what i watched last week
music friday: marianne faithfull

how throwback works

This isn’t really a “pure” example of Throwback Thursday. Instead, it’s a rumination on how the archival power of the Internet informs what we throw back.

A week or so ago, I wrote the following on Facebook:

How the Internet works:

I was listening to "Danger Bird", a favorite Neil Young song from Zuma, and recalled that Lou Reed had given the thumbs up to Young's guitar work on that track. I looked up Zuma on Wikipedia, and found a reference to Reed's comments. I clicked on the source, which took me to the Thrasher's Wheat website, where I read, "An interview long ago with Lou 'I Heard Her Call My Name' Reed, back when this opinion wasn’t very fashionable, and Lou got all secretive and told the interviewer 'you want to hear who I think is a great guitar player?' as if Lou was embarrassed to admit it, then put ‘Danger Bird’ on the stereo." I was interested that the source for THIS quote was an old blog by Michael Bérubé, a gentleman and a scholar with whom I am acquainted. It came in the comments section for a 2006 post.

And who was the author of the comment that was quoted at Thrasher's Wheat that was referenced on Wikipedia?

Steven Rubio.

Yesterday, GreilMarcus.net posted two old pieces about Marianne Faithfull. The first was from a 1980 review by Marcus in Rolling Stone of the then-new Marianne Faithfull album, Broken English. The second was from a 1994 review by Marcus in Interview of the then-new autobiography, Faithfull. In the album review, he wrote, “The lyrics of Broken English are not autobiographical, but the album’s power begins with Marianne Faithfull’s old persona and with one’s knowledge of the collapse of the woman behind it. Faithfull sings as if she means to get every needle, every junkie panic, every empty pill bottle and every filthy room into her voice—as if she spent the last ten years of oblivion trying to kill the face that first brought her to our attention.”

Reading it again for the hundredth time, I was especially taken by that first sentence, how it moved beyond the “facts” of Faithfull’s life, finding the “real” autobiography in Faithfull’s voice.

I thought of a friend of mine who seemed a kindred spirit to Marianne, and I did a search of her name and Faithfull’s to see if she had ever written about the singer. As far as I can tell, she has not. But I did find something else that interested me. Three years ago, someone had marveled at the Marcus quote. When I looked, I found myself repeating the “Danger Bird” story. For the person who was drawn to that quote was ... me.

Through it all, there was Faithfull’s voice. Yes, it was ruined, rough, scarred, very unlike what she had sounded like in the past. But she herself was not ruined. To be sure, she was rough and scarred, but she had come out on the other side, and she would not be denied. The power of the album was increased by our knowledge of where she had been, a one-time pop icon turned homeless junkie. As Greil Marcus wrote in Rolling Stone, “The lyrics of Broken English are not autobiographical, but the album's power begins with Marianne Faithfull's old persona and with one's knowledge of the collapse of the woman behind it.”

That’s twice now in a week where I went searching for something in the collective past, only to find that “the collective” was actually me.

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