The Rolling Stones may continue to tour, long after they are hobbling onstage with canes or zipping about in motorized wheelchairs, but on June 13, the soul of the band died with Anita Pallenberg.
When she met them, they were just one of many boy bands in suits. There’s a reason the “British Invasion” was called the British Invasion. There were a whole lot of bands coming out of England right at that moment and they were pretty much divided up into The Beatles and all the rest.
Yeah, the Stones had that bluesy thing going on but they didn’t really break away from the pack until Pallenberg made her way backstage after a show in 1965. It’s hard to overestimate the influence she had.
It’s hard to give her role a name. She did some backup singing on “Sympathy for the Devil” and notes from her were often taken seriously during post-production. “Muse” is one of the kinder words for her role. “Groupie” or “band aid” are names that might be used by less kind people.
She was definitely a girlfriend, with Brian Jones being the first of the Stones to fall under her spell. When he turned abusive, she moved on to Keith Richards and had three children with him. It is also rumored that there was a bit of a sexual romp with Mick Jagger live onstage when they were starring in the film “Performance” together. Pallenberg denied it to her dying day but Keith Richards claimed it happened in his memoir “Life,” rather charmingly saying Mick was lucky Pallenberg hadn’t broken his back.
But shenanigans of the boudoir — and sound stage — aside, Pallenberg’s enduring contribution was the band’s style. Keith Richards, who is often said to be one of the great style icons of late 20th century, freely admits his famous style came from stealing clothes from her closet, during the 13 years they were a couple.
Most bands will evolve their style over time as they take on new projects, or simply as time goes by, and seldom has a band seen more time go by than the Rolling Stones, and yet, Mick and Keith are still doddering around, their clothes not appreciably changed from the first time Anita Pallenberg picked out their outfits.
The look that Pallenberg is known for, what we now call luxe hippy or rich hippy or just boho chic, is simply a mashup of high and low, good and bad, new and old. Ubiquitous now, and rarely out of fashion for long, it was revolutionary when Pallenberg pulled her first “smoking gun heroine” fur chubby over a floral miniskirt and stuck an ostrich feather in her floppy hat. Until then, it had been customary to buy a head-to-toe look from one designer or to do one’s best to coordinate accessories so tightly that it appeared to have all come from the same place.
Pallenberg changed that forever. It wasn’t long until everybody was doing it, and it is now what we think of as the look of the late 1960s but gaze at the provenance of anything from that period and it all goes back to Pallenberg. Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba label led the trend in ’30s Hollywood revivalism but Pallenberg owned the vintage gowns she was copying. On a trip to Hollywood when the Stones were recording “Let it Bleed,” she bought a job-lot of Bette Davis’ old furs.
Kate Moss, arguably the best known of modern proponents of boho chic, must get up each morning and say to herself, “What would Anita Pallenberg wear today?” Moss has, in her extensive wardrobe, a Biba playsuit given to her by Pallenberg. See, it all goes back to Anita.
In the ’90s, Pallenberg went to London’s Central Saint Martins, arguably the best fashion school in the world, and then decided not to pursue a formal career. She must have been a mega-star there. Every fashionista has a rotating list of influences and muses, and though the lists vary to some extent, they all contain three names, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve and Anita Pallenberg, though not always in that order.
And while it’s hard to clearly define Anita Pallenberg’s role with the Rolling Stones, perhaps the best word is “rock chick” because she was — and there’s no way to put this delicately — a badass. She was born in German-occupied Rome during the war, survived 13 years with Keith Richards, drink for drink and heroin hit for heroin hit, and not just as a passive follower.
Though she cleaned up before he did, there is evidence that while in the throes of the heavy drugs, she was the baddest of them all. On at least one occasion, fault for the arrests fall squarely in her court and there was that unfortunate later incident when the younger boyfriend shot himself in her house although no arrest resulted in that one. She steered clear of Botox and plastic surgery when other women of her fame and status were all getting it done, and lived through all of it to tell the tale. Until she was 73, or maybe 75. On that point, she was never entirely clear.
And though I don’t think prowess at consuming dangerous drugs an admirable trait, it does point to a trait that I admire more than any other, fearlessness. At every stage of her life, Anita Pallenberg was that. And that is what real badassery is all about.
Well, we still have her movies, the above-mentioned “Performance,” “Barbarella” where she plays an evil space queen, and almost 40 others. Not least among them is the delicious episode of AbFab where she played the Devil to Marianne Faithfull’s God, another one who stole her look. Marianne, not God, although I wouldn’t be surprised if (s)he did as well.
A memoir would have been useful to flesh out some of the missing details of her life and she toyed with the idea but ultimately decided not to. As she said at the time, If Posh Spice is writing an autobiography, then it’s not something I want to do.
Gotta love her.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.