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music friday: marianne faithfull

Inspired by my Throwback Thursday post of yesterday, here are ten songs by Marianne Faithfull. These are deep cuts, I suppose ... no “As Tears Go By”, nothing from Broken English. It’s just that I went through the archives and realized I’ve written about Faithfull on several occasions, and thought it might be nice if the accompanying videos were something other than “Why’d Ya Do It”.


1977: “I’m Not Lisa”. From her first album since the pop days, Dreaming My Dreams, re-released in altered form the next year as Faithless. Her voice is closer to “Broken English” than it is to “As Tears Go By”. This song was #1 on the Country charts in 1975 when the writer, Jessi Colter, released her original version.

1985: “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife”. From a tribute album to Kurt Weill put together by Hal Willner, with Faithfull teaming with Chris Spedding. By this point, she’d recorded two follow-ups to Broken English, and had become an established member of the international music community (other participants on the album included Sting, Van Dyke Parks, John Zorn, Lou Reed, Carla Bley, Tom Waits, Todd Rundgren, and Charlie Haden).

1987: “Penthouse Serenade”. Strange Weather was her first post-junkie album. Willner returned. This song had been recorded by the likes of Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett.

1995: “Losing”. On A Secret Life, she worked with Angelo Badalamenti. This is a dark song.

1997: “Falling in Love Again”. Marianne as Marlene. From 20th Century Blues, a live album with Faithfull accompanied only by a pianist.

1999: “Vagabond Ways”. She actually wrote this one, and named the album after it. There even seems to be an official video:

2002: “Something Good”. Marianne covers Goffin/King, with a song made famous by Herman’s Hermits, on Kissin’ Time.

2005: “The Mystery of Love”. Marianne covers PJ Harvey. From Before the Poison ... Harvey is all over this one.

2008: “Solitude”. Marianne covers Billie Holiday. From Easy Come, Easy Go.

2014: “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. Marianne covers Hoagy Carmichael. From Give My Love to London.

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, 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.

what i watched last week

I rarely write about a movie directly after having seen it. Seems like it should marinate a bit before I expound. This practice caught up to me this week, as I watched four movies and, so far, only wrote about one (Purple Noon). So now I have to think back on two I watched early in the week, and do a rush job on one I saw this afternoon. Truth is, what I really want to write about is the season finale of Outlander, but that most definitely cannot be a rush job. So ...

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, 2014). I might have anticipated a disaster movie, since all I knew going in was that there would be an avalanche in the French Alps. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that examined expectations around masculinity and family dynamics, something of a chamber piece that was a bit reminiscent of some of the work of Östlund’s countryman Ingmar Bergman. The whiteness of the snow engulfs the screen ... it feels like we are always in a fog. Some have found a bit of humor in the film, but I must have missed it. And some have seen it as exposing the pretenses of the bourgeoisie, but I preferred to think it exposed all of us. The ending ironically brings things full circle. #273 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10. Watch it with Scenes from a Marriage.

Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952). Takashi Shimura plays a long-time bureaucrat who finds he has cancer and begins to reevaluate his life. Shimura does such a great job of portraying a man beaten down into nothingness that you eventually want to slap him around and tell him to quit being so pathetic. Eventually, he does something with his life, and dies ... at which point there’s still half an hour to go. By the end, even the most hardened viewer (i.e., me) will have felt a case of allergies in the eyes, and it won’t even feel cheap. Not a masterpiece, but very good. Two years later, Shimura starred in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which is certainly a change of pace from what he gives us here. American fans of a certain age will recognize him for some of his later roles in movies like Godzilla, Gigantis: The Fire Monster, Mothra, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and Frankenstein Conquers the World. #114 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. Go ahead, watch it alongside Mothra.

San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015). If The Rock hadn’t been in it, I probably would have skipped it. I’m glad I didn’t. It’s a winner in the Truth in Advertising contest: it promises earthquakes, and it delivers them. There is no use expecting anything more. It hits all the standard moments (scientist trying to warn everyone, hero trying to re-connect with ex-wife who has a lame boyfriend, nubile daughter with potential suitor), which fill the space between disasters. We’re not exactly talking Mad Max: Fury Road here ... I don’t feel the need to see it again any time soon. But it’s never so stupid you want to give up, the cast is appealing (lots of eye candy between The Rock, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario, all of whom do good work), and the special effects are worth the money. It’s a perfect example of a movie that lies somewhere between 6 and 7 out of 10. I hadn’t decided which way to go, when I got some comments about the movie on Facebook. One friend said she was eager to hear what I thought, since she loved earthquake movies. Another friend said the idea of watching San Andreas was disturbing to her ... she spoke of people she knew who were still dealing with the devastation in Nepal, and then recommended a book, “for reality, not Hollywood bullshit”. Your own opinion of the movie probably depends on where you lie between those two responses. 7/10.