly: Who’s the artist you most admire right now?
Marianne Faithfull: Bob Dylan. Oh, man, I think Chronicles is so wonderful. And I’ve loved his music all my life, of course, and he’s a friend of mine, and actually I’m going to go and see his show when I’m in L.A.
L.A. Weekly: What impressed you about the book?
Marianne Faithfull: The beauty of the writing. I saw him in Australia and we had a lovely time together, and he told me he was writing his autobiography. And I was terribly pleased. But when I read it, I mean, it was just so wonderful, and all the musical references were so fascinating. The knowledge. Everything. And the literary stuff. It sent me and my lover on a Balzac sort of spin.
L.A. Weekly: Were you impressed by the way he managed to open up about his personal life without really —
Marianne Faithfull: That is the most brilliant bit about it. He’s so gentle on everybody. And he could have been so mean.
L.A. Weekly: Do you have a favorite song?
Marianne Faithfull: “God Bless the Child.”
L.A. Weekly: What does that mean to you?
Marianne Faithfull: Well, I love Billie Holiday. I love the idea behind it. God bless the child that’s got his own.
L.A. Weekly: It takes a long time to understand it.
Marianne Faithfull: It does take a long time to sink in. But God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own — is one of the most profound things anyone ever wrote.
L.A. Weekly: Is there anything in your life you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try?
Marianne Faithfull: Oh yeah! I want to build a house according to how I really want: a lovely wooden house with a tower. And I want to make a garden. This is obviously in my retirement in about five years’ time. [Chuckles.]
Marianne Faithfull performs at the Henry Fonda Theater, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., on Friday, March 25, at 9 p.m.
by KATE SULLIVAN laweekly.com