Feminism? Pfft! Marianne Faithfull practically spat the word at me when I interviewed her in 2017. Then she rowed back, conceding that she’d spent most of her life ‘standing up for women’s rights… I’ve had to.’
In chronic pain with arthritis, she’d struggled into a comfy chair while directing me to squat on the mucky floor at her feet. Who could blame her? From the moment the record producer and impresario Andrew Loog Oldham first packaged her as a teenage ‘angel with big tits’, the media had refused to treat her with respect. She’d been sold first as a virgin, then as a whore – the posh convent girl corrupted by Mick Jagger, found wrapped in only a rug at the Redlands drug bust. While the Stones’ wild behaviour saw them celebrated as rock’n’roll pirates, their women’s ambitions and reputations were tossed overboard.
That sexist narrative is crisply corrected in Elizabeth Winder’s deliciously gossipy Parachute Women. It tells the story of the four clever, charismatic women who, between 1965 and 1972, helped forge the sound and style of the macho Rolling Stones: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías and Anita Pallenberg. Winder, an American poet, has also written books about Marilyn Monroe and Sylvia Plath, so she’s got form when it comes to restoring complex humanity to 20th-century muses. But she writes more as swooning fan than scholar, her prose prostrate at Pallenberg’s gladiator-sandalled feet from the off.
The 23-year-old Pallenberg first met the Stones backstage in Berlin in 1965. Winder invites us to picture the ‘Teutonic goddess’ leaning against the spotty lads’ dressing room door, ‘her smile cocky, revealing flashes of fanglike teeth’. She dug into her pocket for a vial of amyl nitrate, then asked: ‘Vant to smoke a joint?’ The Stones had never taken drugs before.