FOLLOWING THE GYPSY FAERIE QUEENE. My interview with Marianne took place in her flat on the Boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris on a lovely autumn day.
Can you tell me something about your new record, Negative Capability?
I always write about what’s going at the time, and what was going on was that a lot of my friends were dying, so I wrote a lot about that. It’s mainly about love, and losing people, and all the things that go with love, like betrayal.
One song on the album is about Paris. What is the title?
It’s called No Moon in Paris Tonight.
Is the song nostalgic?
No, it actually happened. Paris is in a dip, so often there is a moon seen everywhere but here. It’s a song about remembrance. I was remembering all the many moons I have seen in my life, but I don’t feel nostalgic and I don’t like nostalgia. I am very happy in Paris. I came when I was young and I thought it would be a very nice place to live as an older lady. They have respect for older women here, but in England and America you are thrown away like garbage. There is a lack of respect.
“I would like to be loved and love someone again. My favourite song on the new album is The Gypsy Faerie Queen.”
Are you at home with the French?
Yes, I like them, but I have many friends everywhere. One of the tragic things of my new record Negative Capability is that so many of my friends have died in the last few years: Anita Pallenberg, Christopher Gibbs, Heathcote Williams, Martin Sharp the OZ Magazine artist, and Richard Neville who started OZ. Garech Browne, the brother of Tara Browne, who was in that John Lennon song: “He blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed.” A lot of people.
Did you have a hard time in England?
I did yes. In February of 1967 the police raided a party at Keith Richards’ estate in search of illegal drugs. There was LSD, but there were no hard drugs. The Stones’ drug bust is a long time ago now, but it was horrible at the time and I was seen as a sort of whore person. I really didn’t like that at all. The climate in England was so puritanical then, and if you were pretty and they thought you were sexy it was a nightmare. The bust hurt me terribly. I didn’t start to take any drugs until after the bust.
Were you a celebrity?
I was a nice little singer, but I wasn’t that big a deal. I was most famous for going out with Mick Jagger, and I knew, although I did like him very much, that if I stayed with him I would not be making records myself. I would have married Mick Jagger and had his children, which was not what I wanted at all. I had a child with my first husband John Dunbar, before Mick when I was very young, and I said to myself I never want to do that again. My son Nicholas is fifty now. I was a child bride in the early sixties, when if you got pregnant you got married. I knew it was a mistake, but I wanted the baby and I loved John, but I could not resist Mick Jagger. I was stolen away and it wasn’t all bad. That was when I met Anita Pallenberg and we made great friends, but that life was not suited for me. I am a worker and I wanted to do things on my own.
Was it hard for you to be with the Rolling Stones?
I admire and respect the Rolling Stones, but I didn’t want to be part of that world, I didn’t really fit. Anita did it, but it was not the sort of life I wanted. It was very glamorous, a lot of money – all that kind of thing – but I felt a prisoner. I am still good friends with Keith and his family, and I am very fond of Mick, and Charlie.
What happened when your relationship with Mick Jagger ended?
I went to live on the street in the Soho district of London and had no address, nobody could find me. I became a registered heroin addict. That lasted a couple of years. I got off drugs two years later thanks to a very good doctor.
Did you get away from drugs for ever?
Since then I just occasionally snort something.
Did drugs make you lose a lot of time?
I think it was a waste of my time, yes. I wish I hadn’t bothered with drugs.
During that period you met Francis Bacon and other artists?
Francis was very kind to me, and he would take me to lunch and he would talk, and I learnt an awful lot.
What did you learn?
About painting and art and how important it was to just to do it. I knew I had to do my records. I had learnt a lot of that from Mick and Keith too.
Were you friends with Lucian Freud?
No, but Caroline Blackwood was a friend of mine. She had been Lucian Freud’s wife, but we met later on, years after she had been with Lucian. I met her when she was at the end of her marriage with Robert Lowell the American poet.
You always felt close to a certain kind of eccentric woman like Henrietta Moraes and Caroline Blackwood, but you were not one of them?
They were very sophisticated, much more than me. Henrietta also taught me a lot.
What distinguishes you is that you made your own career?
Yes. It took me a long time to make my career. It really started with my record Broken English, but I think my early work was rather beautiful too.
“I thought I was going to die, and that before I died I was going to reveal who I actually am.”
Did you have amazing parents?
My mother was an eccentric half-Jewish woman from Austria, and my father was eccentric too, a world class loon, an idealist. He was an MI5 spy, a linguist who could speak any European language without an accent, so he was dropped behind enemy lines by parachute and could pass as a German. One of his missions for the British security service was to bring Himmler to trial in Nuremberg, and he failed because Himmler suicided before he could do that, and my father thought it was a great failure. My mother met my father on one of his missions and thought he was an English gentleman who would bring her to England and that they would have a nice life in a nice house, but that’s not what happened.
