Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Cockabilly DJ Set List 17 December 2013

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I’m rushing to squeeze in a few last blogs before Christmas and get up-to-date. I can’t let my haphazard and inept kooky DJ’ing misadventures go un-documented! This will probably read more tersely than usual – think of it as a telegram from hell!

The Christmas Cockabilly at The George and Dragon (epicentre of Shoreditch bohemia!) was on 17 December 2013. An East End hipster queer rockabilly booze party – what better way to usher in the holiday season?

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I guest DJ’d alongside Cockabilly regulars Mal Nicholson and Elma Wolf. My work Christmas staff party was beforehand so I rushed straight to the venue stuffed to the gills with roast turkey and lager and feeling a bit lethargic – and promptly set about sweating to the oldies in The George and Dragon’s upper-mezzanine DJ booth! (It was insanely hotter than hell up there! I had opted to wear my biker cap and the sweat was rolling down my face and stinging my eyes in no time).

I’d packed my DJ bag under the influence of a thunderous hangover the day after my annual Christmas cocktail party. Perhaps that explains how I bleeding forgot to pack the 1957 Elvis Christmas album! I could’ve kicked myself – if I wasn’t going to play that at the Christmas Cockabilly, when would I?  I had totally intended to include Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town” in my set – two swaggering Christmas anthems delivered with a sexy rockabilly snarl. Damn!



/ My photo of Los Straitjackets at Viva Las Vegas 2011 /

Thankfully I did pack ‘Tis The Season for Los Straitjackets: 13 Rockin’ Christmas Instrumentals! Nashville’s mighty veteran surf outfit Los Straitjackets (their identities perennially concealed behind Mexican wrestling masks) performed at the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender in 2011 - and they blew my freaking mind.  (On their website they refer to themselves as “the world’s leading instrumental guitar band” – and I concur!). This year I made a point of tracking down their 2002 album of Christmas standards given a brutally stripped-down, rumbling and ominous surf treatment. It’s definitely a new festive favourite. Los Straitjackets’ versions of “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” pack an aggressive, nasty punk edge and make you want to kick over a Christmas tree!



Amongst the usual rancid assortment of mondo trasho vintage musical kitsch I sprinkled in some tracks from Kenneth Anger’s gay occult biker art cinema classic Scorpio Rising (1964). I know I’ve banged on a lot already about the impact of Anger’s underground oeuvre and Scorpio Rising in particular on me.  I saw that film at an impressionable age and it was genuinely transformative – it made me! Until the emergence of David Lynch, no filmmaker used seemingly innocuous, sweet and camp pop music to such twisted evocative ends. It continues to inspire me. Anyway, dropping in “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels and The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” was like my homage to His Satanic Majesty.

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Hmmm: Cockabilly. Scorpio Rising. Kenneth Anger. Wishing you all a kinky Satanic homoerotic biker Christmas! 



/ Scorpio Rising in its entirety is currently available on Youtube. Ideally I'd recommend you buy it beautifully digitally re-mastered on DVD - but if you haven't seen it before, grab the opportunity before it gets yanked down! /

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Feliz Navidad - Los Straitjackets
My Boyfriend's Back - The Angels
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
Mule Skinner Blues - The Fendermen
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Chicken - The Cramps
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Here Comes Santa Claus - Los Straitjackets
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Party Lights - Claudine Clark
Revellion - The Revels
My Boy Lollipop - Sakura and The Quests
Whistle Bait - The Collins Kids
The Swag - Link Wray
Ah, Poor Little Baby - Billy "Crash" Craddock
I've Told Every Little Star - Linda Scott
I Live the Life I Love - Esquerita
Jingle Bell Rock - Los Straitjackets
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Scorpion - The Carnations
Salamander - Mamie Van Doren
The Whip - The Originals
One More Beer - The Earls of Suave


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If you've made it down this far you get a bonus pin-up! From my red hot camera session with photographer Adrian Lourie in October 2013 for Meat magazine (think of it as the London equivalent of Butt - but better!).  My spread is featured in issue number 11, which is out now. You really should buy the whole issue and support a 100% independent queer publications (besides, it has photos of hot naked men!). The Meat website.

Further reading:

Lurid photos from the 2011 Christmas Cockabilly at The George and Dragon

The next Lobotomy Room (my depraved and sensual occasional club night - where the international sin set meet!) is Saturday 28 December 2013. Full details here

If you don't already, follow me on tumblr: vintage, retro, kitschy, homoerotic - and NSFW!







Saturday, 21 December 2013

20 November 2013 DJ Set List for Dr Sketchy

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Phew! I am whoppingly behind with my blogging. Life has got in the way in recent months: Iwas in Canada for two weeks over Halloween and since getting back I've been DJ’ing a lot and started a very demanding new job. So I'm exhausted and distracted a lot of the time, but if I don’t document my DJ’ing misadventures, no one else is going to do it for me! And besides, I have overwhelming OCD about these things. So this blog will be a speedier than usual catch-up.

As you can see, I eased into the November 2013 Dr Sketchy at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern with some ethereal and pagan mondo exotica via the magic of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and the genre’s ululating high priestess Yma Sumac. I think exotica’s last real hey day was in the easy listening "loungecore" revival of the early nineties, but I’m determined to bring it back again!  Those jungle noises, cawing birds and ominous tribal chanting sound effects are like aural catnip for me. I also suspect I’m the only DJ currently playing calypso on a regular basis. Not the genuine article, but the gloriously ersatz and kitsch variety of faux novelty calypso performed by jive honky white crackers (in this case, Robert Mitchum – who invented the genre with his classic 1957 album Calypso is Like So, Mamie Van Doren and First Lady of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson).

Otherwise: I continue to be obsessed by the angel-faced “Japanese Elvis” Masaaki Hirao. (I try to sprinkle in some other songs by him, but I’m addicted to his version of “Lucille” – in fact I think I love it even more than Little Richard’s original!). It wouldn't be a Dr Sketchy without some Las Vegas Grind-style sleazy, bump'n'grind tittyshaker instrumentals. While the evening’s featured performer Frankie von Flirter modelled, I sound-tracked her poses with cooing sex kittens (Julie London, Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield).

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Speaking of international vintage sex kittens, I played a track by ultra-sultry "ooh la la" French actrice et chanteuse Denise Darcel for the first time in ages (her wonderfully camp 1958 Banned in Boston album used to be one of my staples at Dr Sketchy. She croons in a thick comedic French accent – imagine a sexy female Pepe le Pew). The Parisian beauty pageant winner turned Hollywood starlet (specialising in playing characters named Fifi, Gigi and Lola in films like Tarzan and the Slave Girl and Seven Women from Hell) turned nightclub songbird turned (when legitimate show biz offers dried up) stripper was never exactly a household name. You’d be forgiven for thinking Darcel would be dimly-remembered today by only the most rabid of old movie junkies. In fact, her name tops the all-time most popular search engine entries for my blog! So she is clearly a cult figure out there who gets Googled a lot! Darcel died aged 87 on 23 December 2011 – meaning the second anniversary of her death is fast approaching.  Read her obituary here. (I have written about Darcel before in more detail here).  Merci, Denise Darcel - you made the world a more divoon place.




