As I prepare for my interview with Marianne Faithfull -- 60s babe, Ab Fab icon and unapologetically aging sex goddess -- I've absorbed enough info about her notorious bitchiness with the press that I've worked myself into a state of abject terror. Oh, great, yet another person I admire is going to turn out to be totally rude and undeserving of respect. I hate that.
Faithfull, to my relief, turned out to be quite the opposite: forthcoming, funny and friendly.
Phew!, I keep thinking to myself as she talks at length from a friend's home in Bel Air, where she's recuperating from a nasty cold -- I don't have to tear another page out of my ever-thinning book of cool.
For her latest record, Kissin' Time, Faithfull enlisted the talents of a bevy of boy artists, including Beck, Billy Corgan, Jarvis Cocker, Blur and Dave Stewart, which is a change for the gravel-voiced singer.
"I wanted people whose music I really like, and they had to like me," she says, which if true means she's liked by some pretty interesting guys.
The result of the collaborations is still undeniably Marianne Faithfull. The very first cut, Sex With Strangers, an electro-funk Beck collaboration about anonymous sex, seems to have made quite a few people uncomfortable, since women in their 50s aren't supposed to sing about such things.
Never mind that she's done way more drugs, had way more sex and rocked and rolled way harder than you ever will. Why make her sew up her snatch and start wearing beige just to fit somebody's ideal of the older woman?
"I let people think what they like," she says on the subject with a laugh. "I live in the moment and I know who I am, and I'm obviously a vibrant, sexual person. If people do have a problem with that, well, there you go."
The record does have its ups and downs. Some of the tracks are wicked or beautiful, like Song For Nico and Like Being Born, reminiscent of As Tears Go By.
One of the major ups, though, is Jarvis Cocker's Sliding Through Life On Charm. Cocker wrote the eerily fitting lyrics based on Faithfull's autobiography. Imagine a line like "Suburban shits who want some class all queue up to kiss my ass" sung in Faithfull's smoke 'n' bourbon voice.
"I think he really caught my sort of non-conformity and defiance," she says. "I was amazed. I didn't really understand it at first. It took me about a year of listening to it to really get it, but it's a really great portrait and very accurate, actually."
But "No!" she says when asked if she's been sliding through life on charm.
"It's a joke! The whole thing is hanging on a joke. It's like saying, "I know how it looks, I know how it appears.'"
Trans: I know some people think I'm famous for nothing. Big deal.
While Faithfull does perform several of her new tunes live (sans collaborators), she doesn't eschew her older material. She'll be doing Why'd Ya Do It?, Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, Working-Class Hero and Broken English.
When I ask if she has any regrets, she's equally open.
"Well, I regret I wasn't nicer to my parents, but I think everybody with any sort of heart goes through that once their parents are dead. You know, you never realize what you've got until you've lost it.
"And I think I could say, though I'm not really sure about this, I have a feeling it was a waste of my time taking heroin."
MARIANNE FAITHFULL with Red Suede Red at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne), Tuesday (December 10). $45. 416-870-8000.