Marianne Faithfull: Blazing Away

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Marianne Faithfull lived on a wall for almost two years, listening to the smack talk. ‘Sister Morphine’ is a disturbing prelude to her future, written before her descent into a seamy world where the underbelly was red-raw with the fresh meat of addiction. Her voice, inflections and music rode the sweet chariot to musical revelation after the injection of heroin. By the time the live album Blazing Away was made, she still wasn’t clean but had summoned her demons to the stage to play.

There really is no accounting for the depths to which manic depression, trauma and mental torment can bring you; the lows when loss is still a way of life, when your body and mind want to stop the world and get off. Nothing can describe the hopelessness as you wander from lover to lover, home to home, seeking kicks to prop you up, all the while not daring to face the person in the mirror. Looking into yourself can be the moment it’s all over, so you protect yourself: you take a walk around Times Square, you think about danger, you fire it up like gunpowder.

But the day you finally see, despite your pain and despite serious mental illness, is the day the coalition finally breaks, for better or worse.

It happened to me some years ago when I found myself wandering the streets in the middle of February with bare feet after an epic 48 hours at various hotels and apartments, snorting, smoking, imbibing, rubbing, swallowing and gulping fluids, powders, pills and chasers. My heart, mind and skin were mired in New York’s bitter gutter, my life a medicated, loveless wreck, my dreams no longer flying from the mast. I was alone; no one cared, or if they did I couldn’t hear.

I looked into a shop window and finally realised what the world saw: a haunted, unfocused spirit in a fur jacket, dirty bare feet, eyes still perfectly painted on like a false-lashed gateway to apathy. I had become an actress, looking back in the window, comatose, with real fear of nothing that resembled life but was now just a stage on which to play out all of my basest instincts. I was a shell, no longer hearing the sea or the terrified words of my ancestors. I may as well have been dead, my shroud coming down like the blinds in a funeral home. My soul was no longer with me.

I never travelled quite as far into my dark side as Marianne did, but I was close enough to understand her words. Given a little longer, I would have found myself on a wall; I too would have listened to what it said, if only I hadn’t seen myself that day. Now, years later, I have managed to conquer the demons that ruled me like Aaron’s Rod, but addiction is still all around me. Dear friends suffer as I write this and, much as I want to offer help, I know there is none.

Until you look in the mirror, see yourself as you really are, and understand that unless you learn to rule yourself gently, without blame, guilt or shame, the tears of your loved ones will roll off your back and their entreaties will mean nothing. You will continue to lock yourself into dark rooms and practise dark deeds with sweet cousin cocaine and his rowdy devilish band, no matter the consequence. The vicious cycle continues apace, until you stop lining up on the mirror and look at what you truly see within it instead. And it’s a hard day when you finally do. But an even harder life if you don’t.

I got help some time after that day, acknowledged my many ghosts, undid the heavy manacles that whispered to me that they were good for my guilt and found that I could still write, that my dreams were alive if somewhat tattered, that my walk on the wild side was at least subdued and easier to bear now, as long as I heeded the warning signs and retreated when temptation knocked.

This album takes me to a starless place in my life which I, like Marianne Faithfull, chose to survive.

I chose to keep the sheets on my bed pure as snow, not stained red with a life taken too soon.

Dedicated to those suffering with addiction or mental illness, to their families and friends.

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2 Comments

  1. A story often seen but not told with such articulation. Too many friends have given in…

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