/ Satan's Angel and I at Viva Las Vegas in 2010

Another fabulous babe and source of inspiration is doyenne of exotic dance and true burlesque royalty, Satan’s Angel (the savagely-pouting and bouffant-haired pin-up featured at the top of this blog). I got to see Satan’s Angel perform and briefly meet and talk to her at Viva Las Vegas in 2010. She was great – a raspy-voiced, hard-boiled but sweet tough cookie and a true old-school broad. Since then I've befriended her on Facebook and am always entertained by her straight-talking status updates. Just two of the reasons I love this woman: as an out and proud lesbian on the Mafia-ruled burlesque scene in the 1960s she defiantly endured her share of prejudice. (Apparently her female lovers included Hedy Lamarr and Janis Joplin). Satan’s Angel also used to play bass in a topless all-girl rock’n’roll band called The Hummingbirds who used to do a residency at the nite spot Tipsy’s in San Francisco’s North Beach. (How Beyond the Valley of the Dolls / Russ Meyer-esque! Oh, for a time machine!). Now 69, she’s still performing, teaches her patented “fire tassel twirling” technique to today's neo-burlesque performers – and still stirs up trouble! Welcome to her wild, wild world!

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Satan's Angel with her friend and peer, the late great Tura Satana (1938-2011)

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/ Candid snap of a very young Satan's Angel at home at Christmas time in the early 1960s. Now that is a killer bullet bra! /



/ Trailer for an intriguing-looking 2013 documentary about the life and career of Satan's Angel /

Jungle Madness - Les Baxter
Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God)- Yma Sumac
Misirlou - Martin Denny
Anohi Kara - Masaaki Hirao
Sleep Walk - Henri Renee and His Orchestra
Caravan - 80 Drums Around the World
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Monkey Bird - The Revels
La-bas c'est naturel - Serge Gainsbourg
Champagne Taste - Eartha Kitt
Cocktail for Two - Cliff Dauphiney
The Whip - The Originals
Tonight You Belong to Me - Patience and Prudence
Long Distance - Garnell Cooper and The Kinfolks
All of Me - Mae West
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
Intoxica - The Centurions
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Nosey Joe - Bull Moose Jackson
Coconut Water - Robert Mitchum
Dona Wana - Wanda Jackson
Go Calypso! Mamie Van Doren
Vesuvius - The Revels
Save It - Mel Robbins
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby - The Earls of Suave
Serenata - The Jonah Jones Quarter
Give Me Love - Lena Horne
Sexe - Line Renaud
Some Small Chance - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
What is a Man? Denise Darcel
I Want a Boy - Connie Russell
Crazy Vibrations - The Bikini
You're the Boss - Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret
Bewildered - Shirley and Lee
Intoxica - The Revels
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Margaya - The Fender Four
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass The Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole
Black Coffee - Julie London
Je me donne à qui me plaît - Brigitte Bardot 
You'd Be Surprised - Marilyn Monroe
Lucky - Lizabeth Scott
The Beast - Milt Buckner
Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx
Je t'aime moi non plus - Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
The Whip - The Frantics
Love is Strange - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Kool Kat Walk - Julee Cruise
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Last Call for Whiskey - Choker Campbell






Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Next Lobotomy Room ... Saturday 28 December 2013

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(Just in case any of my followers on here are based in London: my next Lobotomy Room club night at Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch is Saturday 28 December 2013).

From the Facebook events page:


Feeling jaded? Didn’t get those cha-cha heels you wanted? Head-bang away those post-Christmas blues and end 2013 with a BANG – at LOBOTOMY ROOM! 
Lobotomy Room – where the international sin set meet! It’s a Mondo Trasho booze party of Beat, beat beatnik beatsville rock’n’roll at Paper Dress Vintage in the heart of bohemian Shoreditch! With ME, your host Graham Russell, whipping up a rancid selection of vintage musical sleaze (think John Waters soundtracks or Songs The Cramps Taught Us) for your dancing and listening pleasure.

SIT under a vintage hair dryer drinking a cocktail bigger than your head! INDULGE in drunken vintage clothing impulse shopping! DANCE your ass off to a soundtrack of rockabilly psychosis, frantic rhythm and blues and sleazy tittyshakers!

Admission is gratuit (that’s French for FREE!!). If you’re working that night — call in sick. If you’re in prison — BREAK OUT!
Read about previous Lobotomy Rooms herehereherehere and here
Flyer (Divine as Dawn Davenport in perennial holiday family favourite Female Trouble) by Joe Pop

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Reflections on ... The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961)

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“Tennessee Williams wanted the lead in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone to go to Katherine Hepburn, after seeing her performance as the scheming mother in Suddenly Last Summer. But Hepburn, who resented the way her advancing years had been treated in that film, had no intention of inviting comparison between herself and the lonely middle-aged actress who buys the attentions of a male hustler. Although the public was intrigued by rumors of an off-screen liaison between the film’s subsequent stars, Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, Spring was a disappointment at the box office. It seems that audiences were uncomfortable with the film’s depressing theme, and with the painful similarities between the lives of Vivien Leigh and the mentally unstable Mrs Stone.”
Penny Stalling. Flesh and Fantasy (1978)

If The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (the 1961 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams novel) is remembered at all today, it’s as a dusty and obscure minor footnote to the career of its leading lady Vivien Leigh (it would be her penultimate film; Leigh died of tuberculosis aged 53 in 1967). It seemingly never crops up on TV and is unavailable on DVD in the UK. As a fan of both Leigh and Williams (and intrigued by Spring’s sordid subject matter!), I had long been intrigued by this curiosity. When the British Film Institute in London held a retrospective season commemorating the 100th anniversary of Leigh’s birth in November 2013, I finally got to see it.  

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/ Make mine a Negroni: Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

It certainly feels like a “lost” film. The BFI always sources the best quality prints they can – and this one frequently looked pretty scratchy and moth-eaten. In 1961 the film suffered by comparison with Leigh and Williams’ earlier triumphant collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), for which she won her second Academy Award, and it was neither a critical or commercial success. Seeing it in 2013 for the first time, I would argue The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone is ripe for a more generous reappraisal. Williams himself rated it highly, saying, “I think that film is a poem” in his 1972 memoirs (but then he also loved the catastrophic 1968 Liz Taylor-Richard Burtonmega bomb Boom!). Call me perverse, but I find Spring infinitely more enjoyable than the more highly regarded Streetcar.

