Having survived a serious bout of COVID-19, Marianne Faithfull is back with a new record to be released on April 30th. Her 21st studio album, She Walks in Beauty finds Faithfull reading the works of Romantic poets to music and sound textures provided by Bad Seeds' Warren Ellis and the likes of Brian Eno and Nick Cave.
This piece in The Guardian reveals the harrowing details of Faithfull's COVID hospitalization, the after-effects of the virus (she may never be able to sing again), and her forthcoming record.
Incredibly, she quickly returned to work, completing She Walks in Beauty, which perhaps says something about her passion for the album coming out in April, an unexpected project even given her eclectic latter-day solo discography, which has involved reinterpreting Kurt Weill's 1933 ballet chanté The Seven Deadly Sins, collaborating with Blur and Pulp, and covering everyone from Duke Ellington to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. On She Walks in Beauty, Faithfull reads the work of the Romantic poets – Keats' To Autumn, and Ode to a Nightingale; Shelley's Ozymandias; Wordsworth's Prelude – to backings provided by Ellis, with contributions from Brian Eno and Nick Cave.
"She wasn't actually meant to make it through," says her musical collaborator, Warren Ellis, best known as Nick Cave's chief foil in the Bad Seeds. "That she survived it – it's insane." Her situation seemed so grim that Ellis received a concerned text about her welfare from her long-term friend and producer Hal Willner, himself ill with Covid: Willner died of the virus the day after it was sent. Her management put out a statement saying she was responding well to treatment, but Faithfull says that in hospital, the doctors took a less optimistic approach. Once recovered, she read her medical notes and found the phrase "palliative care only".
Ellis says that She Walks in Beauty is the album Faithfull has "wanted to make all her life". There's a chance that it might also be her last: the after-effects of Covid on her lungs mean she is currently unable to sing. "And I may not be able to sing ever again," she says. "Maybe that's over. I would be incredibly upset if that was the case, but, on the other hand, I am 74. I don't feel cursed and I don't feel invincible. I just feel fucking human. But what I do believe in, which gives me hope, I do believe in miracles. You know, the doctor, this really nice National Health doctor, she came to see me and she told me that she didn't think my lungs would ever recover. And where I finally ended up is: OK, maybe they won't, but maybe, by a miracle, they will. I don't know why I believe in miracles. I just do. Maybe I have to, the journey I've been on, the things that I've put myself through, that I've got through so far and I'm OK. Does that sound really corny?"
No, I say, I don't think it sounds corny. It sounds hopeful. "Yes," she says. "We must be hopeful – it's really important. And I am, yes. I'm bloody still here."