May 1, 2009
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…”
More on Marianne Faithfull | “Why’d Ya Do It”