With the passing of the iconic Anita Pallenberg there is a tendency to paint her as a classic muse.
The ephemeral pixie dream girl who bares all the trademarks of the brilliant Penny Lane from Almost Famous. Yet to define Pallenberg in this way deprives her of the astonishing energy, agency and verve of her character and spirit. She truly was the embodiment of the rock and roll ethos. After leaving boarding school aged 16, she traversed the modelling world of the decadent 60’s to the bright lights of the big apple, finding herself in the backstage area of a small band from England. This small band was on the cusp of releasing their best material and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards et al. were instantly beguiled by the ‘it girl’ of the 1960’s whom described her sense of style as thus, “Boots, belts, cashmere, hats, sunglasses, furs as well.”
Rupert Everett in his wonderful biography described her as if she were someone he had known in a past life, a girlish yet lined figure whose radiating smile captures every heart it meets. Whilst her initial interest lay with Brian Jones, theirs was a relationship that quickly turned violent. However, she did not suffer in silence. instead it was noted that she beat the living daylights out of jones for every assault.
This fiery and effervescent attitude was carried over to Jones’ bandmate and serial raconteur Keith Richards whom between 1967 to 1980, they forged a loving yet tempestuous relationship in which they had three children. Whilst it would be spurious to exaggerate her influence on the group as the defining feature, it is undeniable her grace and glamour began to imbue itself into the band. Yet this grace was tempered with a dark undercurrent of the occult and black magic that led gloriously to the dark modus operandi which the Stones adopted in the late 1960’s. Indeed, Mick Jagger placed great stock in her artistic vision by which her opinion influenced the mix on the stellar Beggars Banquet. Augmenting this further, Pallenberg is credited as singing background vocals on perhaps the most apocalyptic and ear-splittingly powerful Stones track, Sympathy for the Devil.
Just from these events, one can gather that this woman, this icon of power and sexual energy was a talismanic figure in the late 60’s. Certainly, Tony Sanchez, the one-time bodyguard of Richards described a larger than life figure infused with “a life-force, a woman so powerful, so full of strength and determination that men came to lean on her.” Yet at the same time it would be unwise to deify her as some sort of progressive figure, aeons ahead of her time. To a large extent, she led a life of excess and expressive turmoil, taking hits to both her health and emotional resilience as being the eponymous ‘it girl’ led to many personal travails. She is instead a figure of the dolce vita crowd, a woman who did not let herself be defined by the greatest rock band of all time. Instead, I posit that she is a woman of great humanity, who erred and stumbled along the path to her now enshrined iconic status. Like any figure of that era, she demands both admiration and concern.
Whilst many obituaries have focused on the woman who could keep up with the Rolling Stones, I argue that they could barely keep up with her. She is and was a woman of titanic energy, unending mischief and sexual vivacity. May she rest in peace and that she has some sympathy for the poor devil.
Words by James Hill