What did happen?
My father had a commune and he wanted to change the world. He gave courses on things like ‘the art of living’ and ‘the destiny of man’. My mother hated it, and when I was six they split up. It was not a happy marriage at all. I loved my father and my mother, but they were very different. In a way, I was very cruel to my mother. I spent my whole life running away from her. She expected me to behave like she had behaved to her mother, and I wasn’t like that. I wanted to be independent and I didn’t want my mother around all the time.
Do you have remorse?
Yes, I do. I wish I had been nicer.
Were you rebellious?
I didn’t think of it as being rebellious. I thought I had a right to live the way I wanted to, and it wasn’t the way my mother would have liked. She would have liked me to marry a rich man, preferably with a title, and lead that kind of life, and that was not what I wanted to be.
Were you a hippy?
I wasn’t conventional. I was not a hippy, but I was a bit of a revolutionary. I was very interested in women’s liberation; I was almost on the front line.
To live in the street and take heroin is not exactly conventional.
No. I wanted to escape, to get away from my mother, away from the Stones, away from that whole society. I don’t really know why, but I just wanted to run away.
Do you consider yourself an intellectual like your father?
I went through a long period of reading all of Huxley, and also I read Montaigne. I find it interesting that Shakespeare read Montaigne. I found the phrase Negative Capability in a letter from John Keats to his brother. What it means, and Shakespeare invented it, is the ability to look at something from all different points of view at the same time, which is a great gift for a writer. I always like to think of myself as if I was an intellectual, although I didn’t go to university, and my English friend Henrietta Moraes put me straight about the fact that I am not an intellectual. Although I am probably a bit more intellectual than she realised.
Why was your 1979 album Broken English so successful?
I think because it was a shock, coming from someone thought of as just having a pretty little voice singing pretty little songs. But I thought I was going to die, and that before I died I was going to reveal who I actually am. I still don’t really know, but I am trying to get there.
Did you have another really big hit after Broken English?
The shock value of Broken English couldn’t be repeated, but I went on making good records which did OK.
What else happened next?
I started to perform. I really wanted to learn my craft, writing, and performing and singing. The only way I found was to do it, all over the world. I went on tour a lot.
How come you became an actress?
I would have loved to go to drama school and really learn how to act, but I didn’t so I missed a lot. My dear friend Charlotte Rampling says that I could have been really good if I had learnt how to do it, but eventually I got better and made one quite good film.
What is it called?
It’s called Irina Palm and was an English/Belgian co-production that was nominated for the Golden Bear award in Berlin in 2007. The director was called Sam Garbarski. My role was interesting and in some ways quite funny. I do love Berlin, and it’s part of my story, because my mother lived in Berlin and worked for Max Reinhardt and also in cabaret.
“I am a worker and I wanted to do things on my own.”
Were you also friendly with the Beatles?
Yes I was, and Yoko I loved very much. We are still friends.
Which of the Beatles were your friends?
I was good friends with Paul and I much admired John, who I thought was frightening. He was friends with John Dunbar, my husband, and he was so brilliantly clever that he could cut people to shreds. John Lennon was always kind to me, but I saw how cruel he could be. John was particularly intelligent, and I don’t know if he really fitted with the Beatles, any more than I did with the Stones. He fitted with Yoko.
The art world I suppose. The statement of being in bed together.
Now that time is over. How do you feel today in this Brexit time?
I think it is pretty awful. Brexit is so ‘little England’, that is the trouble. I see myself as a citizen of the world. The music producer Hal Willner has a theory. He thinks that every 70 years the Nazis come back. We are still feeling the backlash from the sixties. The authorities, the powers that be, are determined that the young people will never get any power again, and everything is as conventional and boring and repressive as possible.
What about the internet world?
I hate it. It is all so false somehow. I like real people, I like looking at their faces. That’s what I like about performing. I can’t tour very much now, but I will be able to do some performances and I love the contact with live people.
What are your songs about?
They are about life as I see it. About love and loneliness and trying to connect to other people, and that I need other people. I didn’t use to like needing other people, but I am beginning to like it now.
Is the word love much abused nowadays?
Very much so. There are so many different kinds of love. I am not particularly interested in romantic love.
It is an illusion.
Which love are you interested in?
Actual love. The love you feel for other human beings, for your children, for your friends, for your parents if you have them (although parents are always complicated). Mainly for friends and family. Friends get me through. That’s why it is so hard when you lose your friends.
Are you lonely?
I live alone, but I have a lot of friends who I love very much. There is solitude and being alone, and then there is loneliness. I am accepting of just being alone and solitude, and I do enjoy it, not seeing it as loneliness.
Are you searching for love?
I would like to be loved and love someone again. My favourite song on the new album is The Gypsy Faerie Queen.
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