“I know I can’t sing—I’ve said this and I know I can’t—it’s just a funny sort of voice with perhaps a certain amount of charm.”
It’s so odd to hear a fresh-faced Marianne Faithfull speak about herself at 19 years of age, not yet a household name. Stories of her life tend to focus on addiction or tumultuous relationships, and this is before any of that had ever happened. She’s completely insecure, self-critical, and already suspicious of the industry that’s about to eat her up. In a few months she’ll be married, in less than a year she’ll have a baby, and shortly after that she’ll leave her husband for Mick Jagger.
He blew his mind out in car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed. These are the lyrics from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which immortalized the death of sixties socialite Tara Browne.
On the night of December 18th 1966, Browne, together with his girlfriend, Suki Potier, drove through the streets of South Kensington in his Lotus Elan. The couple had just left a friend’s apartment at Earls Court around 1am, and were now in search of food. Browne sped through a stop signal at the corner of Redcliffe Square and Redcliffe Gardens. As he swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle, Browne crashed his car into a parked van. His last minute actions saved Potier from certain death, but left Browne fatally injured, and he died in hospital the following day.
Browne was 21-years-of-age, a member of the Irish aristocratic family Oranmore and Browne, and heir to the Gunness fortune. He looked like a cross between Paul McCartney and Peter Cook (more of which later), was said to be barely literate - having walked out of a dozen schools, lived with his mother, Oonagh Guinness and her boyfriend a “show designer” Miguel Ferreras, drank Bloody Marys for breakfast, smoked Menthol cigarettes, and according to his friend Hugo Williams lived the life of a “Little Lord Fauntleroy, Beau Brummell, Peter Pan, Terence Stamp in Billy Budd, David Hemmings in Blow-Up.”
‘Tara could hardly have failed to be a success in Swinging London. While I was wandering around the globe in ’63 and ‘64, he embarked on the second and last phase of his meteoric progress. He got married, met the Stones and the Beatles, opened a shop in the King’s Road and bought the fatal turquoise Lotus Elan in which he entered the Irish Grand Prix. He let me drive it once in some busy London street: ‘Come on, Hugo, put your foot down.’ I had just got my first job and our ways were dividing. His money and youth made him a natural prey to certain charismatic Chelsea types who turned him into what he amiably termed a ‘hustlee’.
He reputedly gave Paul McCartney his first acid trip. The pair went to Liverpool together, got stoned and cruised the city on mopeds until Paul went over the handlebars and broke a tooth and they had to call on Paul’s Aunt Bett for assistance. There is still a body of people — and a book called The Walrus is Paul — who believe that Paul is dead and is now actually Tara Browne with plastic surgery.’
A month after his death, January 17th 1967, John Lennon was working on a song when he read a newspaper article on the coroner’s report into Browe’s death:
‘I was writing “A Day In The Life” with the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their News in Brief, or Far and Near, whatever they call it. I noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash.’
Lennon further explained his inspiration in Hunter Davies’ biography of The Beatles:
‘I didn’t copy the accident. Tara didn’t blow his mind out. But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.’
However, more recently, in the authorized biography, Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Paul McCartney added his tuppence worth:
‘The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.’
Whichever version is true, Tara Browne is still the man best associated with lyrics. Here is Tara, and his Lotus Elan, in some incredibly rare footage from a short French TV feature, where the aristocrat drives around London and mumbles in French about his car, art, fashion, music and life. There are no English subtitles, but they’re not really necessary as the film is easily understandable. Appearances from Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull and famed gallery owner Robert Fraser.
This, as DM pal, film-maker Alessandro Cima, writes: “might be the most beautiful film you will see all year.” It’s Derek Jarman’s Broken English, his superb interpretation of three tracks by Marianne Faithfull - “Witches Song,” “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” and “Broken English”.
As Mr Cima writes:
The montage and superimposition going on in this film is simply stunning. It’s full of dark pagan ritual, sex, violence, romance, adoration, and mystery.
