Friday, October 16, 2009

Marianne Faithfull in Big Sur

A siren’s sultry song brought us back to Big Sur, California for an encore visit. Legendary singer and enchantress, Marianne Faithfull, was going to perform at an outdoor benefit concert at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, and we had to be there.

Marianne Faithfull first became famous in the sixties at age 17, for her rendition of “As Tears Go By”, a song written by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. She also gained some notoriety as Jagger’s girlfriend, and for her years of hard-living.

The Henry Miller Memorial Library was established in 1981, and is located on Highway 1 in Big Sur. The Library’s redwood cabin and grounds were the gift of the artist Emil White, Miller’s long-time friend and assistant. It houses a trove of Miller’s personal papers, a bookshop, and is also a cultural and educational center for the community.

Novelist Henry Miller is well known for his controversial books “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn”, but he also wrote “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.”

He was passionate about music, and wrote the following: “I prefer music above all arts, because it is so absolutely sufficient unto itself and because it tends toward silence.”

When planning concert events, the Library tries to select performers that “Henry would have approved of.” Past benefit concerts at the Library have featured the likes of Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and Patti Smith. The posters from these concerts have become collectors’ items, and can still be purchased at the Library.

When the gates were finally flung open at 7:00 P.M, a small crowd of waiting fans streamed in. We followed strings of tiny fairy lights and candles, to the outdoor concert venue, which resembled a magical bohemian grove. With less than 200 seats, it was a very intimate setting. As part of the event, the Library also hosted an alfresco wine tasting on the deck.

The tradition at these concerts is to begin with Magnus Toren, the Library’s director, singing a song by Dan Bern entitled, “Marilyn”. Many people confuse Henry Miller with Arthur Miller (the playwright who was married to Marilyn Monroe). The first line of this song explains that “Marilyn Monroe didn’t marry Henry Miller”.

Then it was time for Marianne.

Her performance style is very cabaret-like, perhaps influenced by Kurt Weill whom she greatly admires. Her voice and presence are reflective of a woman who has been there, done that and survived. Accompanied by an amazing guitarist, Doug Pettibone, her songs at times seemed autobiographical. She sang “Broken English” (inspired by Ulrike Meinhof), “Why’d Ya Do It?” with a raunchy reggae beat (lyrics by English poet Heathcote Williams), “Strange Weather”, “The Crane Wife 3”, and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”. When she finally performed “As Tears Go By”, the entire audience sang along.

Afterwards, Ms. Faithfull sat outside in the cold and graciously autographed my poster (which now hangs in our hall). Later, everyone, including Marianne, headed down the road to the Big Sur Bakery for the after-party.

Here are a few interesting things that you might not know about Marianne.

This former rock princess is actually royalty. She is descended from the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg line, and has just inherited the title of Baroness Sacher-Masoch.

Befitting her royal status she once lived near Leixlip Castle in Shell Cottage on the grounds of Carton House, in Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland. The cottage was decorated inside and out by Lady Emily Fitzgerald (1731-1814), with shells from around the world. Marianne resided there for 10 years, but now lives mainly in Paris.

In 2006 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is truly a survivor!

The poet, Allan Ginsburg, an old friend, once referred to her as the “Professor of Poetics, Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets”.

How Henry would have enjoyed this evening!

Sur la route,


  1. Amazing! I have long loved her voice and didn't know she is actually royalty. This looks like it was an absolutely magical night! That poster, by the way, is fab. xoxo

  2. I'm an English child of the '60's, so Marianne was so much a part of my teenage years. Isn't it great that she still is performing ? Great that she signed your poster. XXXX

  3. Sounds like a great evening. Would love to have that signed poster hanging in my hall.

  4. Oh my goodness, what a night. And that shell decorated know that has me written all over it.

  5. What a wonderfully fabulous night! thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Leslie.. Ginger here
    Well.. I know i should be engrossed by this magical night you have experienced with this fine legend, but my attention is distracted by the Shell Cottage!!

    OK back now... Marjorie.. this looks fabulous! What an evening .. and only 200 seat!! You must know someone who knows someone!!

    Have a wonderful week. x Julie

  7. Fabulous story, what a night how lovely, I also loved the gates with the posters on, beautiful, thankyou
    Love and hugs Lynn xxx

  8. My absolute favorite song of hers is The Ballad of Lucie Jordan. Just love it!

  9. I've always loved her, never seen her perform and have always wanted to. You made it all come alive. It must have been grand. All the details, all the ambiance -- thank you, thank you. You make me want to fun out and buy a CD.

    You must feel giddy with a poster signed by a legend.

    Warm regards,

  10. How brilliant - what a fantastic evening, xv.

  11. What a gorgeous setting for a concert! Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

  12. What a magical night. I never knew that much about her. It's interesting to see the life of an artist and their ups and downs. Hope she is in a happy place now!
    ps....i'd love to get a group together to go to Paris!!!

  13. God I love that woman... such an awesome post! Thank you so very very very much for the kind comment over at Urban Flea, it really meant a lot on a particularly nasty day. Thanks m'dear!

    xo Katherine aka. Urban Flea :)

  14. How wonderful it sounds! My husband and I were in the very front of the theatre for her Royce Hall concert here in Los Angeles the previous week - magic! It's a measure of the devotion Marianne inspires that I once - on my birthday in 1999, in fact - flew from Los Angeles to my (old hometown) London for her 'Vagabond Ways' concert at the Adelphi Theatre, then afterwards flew back to California... and Marianne made it all worth it! But surely she performed more than just 6 songs at the Library? I'd love to know the full set list if anyone recalls.

  15. I recently saw Marianne Faithfull at Town Hall in New York City. She was fantastic. I wrote about her my blog.

    It was interesting to read in your blog that she was a baroness.

    Thanks for the info.
    Frank Grimaldi

  16. incroyable,j'adore marianne Faithfull et j'ai un bon souvenir de mon passage à Big SUR!!!