Working With Injury: Loss, Imperfection And Art

In one of those increasingly prevalent and startling online juxtapositions, YouTube has clips of Marianne Faithfull singing identical arrangements of “As Tears Go By” that are separated by 44 years of living–a period in??which she lost her voice and first-blush beauty and, in the process, found herself. What emerges is a portrait of an artist who has grown into her material, filling it out with hard-earned maturity.

She owns the 2009 version of “As Tear Go By” in ways that are both unimaginable and impossible in 1965. In 2009, she plucks the song from within herself, singing from a vantage of understanding; the missed notes of her wabi-sabi voice enriching the song instead of diminishing it.

In 1965, the mission had clearly been negotiation of the next phrase, while in 2009, she’s thinking ahead to the succeeding conveyance of emotion. Solemn wistfulness has been replaced by a complex, world-weary bemusement: Four decades have significantly shifted the song’s center of gravity–where it was once about experiencing, it’s now about recollection.

This is underscored by revisiting a 45-year-old pop hit using its original arrangement. By choosing the same musical frame for an unavoidably much-changed performance, Faithfull is signaling that this is not marginal gloss on or a reinterpretation of her earlier version. Rather, it’s a deconstruction of personal and pop history–an act of artistic defiance. Using the same arrangement purposely inserts an unequal sign between the two performances–the absence of further continuity forces the listener to focus instead on the differences.

In her own “Bored By Dreams” (from A Secret Life), Faithfull observed, “After a certain age / Every artist works with injury.” And that’s what I think her 2009 Jagger/Richards simulacrum is doing–tapping into the lessons learned from missteps and demonstrating their uses . . .