50 Years of Tears: Marianne Faithfull’s Amazing Second Act
Marianne Faithfull is at home in Paris, enjoying a final day of rest before she returns to her European tour and goes “back down the coal mine,” as she puts it in her fabulously thick London accent. In June, the singer broke her hip while vacationing in Greece, but the condition has worsened. A recent X-ray revealed that she had not only fractured her hip but smashed her thigh bone: “Smashed, smashed, smashed!” she repeats, noting a scar between knee and hip but refusing to use painkillers. “I’m doing my best,” she says, “and my best is good. It means that sometimes I do have to sit down [at concerts]. It will get better, but it’s going to be another four months at least.”
It seems nothing can stop the singer, now age 67. Five decades have passed since Faithfull first appeared on the pop charts, wrapping a lilting soprano around acoustic guitars and a honking cor anglais on “As Tears Go By,” the first original composition written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. In the following years, the singer overcame homelessness and a crippling heroin addiction, reemerging with a brittle, world-weary voice on 1979 New Wave LP Broken English and growing into a career far removed from her once highly publicized relationship with Jagger. There have been ups and downs since this comeback, a record she jokingly refers to as “Broken Biscuits,” but overall, Faithfull has enjoyed one of the best second acts in rock.
Perhaps fittingly, Faithfull began serious work on her new record, Give My Love to London, while recovering from another injury, a fractured sacrum – the bone at the base of the spine. “I did have to take drugs, but you can’t actually write on drugs. I can’t anyway, so I didn’t,” she says. “I think I tried one, but it was rubbish, so I didn’t use it.” Faithfull estimates she was flat on her back for six months, but once she was able to sit at a table, the recovery process helped her focus.
“I did something that I probably should have done in my 20s,” she says. “I thought very carefully about who I love, who I don’t love, what I care about, what I don’t care about, what’s important to me, what’s not important to me. All the big sorts of things that I had to work out but had never done because I was either parading around in swinging London or I was on drugs – or I was not on drugs but working. I’d never had that sort of absolute peace where I could just ponder on the things that really are important to me and the things that I really don’t care about.”