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/ Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

The film is flawed but fascinating. It seethes with weird hybrid tensions. With its woman-of-a-certain age in peril heroine, Spring works as a lush old-fashioned conventional melodramatic “woman’s picture” awash with romantic masochism, stoical suffering and deluxe production values (the costumes, sets and Roman setting are pure eye candy). But it also plumbs the depths of some spicy lurid subject matter: self-destruction, sexual humiliation and glittering but empty hedonism in a milieu of pimps and prostitutes in Rome’s La Dolce Vita international cafe society. (Some of Spring’s nightclub and party scenes, with their grotesque celebrants, can be favorably compared to the earlier Fellini film). Intriguingly for modern audiences, the film is shot through with a definite queer sensibility (it’s surprisingly clear that those seeking firm-bodied Roman hustlers on the Spanish Steps are just as likely to be male as well as female; the role of Mrs Stone would probably make even more sense as an older gay man pining for his younger thug lover). It’s also convincingly permeated by a sense of real fatalistic despair almost from the very start (onscreen Leigh’s depression is almost tangible). And in its tense, shocking final moments, Spring packs the dread of a horror film.



/ The original theatrical trailer for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

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/ Leigh, draped in haute couture by Balmain /

Leigh portrays the titular Mrs Karen Stone – a recently widowed and affluent middle-aged American actress adrift in Rome.  Rich, lonely and vulnerable, Stone is easy prey for heartless gigolo Paolo (Warren Beatty) and his malevolent female pimp The Contessa (Lotte Lenya). Leigh is only 47 here but it has to be said she seems dramatically older. (And in the context of the story, the age of 47 seems to represent something significantly older than it does in 2013). Draped in haute couture by Balmain (shame about the gruesomely unflattering blonde wigs), she is still waveringly beautiful but careworn, ravaged and fragile. (Late-period Leigh’s deep bass voice may come as a surprise; it was strikingly lower by the 1960s after years of poor health and heavy smoking). 

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/ Ladylike and demure - but tortured /

Leigh is so perfect for the role, it's hard to believe it wasn't conceived with her in mind or that she wasn't the original choice. Her thin-skinned and delicate performance is a portrait of someone deeply wounded but striving to maintain a haughty dignity and detached froideur (she boosts her confidence and self-soothes with vice, chain-smoking and drinking Negroni cocktails).  And yet Leigh had a tough core: she was a profoundly unsentimental actress.  Whether as Scarlett O’Hara, Blanche Dubois or the complex and troubled Karen Stone, she never solicits the audience’s sympathy. Considering Spring is her second last film, Leigh ended her movie career on a high. My favorite moments of Leigh’s performance here are probably the simplest: the segments of Stone drifting aimlessly alone through Roman streets like a melancholy somnambulist, severely-etched  and alienated in her ladylike suits, white gloves and cat’s eye sunglasses, are haunting. Thank God Katherine Hepburn didn't accept the role. 

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/ Like I said, the film has a genuinely queer sensibility: Warren Beatty wears very tight pants throughout and gets more than one lingering, admiring ass shot /

The film’s weakest link is callow young Warren Beatty, whose thick comedy Italian accent is frankly awful (his acting would improve considerably by Bonnie and Clyde in 1967). Why not cast an actual Italian actor as Paolo? The dark, swarthy and sensual Franco Citti had already smoldered playing sexy low-life pimps in two Pier Paolo Pasolini films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962).  Or perhaps the French art cinema heartthrob Alain Delon, who at least was Continental - and by all accounts in real life every bit as predatory and amoral as Paolo! LuchinoVisconti’s bisexual protégé would have invested the part with some of the icy sociopathic menace he brought to Plein Soleil (1960). (In fact Delon had been considered for the role – but Leigh rejected him as “too pretty.” Perhaps she didn't want to share close-ups with him. Who could blame her not wanting to be compared to young Delon?).

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/ Don't Smoke in Bed: Two ultra-sultry and homoerotic portraits of very young Delon by John S Barrington, a pioneer of gay beefcake / physique photography. Delon could have played the role of Paolo in his sleep. (Apparently Delon tried to suppress these photos later on. Read the biography Physique: The Life of John S Barrington by my friend, journalist and author Rupert Smith)

It could be argued the film is well and truly stolen from both Leigh and Beatty by the frankly amazing Lotte Lenya, nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as the toxic Contessa (two years later she would play Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film From Russia with Love – her most famous movie role). The 63-year old Austrian actress and chanteuse (the definitive interpreter of her husband Kurt Weill’s songs, name-checked in the English lyrics to “Mack the Knife”) is utterly compelling: she practically purrs with smiling, serene evil. I literally gasped when she calls Stone a “chicken hawk” (a very John Waters moment. I told you this was a queer film). And don’t even get me started on how much I love The Contessa’s apartment. All the sets in Spring are amazing, but her flat – shared with a menagerie of cats - is truly brothel-like, a tart’s boudoir of crimson velvet furniture, flocked wallpaper and gilt.

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/ Stirring up trouble: Lotte Lenya as the sinister Contessa. I love her blood-red and gold apartment /

As well as La Dolce Vita, for me Spring echoes Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) in its themes of sexual humiliation, cruelty and death, and Bonjour Tristesse (1958) for the joyless European jet set debauchery and luxurious settings. The story is full of Tennessee Williams’ essential recurring preoccupations:  loneliness, fear of aging, compassion for human fragility, the need to live with illusions and occupations especially the concept of the beautiful young gigolo doubling as an angel of death (See also: Boom!).

One of Spring’s other intriguing themes is American new world naivety versus European old world decadence. During a heated argument, Paolo spits at Stone, “Rome is 3000 years old. You’re what – fifty?” Later, when someone describes Stone as “a great lady”, The Contessa is contemptuous, arguing there is "no such thing as great American lady" because great ladies do not occur in country less than two hundred years old. Stone is out of her depth in Italy – against the corrupt and damaged likes of Paolo and The Contessa, she doesn't stand a chance.

No spoilers, but Spring also raises the possibility Stone has a death wish or unacknowledged suicidal impulse, subliminally motivating her. Aiming to shock and offend her, Paolo taunts she’ll be discovered dead in bed with her throat slit ear-to-ear by a gigolo three or four years from now. Stone merely laughs “a cut throat three or four years from now would be a convenience”. In a weird encounter on the street with some nosy American acquaintances Stone lies to them that she’s been diagnosed with a fatal illness so that they won’t bother her anymore. In the context of the film, this is fatalistic – she’s sealing her own fate. Even more disturbingly, throughout the film Stone is literally pursued by death – stalked by a completely silent, gauntly handsome angel of death street urchin hustler who at first might even exist only in her imagination. (He’s a very poetic Williams-ian touch: with his wraith-like cheekbones he looks like a Giacometti sculpture come to life and is arguably more attractive than Beatty).  His recurring presence foreshadows certain doom.

“A glamorous world – a strange romance!” the original theatrical trailer to The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone tantalizingly promised. The film offers a kinky glimpse of sex and dying in high society, viewed through a realm of genteel cocktail parties and gold cigarette cases.


