NEW YORK — Marianne Faithfull had no sooner ripped through her opening song — a blistering version of her comeback smash, "Broken English" — Sunday night when she approached the mic and uttered the words the sold out crowd at the Kaye Playhouse feared hearing most.
"I've got bad news," she said. "I'm afraid I've lost my voice."
Faithfull, the '60s teen sensation turned icon, was in New York for two rare, belated performances. Concerts earlier in the year, scheduled to coincide with the American release of her new CD, Vagabond Ways, had been canceled due to health problems, and now it seemed her fans would have to wait yet again.
The previous night's show had strained Faithfull's voice and she feared she couldn't deliver a performance that met her own "very high standards."
Two days after the show, which did indeed go on, Faithfull could barely manage more than a gruff whisper.
"I don't know why that happened," she says of her strained pipes, laughing, "Thank God for steroids! I used to blame it on really bad coke!
"Now obviously, I don't take all that stuff any more!" she quickly adds. "But people think I haven't got a voice anyway!"
It's a disaster when any singer loses their voice, but for Marianne Faithfull, it's particularly tragic. The rough, cracked, even scarred instrument that Faithfull possesses is as responsible for her legendary status as is her sordid past. Her voice is testament to that past, a lifetime of self-destructive behavior that included years of drug abuse and heroin addiction. The smoky rasp Faithfull now wields is hardly recognizable from the gentle, lilting teenage soprano that first put her on the charts in 1964, at age 17, with her rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' "As Tears Go By."
After the years of living dangerously that followed her debut, no one expected Faithfull to survive, let alone thrive. But despite her staying power, Faithfull doesn't see herself as a role model for teen stars today.
"Most kids would say, 'This woman? I don't want to make those mistakes!'" Faithfull muses. "I'm sort of an anti-role model."
And while she says she doesn't pay too much attention to Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera ("I can't say I take any notice, really"), she does think they should not be judged too harshly.
"I didn't see the MTV Awards, but I am an avid reader of the rubbish press. I felt sorry for Britney Spears," she says of the skewering Spears received for the skimpy outfit she wore for her MTV performance. "They should just cut Britney a bit of slack, she's too young to be hurt so much by people being nasty."
As for the barbs — verbal or otherwise — that she endured over the years, Faithfull has no regrets. "I could have done without the heroin addiction, personally," she says. "But I wouldn't leave anything else out."