Photo by Mariu Mochnacz
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 youd imagine giving up her Marlboro Lights wasnt surrender. It was just change awful, real, good change. Faithfull is not afraid of good, painful change, and this is partly why, at 58, shes 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 didnt survive the 60s. Its time we got over that shit and considered the gift artists give us when they dont 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 Im not saying that to sound cozy. Its the fucking truth. Its as if theres a warm wind blowing through her life now. Maybe its just love. L.A. Weekly: Congratulations on quitting smoking. Thats a big accomplishment. Marianne Faithfull: Not yet! Itll be an accomplishment if I manage to get through it. But I will. Ive come off worse . . . I dont know actually if thats true. I think coming off cigarettes is probably the hardest thing Ive ever done. Of course, the big worry, as you know, is that Im going to get very fat. Thats basically the reason we smoke. [Laughs.] As somebody who interprets other peoples songs really well I channel them thats what Im doing. Did you choose from a lot of songs for this album? 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 theres one with Damon Albarn and one with Jon Brion which is one of my favorites. City of Quartz. Its about Los Angeles. But its also taken from The Third Man. The movie? Is that a movie? Is that a movie? Where have you been? You better go and rent it! I have bizarre patches of ignorance. Go and rent it immediately. If you havent seen The Third Man, you havent lived. Oh good, I was wondering what was missing! Sorry my father was a university lecturer, and Ive obviously got some of that! [Laughs.] My mother was a teacher, too, so Im a terrible didactic kind of person! Being yelled at by Marianne Faithfull is okay by me. I read a comment somewhere that this album was a good Polly Harvey record. 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 whats going to happen except we knew one thing, me and Polly. We said were going to make a very, very dark record. And we did. And then she came to Paris, and thats when we did the sort of John-and-Paul, eyeball-to-eyeball writing business. I took her to a French dinner party, and shes 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 Pollys perspective is a lot more ironic. I know, because I know Polly. 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. Yep. Yep. Thats exactly what she wanted. And Im very good at that. Shes the producer, she tells me what to do, and I do it! And shes very bossy, too. Well, in a very gentle way. In her own passive-aggressive way she was very, very clear. Im a big fan of Nick Caves The Boatmans Call. Oh, its so beautiful. One of the interesting things about that album is the legend that half of it is about Polly. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah; blah, blah, blah. Who shagged who? Im so over that. Lets leave that alone. Hes very happily married, shes got a fabulous boyfriend. Its years ago. Nick was quite wary of doing a record on which Polly Harvey was, and Polly, too. Theyre way over it. Fair enough. The big love affairs on this record are me and Polly, and me and Nick. And maybe me and Jon Brion [giggles]. Im a bit over Damon, I must admit. Is Polly going to sing with you in L.A.? I dont know. Im shy to ask her. Polly has given so much to this record Im not sure if I want her to feel in any way used. Thats one thing Im very careful about. I dont use people. My mother says that life begins at 50. [Laughs.] Thats true. Yeah. You get more comfortable in your skin. And with any luck you find your great love. You mean . . . Yesss. Real love. It takes that long? Well, it did for me. It took me a long time. Whos the artist you most admire right now? Bob Dylan. Oh, man, I think Chronicles is so wonderful. And Ive loved his music all my life, of course, and hes a friend of mine, and actually Im going to go and see his show when Im in L.A. What impressed you about the book? 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. Were you impressed by the way he managed to open up about his personal life without really That is the most brilliant bit about it. Hes so gentle on everybody. And he could have been so mean. Do you have a favorite song? God Bless the Child. What does that mean to you? Well, I love Billie Holiday. I love the idea behind it. God bless the child thats got his own. It takes a long time to understand it. It does take a long time to sink in. But God bless the child thats got his own, thats got his own is one of the most profound things anyone ever wrote. Is there anything in your life you havent done yet that youd like to try? 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.]
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Marianne Faithfull performs at the Henry Fonda Theater, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., on Friday, March 25, at 9 p.m.