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/ Ominous: Karen Stone, stalked by death /

Further reading:

This great blog has some beautiful screen shots of The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone's lavish sets and costumes

My reflections on another Tennessee Williams adaptation, the notorious Boom! (1968)

The screenplay for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone was adapted by Gavin Lambert (1924-2005).  During the making of the film, Vivien Leigh was freshly divorced from Laurence Olivier and struggling with mental illness - and yet was consistently elegant and professional throughout. Read his sympathetic and insightful account of working Leigh here. 

/ "Oh show me the me way to the next pretty boy ...": The incomparable Lotte Lenya (in 1962) singing us out with Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song"

 


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Cockabilly DJ Set List 13 November 2013

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Another month, another Cockabilly (London’s only monthly queer rockabilly night!) in the louche “anything goes” beatnik surroundings of the divoon George & Dragon in ultra bohemian Shoreditch. Mal Nicholson and Paul Dragoni founded Cockabilly way back in 2008, making 2013 the club night’s five year anniversary. Keeping a club afloat in London's glamour jungle for five years is no mean feat and shows true grit and tenacity. It’s never been a better time to show Cockabilly some love! Gay greasers unite! Rock around the cock!

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As per usual when I guest DJ at Cockabilly (I was sandwiched between head honcho Mal and Elma Wolf of Twat Boutique notoriety) I strove to whip-up a primitive and taboo atmosphere with my most rancid musical selections, incorporating rockabilly, punk, surf, titty shakers and rhythm and blues (give me Ike and Tina Turner or give me death!).

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Playing us out: Link Wray and His Ray Men absolutely ripping it freaking up on a live rendition of killer rockabilly instrumental “Rawhide” on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1959. Wray and his besuited and neatly Brylcreemed musicians may look pretty sober (they're wearing ties!), but they are tight as fuck and the music is so bristling with menace and aggression it’s the like the soundtrack for a biker gang switchblade fight. I also love the contrast between the ferocity of Wray’s greasy, punk-y assault and the utterly unimpressed wholesome teenage audience in cardigans and horn rimmed specs (they’re adorable in a Corny Collins Show / Hairspray vein, but what a bunch of squares! They should be rioting and trashing the place!), who only come to life when they catch a glimpse of themselves on the screen (watch for the girl whipping off her glasses at 2:01).




Rawhide - Link Wray and His Ray Men
You're the One for Me - Wanda Jackson
Ah, Poor Little Baby - Billy "Crash" Craddock
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Dance with Me, Henry - Ann-Margret
I Stubbed My Toe - Bryan "Legs" Walker
One Hand Loose - Charlie Feathers
Booze Party - Three Aces and a Joker
The Whip - The Originals
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Vesuvius - The Revels
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Shout - Johnny Hallyday
Boss Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Chicken - The Cramps
Margaya - The Fender Four
Breathless - X
Save It - Mel Robbins
Hoy Hoy - The Collins Kids
Boss - The Rumblers
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Where's My Money? Willie Jones
Welfare Cheese - Emanuel Laskey
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
C'Mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Cry-baby - The Honey Sisters (Cry-baby soundtrack)
Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown


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Read about previous Cockabillies hereherehereherehere and here.

For all your kitsch / camp / homoerotic / vintage sleaze needs, be sure to follow me on tumblr.

Until next time ...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rhythm and Blue Angel: My 2011 Interview with Marianne Faithfull for Nude Magazine

(In January 2011 I interviewed Marianne Faithfull – a long-time idol of mine - for alternative arts and culture magazine Nude. Shortly afterwards, the magazine folded! The article was available online on their website for several years but recently the Nude site was de-activated so I’m posting it here as a blog entry. If I don’t act as my own archivist, no one else will! I've posted the article exactly as it appeared on the Nude site, and then the full interview transcript, which is full of bonus material there was no space for in the 2000-word finished piece. I've actually met Faithfull a handful of times over the years but always in a worshipful fan boy scenario (i.e. at book signings). The most memorable time was when I reviewed her Montreal concert circa 1989/1990 for my university newspaper (she was touring 1987’s Strange Weather album). The Island Records PR woman took pity on me and smuggled me backstage into Faithfull’s dressing room afterwards. I would have been a gauche 19 or 20 at the time and was awe-struck when the utterly magnetic Faithfull approached, turned her piercing blue eyes on me and spoke. I doubt I managed to say anything sensible to her! Anyway, it was dreamy to finally interview Faithfull all these years later (she was promoting her latest album Horses and High Heels at the time). As you can see from the transcript, her answers over the telephone from Paris were initially quite brusque but gradually – I think when she realised how genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable I was about her work – Faithfull really warmed into things and was a totally engaging and revealing interview subject (once or twice she called me “darling”, which made me swoon). I had been instructed I had only 20-minutes on the phone with Faithfull. In the end, I think we must have spoken for twice that long. Alongside my 2010 Nude interview with John Waters, interviewing Faithfull probably represents the zenith of my freelance journalism career!)


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/ The official 2011 Horses and High Heels promotional portraits by Patrick Swirc /

“If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it ...” a love-struck Ernest Hemingway once said about Marlene Dietrich. Listening to Marianne Faithfull I can relate:  over the phone from Paris, her familiar gravelly tones are bruised, sexy, Joanna Lumley-posh but with a warm brandy huskiness that’s ineffably debauched.

She’s talking about her new album Horses and High Heels. Recorded in the voodoo realm of New Orleans, it’s a kaleidoscope of moods, packed with the raw emotions expected from the grand dame of art rock. From the churning guitars that open first track “The Stations”, it’s instantly recognisable as a Marianne Faithfull album. The music is varied, but like all her best work, the songs are dramatic, emotive and confessional.


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/ Faithfull in 2011 by Patrick Swirc /

“I think that’s my relationship to the public. It’s not exactly confessional,” Faithfull demurs. “But it’s always, “Well, now let me tell you about the past ..." It’s a sort of closeness, I feel, where I open up -- which I don’t do normally.”


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/ Faithfull in 2011 by Patrick Swirc /

A particular highlight is her transcendent cover of “Goin’ Back”, one of Dusty Springfield’s finest moments. It’s a reminder that when Faithfull made her recording debut in 1964 her peers were Lulu, Cilla Black and Petula Clark. But while they now seem like time warped kitsch fossils, Faithfull has maintained her mystique, holding the public fascinated as her persona evolved over almost fifty years of popular culture: convent school girl turned pop ice maiden; Girl on a Motorcycle; fallen angel; punk diva; heroin-ravaged tortured artist; elegant survivor. Most musicians would kill for her longevity and durability.

“I know. I've sort of somehow managed it. I've had to do a lot of work on myself, get my self-esteem and my confidence back. And learn to trust everything: trust life, trust the creative process. And to work with the right people.”

The diversity of her fans is a testament to her enduring allure. Who does Faithfull see when she looks into the audience?