Say what you will about Facebook but the fact that I can befriend life long heroes such as Zappa/Beefheart LP sleeve designer / visual muse Cal Schenkel and get a glimpse of his middle-of-it-all perspective is a wonderful by-product of selling out my privacy to gawd-knows who, really. Cal was gracious and generous enough to allow me to share these marvelous snapshots he took in 1968 at Zappa’s Laurel Canyon compound, known as The Log Cabin which once stood at the corner of Canyons Laurel and Lookout. The basement jam session here was also well documented in John French’s recent book as well as Bill Harkleroad’s Lunar Notes, which I quote here in order to give a small sense of what we’re looking at:
It turns out Frank was trying to put together this Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus thing, which The Stones later put together without him. I don’t know how many Rolling Stones were there at the time, but Mick Jagger certainly was, as were The Who and Marianne Faithfull. She was so ripped she was drooling - but what a babe - I was star struck! It was funny because Jagger really didn’t mean a whole lot to me at that point. I’d played all their tunes in various bands. To me he really wasn’t a signer - he was a “star”. But when I actually met him, all I can remember thinking is, “How could you be a star? You’re too little!” ....I ended up in this jam session in a circle of people about six or seven feet apart and we’re playing Be-Bop-a-Lu-La”! Done was to my immediate left wearing his big madhatter hat and to his immediate left was Mick Jagger and right around the circle all these people were playing, Frank included. So I’m jamming with these guys almost too nervous to be able to move or breathe. I started to ease up after I noticed that Jagger seemed to be equally intimidated. Then we went into Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” and a couple of blues things and that was it. It was such a strange experience - somehow just out of nowhere I’m down in Hollywood meeting Frank Zappa and this whole entourage of famous people like Jagger, Marianne Faithful [sic] and Pete Townshend. What an audition! There I was 19 years old and I’m very taken with these big important people.
Don Van Vliet and Mick Jagger
FZ and Miss Christine
More photos and a link to Cal’s online shop after the jump…
Marianne Faithfull sings “Hier ou Demian” (“Yesterday or Tomorrow”) in a scene from the incredible 1967 French TV movie musical, Anna. Directed by Pierre Koralnik, and with songs written by Serge Gainsbourg (who also appears in the film). Anna starred Godard muse Anna Karina. The film is practically a pop art, musical paen to her beauty. Suits me fine!
I’ll be posting more about Anna in the future, but for now savor this short clip of a gorgeous young Marianne Faithful, who never looked better (and that’s saying a lot), singing a Gainsbourg-penned tune. What more could you ask for? The entire film? Well, you’re in luck, because you can purchase a copy of Anna (with English subtitles) from Mod Cinema.
These are just stunning! Stunning! I certainly wouldn’t mind owning one of those fantastic Zappas. From the artist Lisa Brawn:
I have been experimenting with figurative woodcuts for almost twenty years since being introduced to the medium by printmakers at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Recently, I have been wrestling with a new challenge: five truckloads of salvaged century-old rough Douglas fir beams from the restoration of the Alberta Block in Calgary and from the dismantling of grain elevators. This wood is very interesting in its history and also in that it is oddly shaped. Unlike traditional woodcut material such as cherry or walnut, the material is ornery. There are holes and knots and gouges and rusty nails sticking out the sides.
To find suitably rustic and rugged subjects, I have been referencing popular culture personas and archetypes from 1920s silent film cowboys to 1970s tough guys. I have also been through the Glenbow Museum archives for horse rustlers, bootleggers, informants, and loiterers in turn-of-the-century RCMP mug shots for my Quién es más macho series. Cowgirl trick riders and cowboy yodelers in their spectacular ensembles from the 1940s led to my Honky-Tonkin, Honey, Baby series. Inspired by a recent trip to Coney Island, I have been exploring vintage circus culture and am currently working on a series of sideshow portraits including Zip the Pinhead and JoJo the Dog-faced Boy. There is also an ongoing series of iconic gender archetypes, antiheroes and divas, which includes such portraits as Sophia Loren, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Jackie Onassis, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood.
Marianne Faithfull and David Bowie performing ‘I Got You Babe’ at London’s Marquee in 1973. This was filmed for American TV show The Midnight Special and was Bowie’s last appearance as Ziggy Stardust.
Faithfull’s nun habit created a bit of a scandal when the show was aired. Her other habit, heroin, may explain her somewhat disengaged performance that night.
