The great women of history, raging sublime beasts in heat for fame, glory and frocks –Joan of Arc, Gertrude Stein, Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, St Theresa, Sappho, Elizabeth I, Bonnie Parker, Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, Helen of Troy, Lucrezia Borgia, Queen Victoria, Nell Gwyn – monsters, mannequins, burlesque queens, saints in the throes of ecstasy, suicidal movie stars, and humid wenches selling oranges and pussy. The sullen illustrious bitches of the past, salivating, ovulating, panting for the frenzy of renown. Fuck syntax! Fuck the Roman Empire! Fuck ze English dogs! Fuck everyone! The audience is my lover! God is my lover! I am god (you are fools)! Superhuman entities! But as soon as you lift the fig leaf of destiny, what do you find? Almost everything about these colossi turns out to be the opposite of what you thought they were. I’d always confused Cleopatra (whose name, oddly enough, means “fame from Daddy”) with Elizabeth Taylor, but in fact Cleo, it turns out, was a mousy, bookish ruthless real estate tycoon. Queen Victoria, the epitome of Victorian prudery, was, it seems, something of a nymphomaniac. (My wife, however, insists there is no such thing.) And now, the History Channel tells me that Catherine the Great didn’t fuck a horse – Jesus, it’s practically the only thing I know about her. And Gertrude Stein, who superficially might seem as erotic as Bologna railway station, apparently gave off such potent pheromones she got Papa Hemingway horny. It’s as if in some occult way, great women are the negatives of the indelible icons they project, as if their very inadequacies and deficiencies bring forth these positive images, in the same way that the vagina – the great mystery of the world – is, in truth a hole.
Where the male quest for recognition takes the form of posturing for their statue in the park, women, characteristically, take a more contrary approach to the business of fame. As many dissimilar elements as possible should be included, mimicking like some deranged tropical bird the contradictory roles – whore, Madonna, soccer mum – society expects them to undertake. Women, who through evolutionary conjuring, created breasts to mimic buttocks when the missionary position became fashionable, are capable of absolutely anything. Biology, in other words, is destiny only to those with no sense of style. Two of the great broads with whom I’ve worked, Janis Joplin and Marianne Faithfull, were quintessential rock molls . Both are flawless examples of the celebrity conundrum. Being essentially beatniks, they weren’t even going to admit they were stars. When I interviewed Janis for Rolling Stone, her rap went something like this: “I’m not a star, man... I have one thing I can do, and I’m gettin’ better at it – I think – which makes me feel not so much like a fluke, man, which I think I was. I was just lucky. I happened to have the right combination of things at the right time. I have to get undressed after the show, my clothes are ruined, my heels are run through, my underwear is ripped, my body’s stained from my clothes, my hair’s stringy, I got a headache and I’m lonely, and I’m pleading with my road manager to please give me a ride home, please, please, just so I can take off these fucking clothes, and that ain’t no star, man. I’ve had the same beads on forever, and the same ‘Hiya, boys’ style I still put on so I can get laid.” On stage, Janis was a sort of self-impersonator, acting out the sexy, erotic and glamorous star she thought she was meant to be.
David Dalton, Revered Rock Writer, Revels In The Myth And Mystery That Make Up The Women Men Worship
Off stage, away from any public glare, Janis was philosophical and introverted, and heart-breakingly vulnerable. On the road, she would spend as much time reading books in her room as she would carousing in the motel bar. She was an actress portraying the legendary broads of the blues and old West muleskinners: Bessie Smith and Calamity Jane. Her calamity was the belief that she had to act out this larger-than-life character. Marianne... that’s another story entirely. “Marianne Faithfull” is a kind of doppelgäänger made up entirely of her own body parts. “She’s a marionette, darling, and I keep her wrapped up in a box in tissue paper and moth balls, and take her out and dust her off at the start of a tour,” she tells me. On stage, Marianne is a ten-foot-tall cigarettes-and-whisky-soaked Athena with a Weimar voice that reeks of decadence and Weltscmerz. Backstage, there’s a tiny person sitting in front of her make-up mirror looking somewhat forlorn and insecure, and relieved that she got away with it once again. The dislocation between “Marianne Faithfull”, the legendary wanton hippie chick who summons up a hedonistic decade,
and the pratfalling, self-doubting Marianne, is both shocking and hilarious. Her own rueful acknowledgment of this makes her one of the funniest people on earth. Janis Joplin was a freight train of 60s raunch, artfully spun out of the dream history of America. Marianne’s case is a little more complicated and serendipitous. Mostly, it’s woven of received images: the beautiful pre-Raphaelite maiden, the Girl in the Fur Rug of the Redlands bust, the junkie punk chanteuse of Broken English, and our own Lotte Lenya. True heroines generate their mythic “others”, hallucinated selves conjured out of art, maquillage, sexual magic, and make-believe, and embody their creations with such ferocious intensity that we never doubt their reality. To turn oneself inside-out in the service of a dream image may seem an act of perverse genius, but it generates an alternating current that draws us to them so irresistibly that no paltry biographical fact can ever diminish the frothy visions they’ve projected. All we see is the movie in their heads – the flickering light of an over-the-top desire that burns away the dross of dull habit and base circumstance.
60 AnOtherMan Manifesto