“I see a great mixture and I’m very, very pleased with it. I’m really happy that such a wide range of people come to see me. There are old fans of my age. And then there are all sorts of other people I've picked up along the way. And there are lots of young people – that’s what I really like.”


/ Angelic young ice maiden Faithfull singing her first hit “As Tears Go By” in 1965. When people criticize my beloved Lana Del Rey for being frosty, hesitant and remote performing live, I think, have you seen early deer-caught-in-headlights TV footage of Marianne Faithfull or Francoise Hardy at the beginning of their careers? They catatonic with terror! And as was the convention of the time, they lip-synched /

The first half of Faithfull’s career as an ethereal pop waif was short-lived and overshadowed by her turbulent relationship with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. In the past Faithfull has been dismissive about her 1960s recordings, but recently her attitude has softened.

“I think they’re great. For a long, long time I couldn't really appreciate them. I was only turned outwards towards what was coming, to what I was going to do next. But now I've begun to allow myself a tiny bit of nostalgia. I've never had a nostalgic bone in my body. But I’m allowing myself to feel these things now.”

As a 60s “girl singer” Faithfull says she was permitted a surprising amount of creative control.

“I was allowed a lot. I could do whatever I liked. I was never controlled. I mean, there was I suppose the image – the “angel” image was done by (Rolling Stones manager) Andrew Loog Oldham’s press guy. And I found that a great weight on my back, I must say. But actually what songs we recorded, how we did them, writing – all those things, I worked with (producer) Mike Leander and we were able to do what we wanted. Nobody was controlled.”

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/ Faithfull in her 1960s lush-lipped teenage pop sensation years /

This belies the consensus that Faithfull didn't truly express herself as an artist until 1979’s vitriolic Broken English.

“I think that’s not really fair, but I used to think that myself – I think people got it from me. I think I did express a lot in my early work. But it seemed so unreal, when the 60s were over and I was back living with my mother looking after (her son) Nicholas with no money. It almost felt like nothing had happened. And they were also very overwhelmed by The Stones, my little records. I think I felt that – it didn't seem like important work. I was very, very hard on myself.”

After her romance with Jagger imploded Faithfull’s life unraveled into heroin addiction, alcoholism and extreme poverty. I hadn't intended to mention drugs, but Faithfull herself brings it up: when I mention she has a new film due out in 2012 (Faithfull has been acting almost as long as she’s been singing and has an interesting if erratic film career: she’s worked with everyone from auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard and Kenneth Anger to schlock-meister Michael Winner) she talks ruefully about missed opportunities.

“It took me a long time to really get it together,” she admits. “Look, my big problem was taking drugs. It put me back. It didn't help me in my work at all. I lost confidence. I lost tranquility. Which are very important: with making records and acting I have to work from a sense of relaxation and not striving and not worrying about it. And that’s where drugs were very bad for me. It handicapped me.”

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/ Desperate living: Faithfull adrift in the 1970s /

As rock’s great diva of despair, Faithfull comes second only to Nico, whose troubled life and career has many parallels with hers. She clearly identifies with the doomed Teutonic chanteuse (Faithfull wrote a song about Nico about in 2002) and when she talks about her, you realise Faithfull is partly talking about herself and the fate she narrowly avoided.

“I’m so lucky in my life and I know it, that my life worked out so well. I felt a lot of compassion for Nico, that she had such a hard time. Obviously a lot of that was to do with drugs, too. If you take a difficult life anyway and then add that, it’ll get much worse. I just felt it was very tragic story and I felt a lot of love for Nico.  I think she tried really hard. She did make a couple of great records – I love The Marble Index. I value her a lot, and I don’t think she was really valued in her lifetime.”

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/ Naked Under Leather: Faithfull photographed by Helmut Newton around the time of Broken English (1979) /

Faithfull’s wilderness years ended in the punk era, with Broken English.  Lauded by Camille Paglia as “one of the most important works ever produced by a woman,” the album was a raw wound, launching a radically different Marianne Faithfull: an embittered punk harridan in black leather, rasping outbursts of bile in a guttural nicotine-stained croak.  It still casts a shadow: with the release of every new CD, a critic inevitably says, “Her best since Broken English.” Is she sick to death of hearing that?

“Well, yes and no. I don’t really mind. I understand. What I don’t understand is why when they do those “100 Greatest Records of All Time “lists, they don’t put Broken English in. I find that odd. It doesn't really matter. I love Broken English but obviously what I would prefer is that people would go with me in my work. They've all got something really special, my records. I love Vagabond Ways, I love Kissin’ Time, I love Before the Poison. I love my late Island records. I think they were very good. But I hadn't found my way yet – I was still looking.”



/ Faithfull's 1979 collaboration with visionary avant garde filmmaker Derek Jarman on three songs from her Broken English album /

There’s a sense of autobiographical progression with Faithfull’s body of work. Surveying her discography is like watching her life unfold, giving the listener an insight into where she is now.

“That’s what I want. So that we can all move together. My fans do go with me, and it’s fascinating. I read about it, I check what they think on Facebook and Myspace. I like to see their notes and their comments. They do keep up with me; they do exactly what you said. They take it as information about where I’m at now. And this new record is very much about that. It’s not a sad record at all. Yes, there are some serious songs: “Goin’ Back” is quite moving. “Past, Present and Future” (her unexpected cover of the Shangri-Las' song) is really funny. I don’t think it’s a sad record at all.”

Just as vital as Broken English was 1987’s Strange Weather, which Faithfull sayspositioned me in a way that I could have a long career.” Recorded after Faithfull finally kicked heroin, the album offered downbeat versions of vintage blues and jazz laments and established her as a smoky-voiced interpretive singer. Like the best melancholic music (think Chet Baker, Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin), the album’s bleakness goes beyond depressing to become healing, a release.

“It’s like the blues,” Faithfull agrees. “You listen to the blues and you feel better. That’s my feeling about it. Sad songs can help one to feel better."

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/ Mary Magdalene of rock: from the album cover photo session for 1987's Strange Weather /

By the time Faithfull applied the scorched ruins of her voice to the Kurt Weill songbook (20th Century Blues in 1996) she was confidently evoking great mid-century torch singers like Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Marlene Dietrich:  think of the ravaged tragedienne of a certain age in a black dress, smoking a cigarette onstage. “That’s really where I’m coming from,” Faithfull concurs. “I’m not trying to sound pretty, anyway!”

Another turning point was writing her unapologetic autobiography Faithfull in 1994.

“I think it helped me. I think the autobiography gave me more self-esteem for myself. It made it all real for me: my life became more real to me. That was a good thing. It was very hard work. David (Dalton) and I re-wrote it three times to get it right. And I didn't feel it as cathartic at the time, but I've realised since that it actually was cathartic.”

The most romantic song on Horses ... is “Prussian Blue. “ It’s a love song, but about a city rather than a man: Paris, where Faithfull is now based. The French have embraced her as one of their own.

