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Book Review: “Why Marianne Faithfull Matters” by Tanya Pearson

Why Marianne Faithfull Matters Tanya Pearson

Are you looking at this title and thinking ‘Who the hell is Marianne Faithfull?’ Yeah, well, I’m sure there are a bunch of people also going, ‘What?! Is she still alive?!’ I’m thinking this title works then for both questions.

Author and oral historian Tanya Pearson has jackhammered this riveting bio cum critique into Why Marianne Faithfull Matters (University of Texas Press, 2021), unearthing all that was borne of Faithfull from quirky ingenue to the time and tone-worn cliches of ‘surviving icon’ and ‘legendary chartreuse.’ What gives this book its curbside edge is the gut-busting honesty of Pearson interweaving her personal insight as a gay, drug-addicted woman hell-bent on destroying herself and somehow finding a way out of her own demonic dream state.

Pearson as you can guess is no stranger to the life that Faithfull inherits (and by the way, as of this writing, Faithfull is alive, having survived Covid-19’s devastation and the loss of her music partner Hal Willner). Her piercing dissemenation latches onto your head, shaking sense into how Faithfull (like a lot of undocumented female musicians who lived thru the misogynist atmosphere of the 60s and 70s) got through with just enough breath left in her to continue fighting to this day.

Faithfull’s quirky upbringing and bohemian lifestyle (massaged into her by mother Eva) led to her first big break: ‘As Tears Go By,’ penned by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham had been bitten by the beauty of Faithfull and was convinced he could propel her to stardom (past her folk-style presence) just as Brian Epstein had grown and nurtured his stable of stars after The Beatles began their stratospheric ascent.

1964 was just the beginning of a life that Faithfull didn’t voluntarily embrace. As much as noted by Pearson, Faithfull was a product of her times. Not content with her rising status nor well-equipped to handle the circus that put her out for display, Faithfull began the well-labeled and misguided life that has come to represent her public persona: marrying art dealer John Dunbar, having a baby, abandoning her family for Jagger and becoming addicted to heroin.

Pearson weaves her own conflicted identity and addiction struggles as a companion piece, and while this might be off-putting for some readers, Pearson needs to make this point again and again. If Faithfull didn’t have the ‘voice’ to rise above her demons (past the mythology of the drug bust at Redlands or her overdose while filming ‘Ned Kelly’ with Jagger or the explosion of attention for ‘Broken English’), then Pearson has brought her own bile forward to this tale.

Addiction is a vile animal and if you can finally emerge on the other side with purpose and meaning no matter how long it takes, then that life is worth documenting. Pearson has rebuilt her broken past to become someone who documents women in rock and it’s importance for those that experienced and evolved from it. I would agree that Faithfull has lived several lives that aren’t exclusively hers – look at the framework in artists like Courtney Love and Amy Winehouse and make the painful connection: Why were these women publicly vilified for their talents? How did they rise up and yet were beaten down by the male-dominated rock press and where did Winehouse go wrong when Faithfull pushed on?

In many ways, I appreciate Pearson giving us a view that is honest, embarrassing, cringy, brave, head-shaking, and finger-pointing with interludes of hope: Faithfull rose out of alcohol, drugs and ill health and as Pearson was writing at the time, praying to God that Covid-19 in all its stupidity would not take her and that this all would be an extended obituary. Thankfully that was not the case.

I profess to not be a Faithfull devotee and I probably won’t. What drew me into this narrative wholeheartedly was Pearson. Were it not for the overall punch given to how society treats women in the music business, why would Marianne Faithfull matter? Because she holds a microphone and can still speak out loud about her life. In a nutshell. That’s why.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Bonus Book Review: “Unsinkable: A Memoir” by Debbie Reynolds

I’m going to create a new headline for books that I’ve read that aren’t Beatles related. If you see “Bonus Book Review” in the headline, you will know that book doesn’t mention the Beatles, making it easier to just pass-by the review if you’re not interested.

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As I said in my last post about Carrie Fisher’s book, I bought that book as a companion read toUnsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds (aka Princess Leia’s mom in real life). Debbie really has no connection to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that we Beatles freaks know and love, except maybe for the time in 1974 when she was invited to a party at Mick Jagger’s house and her children insisted she go and take them with her! A short but funny story that she tells in this book.

This book is very appropriately named. Debbie Reynolds, though always considered one of American’s sweethearts, took her fair share of knocks, especially from all three of her husbands! Yet, she got right back up again and kept moving. Every financial hit made her go out and work harder to recoup her losses to support herself and her two children – Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher. And Debbie talks extensively about her Hollywood memorabilia collection that she wanted to build a museum for, but instead had to auction off after her third husband put her into financial ruin.

Some stand out moments in this book include her talking about the biggest dicks in Hollywood…and I mean that literally! Sweet little Debbie dishes the dirt on some of the most well endowed Hollywood hunks! Or maybe when she tells the story of her first on screen kiss in the movie “Singin’ In The Rain” with Gene Kelly and he shoved his 34 year old tongue down her 19 year old virginal throat.

If you love old Hollywood musicals, like I do, then you’ll love reading about the (mis)adventures of Debbie Reynolds’ 70 year career in Tinseltown! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

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Book Review: “Beatles vs. Stones” by John McMillian

 Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian was published in 2013, but I just saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.  As I said previously, I rarely pay full price for any of the books I review, so when I went looking for a used copy online, I discovered that there had been another earlier book written on this same topic.  I reviewed that book, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, last week.  The difference between the two is amazing!

This book is actually a very enjoyable read and I learned a lot about the relationship between John & Paul and Mick & Keith.  They were all actually very good friends from the very start and John and Paul actually wrote the second song The Rolling Stones recorded!  That’s something that I didn’t read in last week’s book… a book that now appears like it was just a pissing contest between the co-authors to see who knew more about the two bands and their albums.

As for my opinion on this topic, both books start out early saying there was no rivalry between the two highly successful British invasion bands.  So why the books?  Because just like the press has always done, they created a rivalry that never really existed.

The book that I think really needs to be written (and maybe it has and I just haven’t found it yet) is The Beatles vs. The Beach Boys.  Those were two bands that used to analyze and look at the dynamics of each others songs and try to outdo each other.  It wasn’t just a pissing contest for first place on the record charts…it was who could write the better song and produce a better album!

Still this is a great book to learn about the relationship and friendship between two of the greatest bands the world has every known.  And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

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You can get a copy of this book at Half.com for about $0.75

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