From the Ziggy Stardust Companion:
The last song - “I Got You Babe” was a duet sung with Marianne Faithful and was filmed at about 10pm at night. Bowie warned the audience - “This isn’t anything very serious. Its just a bit of fun - we’ve hardly even rehearsed it.” Bowie’s costume for this song was the bright red PVC corset, PVC thigh-length stiletto boots and two black chest-hugging feathers (he was The Angel of Death), while Marianne Faithful was dressed as a decadent nun with cowl and a black backless cape, which left her bottom exposed to the audience as she quickly ran off stage at the end of the performance.
I’ve written here before about how I used to go fanatically out of my way to collect memorabilia related to the movie Candy, in particular items emblazoned with photos of the film’s titular heroine, who was played by the comely Ewa Aulin, a one-time Miss Teen Sweden. Candy, which I didn’t actually see until much later was a “holy grail” movie for me, but when I saw it, my opinion was not favorable. (Nothing could have lived up to my high expectations to begin with, but Candy really sucked. But this isn’t about Candy, you can read what I wrote about that film here).
Another 60s goddess who I have a ridiculous amount of photos, movie posters, picture sleeve records, sheet music and even fine art photographic prints of, is Marianne Faithfull. Of all of my pantheon of 60s goddesses (Ursula Andress, Paula Prentiss, Francoise Hardy, Racquel Welch, Jane Birkin, Sandie Shaw, Joni Mitchell, P.P. Arnold, Claudine Longet) I’d have to say that Faithfull is, by quite a wide margin, my #1 favorite. Quite simply, there was no female anywhere on the planet as cool and as sexy as she was during the 60s. She was born with one of the most classically beautiful faces of all time and she just had that look which embodied the era as no other woman’s look or style could. A goddess, she was and still is.
A film titled Girl on a Motorcycle, alternatively known as Naked Under Leather, was made in 1968 to capitalize on Faithfull’s libertine reputation, acquired as the result of her having only a fur rug wrapped around her otherwise naked body during a drug bust at Keith Richard’s home the year before. In the film, Faithfull famously wears a black-leather catsuit with fur lining. Meow.
There’s not a whole lot of dialogue and even less plot in Girl on a Motorcycle. In a nutshell, Faithfull plays a young woman bored in her marriage who decides to escape, riding through the European on a motorcycle to meet her lover (Alain Delon). The audience hears her thoughts and existential musings. There are some spicy sex scenes with Delon that earned the tame-by-today’s-standards film, an X rating. It’s a little hard to follow and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who cares? That’s not why you’re watching it anyway.
What we basically have in Girl on a Motorcycle is one of the quintessential Swinging 60s time capsule relics of psychedelic sexploitation. Is it a “good movie”? No. Is it a feast for the eyes. YES, indeed it is, and not just because of the gorgeous Ms. Faithfull, either. The European scenery is also brilliantly captured by director Jack Cardiff, a well-respected cinematographer who also shot classic films like The African Queen, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus (Not to mention Rambo: First Blood II). There’s also the psychedelic jazz score from Les Reed to recommend the film.
In summation: Girl on a Motorcycle, it’s 90 minutes of great shot after shot of one of the hottest women ever born riding a motorcycle in a leather catsuit or else having that same catsuit removed by a Frenchman’s teeth. With great music and some solarized psychedelic stuff thrown in for good measure (and to foil censors). The end.
This is the trailer for Girl on a Motorcycle. Picture this going on for about 90 minutes and… you’ll get the idea:
Here’s a page with lots of photos and scans of the many, many different movie posters that were made for this film. I have owned many of these myself. Note, in particular, the Czech and Japanese ones mid-way down the page. This is the kind of thing that I set up Ebay alerts for. (Cinebeats)
Beautiful, erotic, phantasmagoric, the films of Kenneth Anger are a national treasure. Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull, Anton LaVey, and a parade of other 60s luminaries collaborate on this selection of short films. They range from rich mystical imagery and visual essays of psychedelic color to insider documentary footage of bikers and a glittering love letter to early black and white film. Bring blankets, picnic dinner and drinks for the lawn. Please join us under the stars for this very special screening with one of our most legendary filmmakers.
Sunday, July 19th
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
6000 Santa Monica Blvd (at Gower)
Gates 7:30 pm movie 9:00 pm
$10 donation tickets available at gate
Parking available inside
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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