The perception of The Rolling Stones in the Sixties was as much about attitude as it was about the music they created, and for this reason Anita Pallenberg was as much a member of the group as Mick, Keith and doomed Brian. She embodied all that was subversive about them – the feisty glamour, brash impertinence and haughty dismissal of conventional values, the kind of behaviour that grabbed headlines in the voyeuristic tabloid press, especially when something went wrong, like police intervention or death.
“She, Mick, Keith and Brian were The Rolling Stones,” states Stones PA Jo Bergman, in She’s A Rainbow, Simon Wells’ new biography of Pallenberg, pragmatically acknowledging that Charlie and Bill were on a different wavelength. “Her influence has been profound. She keeps things crazy.”
Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager concurred, as did Anita herself. “I feel as though I’m like the sixth Rolling Stone,” she said. “Mick and Keith and Brian need me to guide them, to criticise them and give them ideas.”
Keith might, at a pinch, have conceded the point but I somehow doubt that Mick, who always seemed like the kind of man who preferred his women under his thumb, would agree. Nevertheless, the role of Anita in fashioning the image of The Rolling Stones between 1965, when she turned up on the arm of Brian Jones, and the mid-1970s, when her relationship with Keith Richards began to deteriorate, is the key point of interest in this book.
Wells’ 2011 book Butterfly On The Wheel systematically and with great flair dissected the Great Redlands Bust, and he has chosen Anita as his next subject in an ongoing interest into rock and roll subplots that now include Charles Manson and The Who’s Quadrophenia. Pallenberg, born in 1942 of German-Italian ancestry, was a model, actress, muse and mysterious siren amidst the Stones’ harem of influential women; spectacularly beautiful in her prime and, quite appropriately in the light of this book’s title, something of a rainbow, strikingly colourful, hard to catch and likely to vanish into thin air in a jack flash.
Published in hardback with a cover featuring Pallenberg dressed only a man’s shirt, her uncovered legs parted and a look of defiance in her eyes, She’s A Rainbow could be mistaken for a top shelf item but Wells makes it clear from the outset that Anita was no groupie or passive rock chick. He is especially good on her early life and on her films, which he writes about at length as befitting an expert on cult movies of the period. Much space is devoted to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, Anita’s most celebrated role, which featured an on- – and perhaps off- – screen dalliance with Jagger, a cause célèbre that lingered within the Stones’ clique like a disagreeable fungal infection.
As you would expect, the period when she was part of the Stones inner circle is covered in great detail, as it was at the time, particularly the 1967 holiday in Morocco where Pallenberg switched her affections from Jones to Richards, and the stay at Nellcôte, the mansion at Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice where the group’s masterpiece, Exile On Main Street, was recorded. Charged with maintaining the domestic requirements for a household that sometimes numbered 20 or more, the multi-lingual Pallenberg displayed uncharacteristic catering skills that rivalled Mrs Bridges in Upstairs Downstairs.
Moving to Westchester County in upstate New York by the late seventies, Anita and Keith grow apart. Keith blamed her for the Toronto heroin bust that almost saw him jailed and sees other women. She puts on weight, flirts with the New York City punk scene and when a teenager is found dead at her house in 1979, her world comes crashing down. Addicted to just everything possible, she roams New York and becomes an embarrassment before finally returning to London, cleaning herself up and taking a course in fashion and textile design at Central St Martin’s so as to become a costumier. Eventually her legendary status is acknowledged by the Britpop crowd, she gets pally with Kate Moss and is much applauded at an emotional re-appearance on the catwalk.
Inevitably the book suffers from the ‘not much to say about the later years’ syndrome insofar as once Anita is back in London she spends the rest of her life not doing very much that attracts headlines, which translates as not doing very much that Wells can write about. Indeed, the final chapter opens on page 267, around 1980 when she’s 38, and she dies a mere 18 pages later, on page 295, aged 75. It’s kinda sweet that in her twilight years she became a keen gardener and tended an allotment at Chiswick.
It was certainly an extraordinary life but Anita Pallenberg is a difficult prey to catch, as elusive as a butterfly, so for all his prodigious research and the wealth of information contained within his book, Wells hasn’t quite captured her spirit. Then again no one really could, though Keith Richards came closer than most.