“I remember when I first started going to Paris in the 60s as a little pop singer. They really liked me, they loved my work and I remember thinking, I think when I’m older I’ll come and move here. There are various levels to that song. One of my ideas was to write a song about colours – oil paints, because they've got such beautiful names. But obviously that wasn't enough; it had to have real emotional content too, so I talked about where I go for my AA meetings, which is an important part of my week”.

I propose to her that Parisians probably appreciate Faithfull as a present-day Juliette Greco or Jeanne Moreau. And her 1960s contemporaries in Paris, Jane Birkin and Francoise Hardy, are both still active and recording interesting music.

“They've got more of a tradition of this kind of artist, yes. In fact I consciously took Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve as life models, not in terms of singing – just a way of being. They’re comfortable in their skin as women. It doesn't matter, getting old – they still work.”

It’s gratifying to see Faithfull enjoying her hard-won serenity, and be able to draw on her volatile past without being destroyed by it. Faithfull specialises in tragic songs, but her life stopped being tragic a long time ago.

“Oh, ages ago,” she purrs. “I’m really well, I’m really happy. I love my work. I wouldn't do it if I didn't.”

Asked about the future, she cites doyenne of French chanson Juliette Greco as an inspiration: still recording, still touring, still vital in her 80s.  And she’s already working on a new song to be called “Give My Love to London.”

Still, there’s something reassuring that Faithfull still describes herself as a very decadent person, even without drugs.

“I think it’s an attitude, a thing that you’re drawn to. I don’t have to live it out, I don’t have to act it out or do anything that is decadent, actually – and I don’t. But I’m still like that, in my heart.”

(The Full Interview Transcript):

On the new album you sing a great version of a song I associate with Dusty Springfield, “Goin’ Back.”

Yes, that’s the great definitive version.

It’s strange to remember in some ways your peers really are Lulu, Petula Clark, Cilla Black but in some ways you come from a totally different planet to where they’re from.

I guess what I’m doing is very different, yeah.

Your longevity / adaptability: you embraced punk in the 70s whereas a lot of your 60s peers would have felt alienated / threatened by it.

I loved it. It was very like that, really, in the early 60s.  That anyone could do anything, and it could work. It’s not like that now, of course.

In real terms your contemporaries are more like Patti Smith and Nico – who you've written a song about.

Yes. On the slightly more art-y side of the equation. (Laughs).

There’s been a lot of variety in your music over the years, but you’re best known for sad songs. People say sad music is depressing, but when it’s done right it can be healing and cathartic and a release. What’s your philosophy about sad music?

Actually I have very strong views.  It’s like the blues: you listen to the blues and you feel better. So that’s my feeling about it. Sad songs can help one to feel better.

You and your music tap into the tradition of great mid-century female singers like Dietrich, Piaf and Billie Holiday. What do those singers represent to you?

That’s really where I’m coming from, I think. I started listening to Billie Holiday when I was quite young, when I came up to London. I got into Billie Holiday and I've been into her ever since. And Piaf too, when I really liked when I was young. I didn't discover Lotte Lenya til later, but I realised that was very much where I was coming from.

It’s funny listening to your album of Kurt Weill songs: you obviously don’t have a German accent, but when you sing those songs your voice has a Germanic quality, like Lotte Lenya or Hildegard Knef.

Yes. I’m not trying to sound pretty, anyway!



/ Faithfull hauntingly re-visiting her career-making first hit "As Tears Go By" on her 1987 album Strange Weather /

As time goes on you realise what a key album Strange Weather is for you, as much as Broken English – it re-established you in a different way.

Yes and I've been able to work with that ever since. I think they were both very important. Broken English I cannot underestimate at all, it was crucial. But Strange Weather positioned me in a way that I could have a long career.

It definitely established you as a great interpretive singer. I’m wondering what you look for in a song? What do you respond to in a song, or what’s your criteria?

It’s a mixture, I think: the tune is very important but I think in the end it’s the words.

You can take someone else’s song and make it sound completely autobiographical

I always thought everybody could do that, but I realised that doesn't always work out! No.

One of my favourite songs on the album is “Prussian Blue”, which is about your life in Paris today. Tell me about your life in Paris. I've read that they've really embraced you there, and your CDs sell well there.

Yeah, they do. In fact they always have. I remember when I first started going to Paris in the 60s as a little pop singer. They really liked me, they loved my work and I remember thinking, I think when I’m older I’ll come and move here.

It’s a very romantic song.

There are various levels to it. One of my ideas was to write a song about colours – oil paints, because they've got such beautiful names. We had a really beautiful summer here last year, it was absolutely gorgeous and the colours were amazing. So I was able to, with Dave Courts, we sat down and I said my idea and we started to write. But obviously that wasn't enough, it had to have real emotional content too. So I talked about where I go for my AA meetings. That’s what that is about -- which is an important part of my week.

I’m sure the French see you as a present-day Juliette Greco type or Jeanne Moreau type.

They've got more of a tradition of this kind of artist, yes. In fact I consciously took Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve as life models, not in terms of singing – just a way of being. They’re comfortable in their skin as women. It doesn't matter getting old – they still work.

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/ Doyenne of French chanson Juliette Greco in 2009 /

Your contemporaries in Paris are Jane Birkin and Francoise Hardy. They’re both still active and recording interesting music, too.

Yes they are. And I know Francoise. I see her for dinner and we talk about it all. It’s great. And I know Jane, of course, too.

What’s your relationship to your 60s recordings now? How do you look back on them?

I think they’re great. For a long, long time I couldn't really appreciate them. I was only turned outwards towards what was coming, to what I was going to do next. But now I've begun to allow myself a tiny bit of nostalgia. I've never had a nostalgic bone in my body. But I’m allowing myself to feel these things now.

The argument you didn't express yourself truly until Broken English – which does a disservice to your earlier work, and I wonder if you think that’s fair.

I think that’s not really fair, but I used to think that myself – I think people got it from me. I think I did express a lot in my early work. But it seemed so unreal, when the 60s were over and I was back living with my mother looking after Nicholas with no money. It almost felt like nothing had happened. And they were also very overwhelmed by The Stones, my little records. I think I felt that – that it wasn't really important work. I was very, very hard on myself. I really was.

As a “girl pop singer” in the 60s, how much creative input or control were you allowed?

I was allowed a lot. I could do whatever I liked. I was never controlled. I mean, there was I suppose the image – the “angel” image was done by Andrew Loog Oldham’s press guy. And I found that a great weight on my back, I must say. But actually what songs I recorded, how we did them, writing – all those things, I worked with Mike Leander and we were able to do what we wanted. Nobody was controlled.

It’s funny to think that it was your song “Come Stay with Me” – without that song there might not have been The Smiths!

That’s quite serious, isn't it? That would have been terrible. (Morrissey has declared Faithfull was his first pop crush: the first record he ever bought was Faithfull's 1965 single "Come Stay with Me" aged six. In 2009 Morrissey selected it as one of his Desert Island Discs). 

