© Dino de Laurentiis / Paramount Pictures
A word that frequently came up in tributes to the Italian model and actress Anita Pallenberg, who passed away last week, was ‘muse’ – i.e. muse to the Rolling Stones, a couple of whose members she was involved with during the 1960s and 1970s. She started off as girlfriend to Brian Jones, was Keith Richards’ partner for more than a decade and was rumoured to have had a fling with Mick Jagger, though this rumour she always denied.
It was no doubt frustrating for Pallenberg to have her life defined almost entirely by the Rolling Stones, even though she was only associated with them for 15 years. I read somewhere that she abandoned a project to write an autobiography because the publisher kept demanding that she put more in it about the Stones.
Still, if you’re a Stones fan, as I am, you should be toasting Pallenberg’s memory just now because she was with them during a period when they were truly on fire and deserving of the moniker ‘the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world’ – from the Beggar’s Banquet album (1968), through Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971), to Exile on Main Street (1972) – and her influence surely played a part in the band’s greatness at the time. It’s said that once Beggar’s Banquet was in the can, Jagger took her advice and remixed the tracks; and she provided backing vocals for the album’s most famous and notorious song, Sympathy for the Devil. The Stones’ then bodyguard and drugs procurer Tony Sanchez claimed that Pallenberg was into the occult and would carry around garlic and holy water to ward off evil, and I like to think her esoteric interests contributed to the spooky vibe that Sympathy is famous for.
Years later, when her relationship with Keith Richards was on its last legs, she at least provided the inspiration for Richards’ song All About You, one of the few good things on that duff Stones album Emotional Rescue (1980).
As an actress, Pallenberg’s filmography included the Marco Ferreri-directed Dillinger is Dead (1967) and the Marlon Brando film Candy (1968), but for sheer iconic-ness it’s her role as the villainous Black Queen in Roger Vadim’s sex-comedy-sci-fi-fantasy movie Barbarella (1968) that she’ll be remembered for. Sporting a piratical eye-patch, Pallenberg doesn’t really have to do much acting in Barbarella, since her voice is dubbed by veteran actress Joan Greenwood. But she looks great. I have to say that for me she’s the only reason to watch Barbarella, as I’ve always found it annoyingly smug and leery and – worst of all – totally not funny. Then again, I don’t think there’s any ‘swinging 1960s’ comedy movies that I like. Yip, Help! (1965), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale (1967), The Magic Christian (1969), even The Italian Job (1969) – I hate them all.
© Goodtime Enterprises / Warner Bros
Pallenberg also appears, of course, in Performance (1968) – the famous and psychedelically weird crime-rock movie co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg, which tells the story of an on-the-run gangster (James Fox) who holes up in a mansion belonging to a burnt-out rock star (Mick Jagger) and gets involved in some mind-bendingly druggy goings-on. Pallenberg plays one of the mansion’s female inhabitants – she memorably welcomes Fox when he rings the doorbell by saying over the intercom, “Please leave a message after the beep. Beep, beep, BEEP!” Performance neatly captures the dark, dangerous aura that was popularly associated with the Stones at the time and it did the film’s scary reputation no harm that afterwards Fox underwent a ‘crisis’, dropped out of acting for a decade-and-a-half and became an evangelical Christian. When I first saw the film as an impressionable teenager, it certainly blew my socks off.
Talking of socks… Keith Richards had and still has a deep-rooted aversion to the film, thanks to the sexual shenanigans that Pallenberg supposedly got up to with Jagger during filming. He believed these shenanigans were orchestrated by Donald Cammell, presumably as a way of getting Pallenberg and Jagger further ‘in character’. In his autobiography Life, Richards describes Cammell as “the most destructive little turd I have ever met.” But actually, if you’re to believe Life, old Keith didn’t have that much to complain about. He claims that he got his revenge on Mick Jagger during the filming of Performance by nipping around to the house of Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, and getting up to some ‘hot and sweaty’ hi-jinks with her. Supposedly, while they were in the middle of this, Jagger unexpectedly arrived home – which led to Richards having to shin his way down the drainpipe from Faithfull’s bedroom window. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to put his socks back on and left them lying on the floor. However, Jagger, who was obviously a bit of a slob, didn’t think there was anything amiss about a pair of rogue socks littering Faithfull’s bedroom and suspected nothing.
Thanks to Richards’ loathing of Performance, one Jagger-Richards song that’s never been played at Rolling Stones gigs and is unlikely to ever be played at future ones is Memo from Turner, which soundtracks a particularly strange sequence at the movie’s climax. On the Performance recording of the song, Jagger is the only Stone involved, doing vocal duties, while Ry Cooder plays slide-guitar (wonderfully) and Randy Newman plays piano. It’s a shame that we’ll never hear a live Stones version of it as it’s a belter. (I’m also partial to this cover of it by forgotten 1980s retro-rockers Diesel Park West.)
Then again, I guess the omission of Memo from Turner from Stones concert set-lists is another example of the lasting influence that the late Anita Pallenberg had over a band who, for a few heady years at least, really were the best in the world.