MARIANNE Faithfull has never been much for nostalgia throughout a roller-coaster career that's found her constantly reinventing herself. But when her band played As Tears Go By on her US concert tour last year, she found herself flashing back to where her wild ride all began.
"If you'd have told me that at 62, I'd still be singing As Tears Go By to a rapt audience, I couldn't imagine that," says Faithfull. "For years I've done it very acoustically but with this band, we decided to make a new arrangement that was more close to the original with horns and strings. It's incredibly moving for me. It's like (turning) back the years."
The song takes Faithfull back to 1964 when the 17-year-old convent school girl turned up at a party at an art gallery owned by her future first husband, John Dunbar. Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones' manager, spotted the blonde and asked if she could sing.
"The first party I went to in London where I was discovered by Andrew Oldham - all the Beatles were there and the Stones were there too," says Faithfull. Soon after, Oldham brought the soprano with an angelic voice into the studio to record the melancholy As Tears Go By, the first song co-written by Keith Richards and her soon-to-be boyfriend Mick Jagger.
"It's a strange song to get a 17-year-old to sing. It's all about a woman looking back on her youth, not participating, I couldn't really feel it... But now I can really feel it and it's very beautiful... I got to the right age where the woman in the song is," says Faithfull, who now sings the song in her world-weary contralto voice roughened by too much tobacco and booze in her colourful past.
But Faithfull has little in common with the song's protagonist who is content "to sit and watch" as her life goes by. She has gone from singing light folk-rock in the '60s to becoming a leading interpreter of the dark pre-World War II Berlin theatrical music of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Faithfull is proud of her role as muse to the Rolling Stones in their early years, inspiring such songs as You Can't Always Get What You Want, Wild Horses, and Sister Morphine (for which she belatedly received credit for writing the lyrics). And she was a muse to the Beats - Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughts and Gregory Corso - in their later years.
"I like to be involved in every time as it goes past," says Faithfull, interviewed over lunch at an Italian restaurant in lower Manhattan. "I want to write a new script for myself."
The latest script is her new album Easy Come, Easy Go, on which she interprets songs spanning nearly a century of popular music from Duke Ellington and Dolly Parton to Neko Case and the Decembrists. It has a contemporary feel thanks to collaborations with younger musicians such as Chan Marshall, known as Cat Power, and two children of her musician friends, Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon.
"It's not just an old person singing covers, no, thank God," she says, distinguishing it from albums by contemporaries like Rod Stewart. …