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/ Heroin-ravaged: Faithfull around the time of Broken English /

With every new CD you put out a critic inevitably says, “Her best since Broken English.” You must be sick to death of hearing that

Well, yes and no. I don’t really mind. I understand. What I don’t understand is why when they do those “100 Greatest Records of All Time" lists, they don’t put Broken English in. I found that odd.

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/ The Billie Holiday / Marlene Dietrich of punk: Faithfull circa Broken English /

Well, lack of imagination. These things are so rigid, so conventional. But it belongs there!

I know, I know. I know it does. Yes, you’re right. Conventional pop music is very rigid. Hidebound. It doesn't really matter. I love Broken English but obviously what I would prefer is that people could go with me in my work. They've all got something really special, my records. I love Vagabond Ways, I love Kissin’ Time, I love Before the Poison. I love my late Island records. I think they were very good. But I hadn't found my way yet – I was still looking.

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/ Faithfull photographed by Ellen von Unwerth for Vagabond Ways (1999) /

There’s a sense of progression with your body of work. Listening to each new album over the years is like watching your life unfold and gives the listener an insight into where you are now.

That’s what I want. So that we can all move together. My fans do go with me, and it’s fascinating. I read about it, I check what they think on Facebook and Myspace. I’m not a member of Facebook, only in a professional sense. But I like to see their notes and their comments. They do keep up with me; they do exactly what you said. They take it as information about where I’m at now. And this new record is very much about that.

We all love the sad quality of your music, but it is a very positive record. Even the break-up song (“Why Did We Have to Part?”) has got a lot of acceptance and reflection in it.

It’s not a sad record at all. Yes, there are some serious songs: “Goin’ Back” is quite moving. “Past present and future” is really not that serious. It’s really funny. I don’t think it’s a sad record at all.

I’ll definitely mention in the article that you've also got a new film due out in 2012: you've been acting almost as long as you've been singing. How do you look back on your film career as an actress?

It took me a long time to really get it together. You know, in some ways ... Look, my big problem was taking drugs. It put me back. It didn't help me in my work at all. I lost confidence. I lost tranquility. I didn't have those things. Which are very important: with making records and acting I have to work from a sense of relaxation and not striving and not worrying about it. And that’s where drugs were very bad for me. It handicapped me.



/ In 1973 David Bowie plucked a down-on-her-luck and troubled Faithfull to guest on his TV special The 1980 Floor Show. The clip of them duetting on a dissolute version of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” (with a frankly wasted Faithfull clad in a nun’s habit!) is justifiably famous but I like this obscure one more: a seemingly heavily medicated and barely keeping it together Faithfull huskily channelling Marlene Dietrich.  She wouldn’t properly re-surface again until Broken English six years later /

You've said you’re able to look back now at the film Girl on aMotorcycle with affection...

Oh yeah. I had no idea it was going to become such a cult movie, that people would still like it so many years after. I didn't really like it at the time; I thought it was a bit stupid. But I loved Jack Cardiff and I was very grateful to Jack Cardiff for making me look so beautiful. He really did. I mean, the lighting – the whole thing is just gorgeous.  So I’m very grateful for that, that one day I’m able to look back at Girl on a Motorbike (sic) and say, Wow! That wasn't too bad. And also, I think one of the most lovely things about Girl on a Motorbike (sic) is, do you know where it’s most popular? In India! I saw it myself, the first time I saw it was in Delhi, in Hindi. And it was absolutely great, but what was really great was how much the Indian audience loved it. And even now on the net there are articles – long, evaluating articles about this film. I’m delighted!


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/ Alain Delon and Faithfull sharing a post-coital cigarette in the campy sexploitation film Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) /

I've been going to your gigs for about twenty years now and I've seen the diverse crowd that you attract. I’m wondering, from your perspective when you look out into the audience who do you see?

I see a great mixture and I’m very, very pleased with it. I’m really happy that such a wide range of people come to see me. There are old fans of my age. And then there are all sorts of other people that I've picked up along the way. And there are lots of young people – that’s what I really like.

What do you think is your secret for keeping people fascinated for 47 years? Other artists would kill for that ability that you have.

I know. And I've sort of somehow managed it. But it was a lot of work. I've had to do a lot of work on myself, get my self-esteem and my confidence back. I've had to work hard at that. And learn to trust everything: trust life, trust the creative process. And to work with the right people. With Hal, I can work really well.

Speaking of (producer) Hal Willner, your albums in recent years have been characterised by collaborations with other artists. What do you look for in a collaborator?

A lot of the people I've worked with have become friends. Not everybody, but Nick Cave and Rufus Wainwright. And Jenni, for instance. Jenni Muldaur I first worked with on Easy Come, Easy Go. She’s on this new record, too – she’s on Horses and High Heels. And her work is absolutely sterling, and she’s become a friend. To be honest with you, I think it’s Hal that likes that more than anything. He’s got a great love of using other people on a song. And it’s a very good idea with the limitations of my voice. My voice has got its own sound, and sometimes it does need lightening up or making more intense or something. On Horses and High Heels I've worked very, very hard on my voice, and I think I’m quite pleased with it. And of course I do have Jenni. So we don’t have any other star singers on the record as such, but of course we do have great musicians. And one of the things I thought I would tell you is that for this tour, and for the show in London and in Brighton and in Manchester, I am coming with Wayne Kramer (of The MC5)! Wayne Kramer and Doug Pettibone will be my guitarists. So that will be interesting. I think it will be quite dazzling!

I definitely want to make the point that you are incredibly good at making tragic music, but your life stopped being tragic quite a long time ago.

Oh, ages ago. No my life is going along in a very – and has been for years. I’m really well, I’m really happy. I love my work. I wouldn't do it if I didn't. Even the bit where I’m talking about myself all the time to journalists, I've learned to accept it as part of my job. And quite enjoy it, actually. Everybody’s different. It’s not always the same. It’s interesting.

The new album was recorded in New Orleans. Do you think it influenced the sound or the atmosphere of the record?

I think it did, yes. It’s such a musical city. And the band was so good, the musicians in New Orleans are so good. Including the wonderful John Porter, who is English but has been living in New Orleans for ages now, and he’s a very old friend of mine from the 70s. And it was fantastic to find John Porter in New Orleans, and I used him on all my own songs (her four original compositions). He really pulled them together. He worked with Eric Clapton and The Smiths – and someone else, I can’t remember who, but those were the two main ones. He’s been a record producer for years. But he is a fantastic guitarist – and it’s his guitar, as well as Don’s of course (?) but a lot of John Porter on those songs of mine.

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/ Song for Nico: Nico (1938-1988) photographed in 1980 /

We mentioned Nico earlier. There are so many parallels between her life and your life. What prompted you to write song about Nico? (“Song for Nico” in 2002). 

