May 1, 2009
Marianne Faithfull | “Why’d Ya Do It”
ART OF SONG
“Why’d Ya Do It”
1979 | Island Records
A recent op-ed piece in The New York Times asked whether it is possible to part from a myth once it has taken hold. Discussing the potential discovery of the final resting place of Cleopatra VII, one of the original authorities, though not by her own authority, on the art of female seduction – and perhaps of Marc Antony, Cleopatra’s second political lover – Stacy Schiff writes: “What good can be said of a woman who sleeps with two of the most powerful men of her age, however?…Cleopatra has gone down in history as a wanton seductress. She is the original bad girl…And all because she turns up at one of the most dangerous intersections in history, that of women and power. She presides eternally over the chasm between promiscuity and virility…”
Whether or not Cleopatra actually lived up to her reputation “as a wanton seductress” in reality (she didn’t), is of little consequence as long as her myth of licentiousness persists. The uncovering of her tomb and its findings may alter the facts – but our image of her as a petite glamour queen unwrapped from a Persian rug may prove too iconic to roll up again.
Another powerful, potent woman with a legendary rug and a few leading men in her past, whose life would have been told by others, but for her excellent co-written autobiography Faithfull and a second volume, Memories, Dreams and Reflections: Marianne Faithfull. She began as a supporting chanteuse in a male-dominated music scene of the ’60s, but has long since come into her own as a first-rate performer, collaborator, interpreter, and actor. With her well-documented, drawn-out heroin addiction, she also almost fit, like Cleopatra, into one of the few gendered “formulas” Schiff sees for female legend-making: “delusion…disability…” or “death…”
Faithfull’s struggle with a falsified reputation, however, is the inverse of Cleopatra’s posthumous one. Hers has been a fight against a marketed association with female innocence. In a recent Telegraph article, she touches on this topic: “‘Male singers’, she asserts, ‘have always been allowed to occupy a range of roles. But with a woman, you’re meant to express something else: wife, mother, love, purity is what it is. Well, I haven’t got purity and I don’t think I ever did. I have always been, even as a child, a very decadent little person…That virginal image was one of the things I couldn’t stand, cause I knew it was really false. And that’s why I thought I had to work so hard to smash it!’”
No song in her expansive repertoire does more to “smash it” than “Why’d Ya Do It,” a no-holds-barred recording of the physicality of infidelity, off of 1979’s Broken English – a work that demands respect and retribution for (perceived to be) fallen women everywhere. Told in the voice of the adulterer, the lyrics recount his conversation with his jilted mate about the act. The latter leads it, and her questioning jabs hit below the belt. “‘Why’d ya do it,’ she said, ‘Why’d you spit on my snatch?/Are we out of love now, is this just a bad patch?’”
Faithfull, still alive and well and performing in multiple genres, has determined to be the maker of her own myth.
by Meghan Roe