Suzanne Moore: The actress and model was so much more than a style icon or Rolling Stones muse. But she had to live with being constantly compared to her 20-year-old self and found wanting
Sitting on a park bench overlooking Ocho Rios in Jamaica a few years back, Rupert Everett spots two women on the hill. One is like a baby sparrow that has fallen from its nest, he writes in his memoir. She appears a bit disorientated, wearing Uggs and a tracksuit. Everett describes her as slightly chavvy. The women are talking about prescription drugs. Everett starts to see that this little bird is beautiful, with her black eyes and unfiltered directness. She reminds him of someone.
It as if he has known her in a past life. She is both lined and girlish, and she walks beside him, telling him the names of trees, of every plant.
He has indeed known her, as so many of us do. Or the myth of her, anyway. This woman was Anita Pallenberg, who has died at the age of 73. Everett flashes back to when he was 14, masturbating over a 15ft-high image of Anita, on screen in Performance. This film is a portal for him and who he is to be. This film has it all: sex, androgyny, drugs, violence, gangsters, interior decoration. Nic Roegs movie remains as hallucinogenically strange and disturbing as ever and Pallenberg will be for ever remembered as Pherber: sexually omnivorous, dangerous, sweetly amoral. The movie came out in 1970, but it captures the psychosis of the end of the 60s, where art, crime and sex open up the gates of social mobility but identity becomes fragmented.
At the time, Pallenberg was said to be having an affair with another star of the film, Mick Jagger, although she was Keith Richardss girlfriend. She had gone out with Brian Jones for a couple of years before Richards had rescued her after Jones had become violent towards her. In every account of Pallenberg, however, what stands out is not only what Marianne Faithfull called her evil glamour but her huge strength. Everyone was drawn to her, but everyone was slightly afraid of her. Richards is honest about his attraction to her power. He fondly talks of her being the bouncer in their house in the south of France. He has spoken of the respect and love they maintained as they became proud grandparents. This stands out among all the sex, drugs and rocknroll. Here she is, the original rock chick with her boho style. There she goes, with her Aleister Crowley obsession. Kenneth Anger memorably called her more of a bitch than a witch. Then there are the long, dark, bloated years, the rehab that didnt work for a good while, before the woman she became: a grandmother learning botanical drawing, tending Richardss garden in Jamaica.
Her style is everywhere, celebrated as ageless. She summed it up thus: Boots, belts, cashmere, hats, sunglasses, furs as well. A friend of mine taught Pallenberg contextual studies when she came back to do a degree in textiles at Central St Martins art school in the early 90s. She appeared in leopard skin with two young handsome men, but was somewhat mystified to find out that she, and not her tutor, would have to write her dissertation. She did, though. It was brave to go back to college, although she found much of the fashion world not to her taste. Ageing rock chick is a difficult gig to pull off.
Both Pallenberg and her friend Marianne Faithfull have had to live with constantly being compared to their 20-year-old selves and found wanting. It is heartening that these women maintained a close friendship despite the coming and going of the men; that they are survivors not victims. Pallenberg spoke of drugs freezing her, so she did not grow emotionally. Faithfull has spoken of not being able to have sex without being semi-anaesthetised with drugs. Their stories remind us of what sexual liberation could mean for women in the 60s. These great beauties paid a huge price for being the girlfriends of rock stars. Both these clever, multilingual, arty women educated their boyfriends (Jagger and Richards) about culture and art and style. Pallenberg got the boys to wear her clothes. Everyone, Faithfull once told me, was in love with Keith, even Mick of course
But to see Pallenberg as simply a girlfriend or style icon is to reduce her role. She influenced how the Stones looked and sounded much more than the average rock wife/groupie, although these were the confines in which she operated.
Her reward is to be deemed a muse. When I interviewed Pamela Des Barres, a famous groupie, she also spoke of being a muse, and I found it quite sad. For, inevitably, she was dumped for a younger muse. But now I see these women as trying to break out of the roles they were assigned. Having been sold sex as liberation, they found they lived in a world where they were not only to be judged against men but against other women for pursuing their desires. Women, it seems, cannot be their own muses. This is not an equal opportunities profession.
Pallenberg lived, as she said herself, as a vagabond. An adventurer. Being a femme fatale the women who nearly broke up the Stones involved much self-obliteration. She never complained about that part of the deal, she just flashed that life-giving smile. And got on with gardening.