Well, I’m so lucky in my life and I know it, that my life worked out so well. And I felt a lot of compassion for Nico, that she had such a hard time. Obviously a lot of that was to do with drugs, too. If you take a difficult life anyway and then add that, it’ll get much worse. I just felt it was very tragic story and I felt a lot of love for Nico.  I think she tried really hard. She did make a couple of great records – I love The Marble Index (1969). I value her a lot, and I don’t think she was really valued in her lifetime.

Someone else I know who has influenced you, and you've written about beautifully, is Juliette Greco.

Oh yeah. She’s a great inspiration of mine. You know she’s in her 80s and still performing.

I just saw her a few months ago at The Royal Festival Hall.

Oh how was it?

It was spectacular. It had been ten years since she last came to London, and I was at that gig and to see her again -- I cried about four times!

Oh, darling. There’s something very special about that.

I've read that Lou Reed makes a guest appearance on the album. What songs does he play on?

The most wonderful bit is his solo on “The Old House” -- amazing. And he also plays on “Back in Baby’s Arms.”

Obviously over the years your music has been very varied, but it’s always been very dramatic and has a confessional quality.

I think that’s my relationship to the public. It’s not exactly confessional, but it’s always “Well, now let me tell you about the past ... “It’s a sort of closeness, I feel, where I open up. Which I don’t do normally.

The album I really discovered you through, when I was about 16 or 17,  was A Child’s Adventure (1983).

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/ Publicity photo of Faithfull for her despairing 1983 A Child's Adventure album: every song seemingly concerns drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide /

Ah, yes.

Which is one of your bleakest album but it’s still one of my favourites.

It was the album where I was beginning to ask for help, in a way. And it wasn't well recorded and what I would love to do is go back and re-do it and re-master it and really make it sound better. It could sound so much better and richer. But I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.

You've always played “Falling from Grace” and “Times Square” from that album at almost every concert, those songs are timeless.

 “Times Square” I particularly love. We’re not doing “Falling from the Grace” at the moment, but maybe I will. We've dropped it. There’s so many new songs, you know.

The first time I ever saw you perform was at (punk club) Les Foufounes Électriques in Montreal.

Oh, that was a great gig!

It was just you and (guitarist and frequent collaborator) Barry Reynolds. Accoustic.

I remember it well. I've had a few experiences like that – where the audience was expecting a completely different person ...

What do you think they’re expecting?

I don’t know. A sort of sex bomb, really! In those days, anyway. A sort of Pat Benatar. Of course Pat Benatar copied my style. And my riffs, too! And it was so different. I was still in formation, then. I was learning my way about it. And I found I had this gift for doing it with just one musician. I still go out and do acoustic tours. It’s good – it’s like open heart surgery.

Well, your roots are in folk music anyway.

Yes, they were always. And that was what was so nice to re-visit on Easy Come, Easy Go, was folk. I loved it. But of course this record, Horses and High Heels, is really not a folk record. It’s very much a rock and roll band.

You've said even without drugs, you’re still a very decadent person. What do you mean by that?

I think it’s an attitude, a thing that you’re drawn to. I don’t have to live it out, I don’t have to act it out or do anything that is decadent, actually – and I don’t. But I’m still like that, in my heart.

Glad to hear it. I hope that never changes

No, I don’t think it ever will.




/ A real curiosity: Two of my heroes, Serge Gainsbourg and Marianne Faithfull – ensemble! These two pretty much wrote the book on decadence. In this strange mini-documentary, we see a chain-smoking Gainsbourg directing Faithfull in a pop video for the song “Intrigue” from her 1981 album Dangerous Acquaintances /

One of my favourite albums of yours is  A Secret Life (1995).

I love that.

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/ From the photo session for the album cover of 1995's eerie and underrated A Secret Life /

You and (Angelo) Badalamenti (David Lynch's soundtrack composer) together. It’s just exquisite.

It’s fabulous, yes. And that was never recognised at the time. I think people really do like it. I have a lot of friends who really like that.



I guess one of the nice things about having such a long career is seeing things get reappraised over time.

Yes, and it’s particularly started recently. In between Before the Poison (2005) and Easy Come, Easy Go (2008). And now I've really set it up well. Usually I take much longer to make another record. But we did this quite fast, and I think Horses and High Heels will benefit from that, the critical response.

I can see how, when your autobiography came out, it seemed to change the perception of you in the UK. Your profile became higher, you started recording more frequently.

I think it helped me. I think the autobiography gave me more self-esteem for myself. It made it all real for me: my life became more real to me. And that was a good thing. Of course it was very hard work. (Co-author) David (Dalton) and I re-wrote it three times to get it right. And I didn't feel it as cathartic at the time, but I have since. I've realised since that it actually was cathartic.

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/ Faithfull photographed by Bruce Weber in the 1990s /

"Past, Present and Future" such a strange, surprising choice: one of the new album’s highlights

Well, it was Hal’s idea – it’s a typical, it’s a real Hal brilliant idea. I knew that song; I remember hearing it in ’62, before I started my work as a pop singer. I was in my bed after school late at night listening to Radio Luxembourg and I heard it then and I loved it. I always have loved it. And I really like Phil Spector. I think he’s a genius. I know he leaves a lot to be desired as a human being, but he still is a genius. And most geniuses leave a lot to be desired as a human being. I really wanted to do a Phil Spector song, to sort of honour him in a way. It was just such an interesting idea, to come at that, which is a song of teen angst, definitely, and to do it as a woman of my age. It gives it a completely different feel. And I love doing things like that. (Note: in fact "Past, Present and Future" and all the Shangri-Las' hits were produced by Shadow Morton, not Phil Spector)

In a way, that song is a way of you taking a sideways look at the 1960s and your past.

Yeah. “Well now, let me tell you about the past ...”

I love your 20th Century Blues (1996) album: What was it about Kurt Weill’s music that you identified with?

It was just perfect for me. It was that which got me really on my path, I think. Making 20th Century Blues and The Seven Deadly Sins was so good for me and helpful for everything about me. I felt that I’d found my place. I think, with my background and my Jewish grandmother and all that, I have a racial memory of this kind of music. Kurt Weill wrote a lot out of the Jewish scale, you know, in the temple. That’s particularly interesting about his music. It was a fantastic experience to go around the world with (pianist) Paul Trueblood and do that show. I did a lot; I did an 11-month tour on that. (Her “An Evening in the Weimar Republic” tour).

What does the future hold, artistically?

I would like to use Juliette Greco as a model. I suppose I’ll just go on. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do next; it’s too early to think about it. But what I've decided to do is just write songs anyway. When I see Doug – we start the next tour at the Hong Kong Festival. When I get to Hong Kong, I've got an idea for a song about London. I want to write a song called “Give My Love to London.” And I’m going to do it with Doug when we get together. And keep doing that, so when it gets to 2013 when it’s about the time for another record I’ll have a back-up of songs. Because I was disappointed I only wrote four. I would have liked to write more. But I need to start work early for that.