2 hours -and more- with Anita Pallenberg
*By Marcelo Sonaglioni
«Aren’t you staying for lunch?» How could one ever say ‘no’ to that when it’s Anita Pallenberg who’s asking it? It all happened last year during the days of the fourth and (so far) last visit of the Stones to Buenos Aires as part of the Latin American Olé Tour, which had started a few days earlier in Santiago de Chile, and with 10 more shows to go after the three in Argentina, closing on a high note in Havana, Cuba. This time, in order to avoid fans leaning out at the hotel doors, or even camping out, looking to catch a glimpse of the band, the Stones’ machine had come up with a new strategy, which was splitting them into different locations. Then Jagger stayed at the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, and Ronnie Wood at the Faena Hotel, while the Four Seasons (where the whole band was in all previous visits, taking over the luxurious Álzaga Unzué mansion, at the back of the hotel) was the headquarters of both Charlie Watts and Keith Richards.
As it’s been happening for at least the last 25 years (eventually, as the Stones’ kids grew older), taking them on tour became a usual thing. Children, wives, and even parents (during the band’s first time in the country in 1995, Keith had even brought dad Bert with him) ended up joining the party as they wandered around the world. But never ex-love partners. So I felt already too skeptical when an English girl friend that had come to South America to see some of the shows (and who was also staying at the Four Seasons) told me she had seen Anita Pallenberg in the afternoon taking a swim at the hotel’s pool. I denied her statement right from start. Anita hadn’t been close to the band for 35 years or more, at least since she stopped being Keith’s love-mate, and even when they were together, she was never one to show up on tours much often. “Anita? No way! You must have seen somebody that looked like her” Less likely to happen in South America, I thought to myself. I then asked her if she somehow had a chance to talk to the woman. “No, I didn’t”, she admitted, “but I sure can tell it was Anita. She was swimming next to me, she had a leopard bathing suit…” I could have kept refusing it on and on, I was sure she was clearly mistaken. At the end of the day, I thought again, everybody sees everybody’s look-alikes all the time. In fact the last time Anita had visited far away South America was around Christmas in 1968, when along Keith Richards,Marianne Faithfull and (Marianne’s then) boyfriend Mick Jagger took a boat all the way to Brazil, spending their holidays in the city of Matão (countryside of the São Paulo state, where Keith got the inspiration to write “Honky Tonk Women”), and then moving to Rio and Bahia, before heading for a few days in Perú. At the time, Anita had already become Keith’s steady girlfriend after he rescued her from the arms of his fellow bandmate Brian Jones (her original lover, with whom she shared an idyllic relationship before Jones, paranoid and currently dealing with one too many addictions, became violent with her) My friend’s theory about Anita’s sight in Buenos Aires 48 years later was, to say the least, unthinkable. However, as I was pacing the hotel lobby next day to meet another friend, who was also staying at the Four Seasons, I happened to see a woman walking by away enough from me who looked a lot like Anita (eventually, Anita in those days, whose older image I was familiar with after I had seen some new pictures of her on the internet a few months earlier) The woman rushed out of one of the elevators, going somewhere else. It all didn’t last for more than a millisecond, and wondering if I hadn’t actually imagined it (or, worst case scenario, if it wasn’t somebody resembling me of her), I decided to move on.
Photo: Michael Cooper
But it all became true the day of the second show of the Stones in La Plata. A while before the concert began, as I was having a drink at the VIP area, once again I saw the lady I briefly spotted at the hotel the previous day, who now was about five meters from me, walking towards one of the tables. I was still quite dubious, I won’t deny it. More over, nobody attending the VIP seemed to notice that singular woman, elegantly dressed, with a hat, and walking with a cane. The possible fact it was actually her, going unnoticed by the others, no matter what, was also likely to happen. Only that she wasn’t on her own. Besides her was my friendAdam Cooper, which led me to start wondering if somehow I could have been wrong from the beginning. To anybody not familiar with his name, Adam is the son of Michael Cooper, the legendary photographer mostly famous for being the one who shot many of the English rock and pop stars in his home country during the ‘60s and ‘70s and, and even more important, for being the one who did the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Their Satanic Majesties Request covers. That’s right, those two album covers.
Anita and me at the VIP in La Plata
Adam has been living in Buenos Aires for at least 20 years (where he organized many photo exhibitions showing his father’s works, as he also did abroad) and whom I’d first met shortly after his original arrival to Argentina. But long before that, when he was still the little boy living with his father in Chelsea, London, in the mid-‘60s, with his mum mostly out of the whole picture, and because of dad Michael’s friendship with the Stones, he had found a sort of surrogate mothers in both Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg. Not just one, but two, as if that weren’t enough. Marianne and Anita cuddled him, invited little Adam home to play, making him part of a memorable and amazing cultural scene he would only become aware of as he got older. Plus the fact I knew Adam used to get in touch with them quite often after all these years, no matter the distance. This time there was no doubt that the woman my friend had seen by the hotel’s pool, or the one I’d seen at the lobby, was the same one. And that was Anita Pallenberg. I ended up swallowing my words, as I watched her chatting with Adam in the midst of the cacophonous rumble at the VIP area before the Stones’ second show in La Plata, while I slowly approached them. I greeted Adam and then introduced myself to Anita, telling her about my joy to see her visiting the country, and finally asked her to have a picture with her. Something against my own ethics, by the way. For some reason I never ever felt comfortable asking for a picture, period. Not only because I never found it right to invade anybody’s area, but actually mostly because a photograph without a story behind is nothing but that, an image born by ways of a lens and a button that’s pushed down, lacking naturalness, and turning out into a forced, artificial kind of situation. Without a before, without a during, and also lacking an after. Add to that I didn’t like the idea Anita could think I was just another fan looking for a picture to display on Facebook. Anita had always been one of my favorite female icons (that is, besides my devotion to the lives and times of the Stones, of which she played, needless to say, a major role in) So then Anita, the lady, gently said ‘yes’, displaying her trademark smile. It didn’t last for longer than 2 minutes, I’d say even less than that, and so I decided to leave them alone for better. I actually wouldn’t have been interested in taking any pictures had I had the chance to talk to her instead, as talking always comes first. Out of there, away from the noise, and in the right place. I’d later apologize to my British friend for my stubborn reluctance to her story.
Anita at the Michael Cooper’s
exhibition at the Konex
(Photo: Adam Cooper)
Two days later, on Friday February 12, the weather was already awfully soaking wet by the time it dawned. The hottest February ever in history, according to the local meteorologists. There was still one final Stones’ show at La Plata’s Estadio Único next day but, once again, and despite the unbearable temperature, I had to go back to the Four Seasons to meet a fellow friend from New Zealand who was also in Buenos Aires for the Stones concerts. We had agreed to meet in the early afternoon but, given the weather conditions, I decided to leave from home earlier, which led me to arrive to the hotel before I expected. It was only a few minutes after my arriving to the Four Seasons that there I came across Adam again who, polite as usual, approached me to say hello. I asked him why he was there, and he replied he had an appointment with Anita, they were going to have lunch together at one of the hotel restaurants. I didn’t hesitate for a second, and next thing I was telling him how important it would be for me to finally have the chance to exchange a few words with her (more than a minute and a half, at least) now that we were in the right place to do so, away enough from the concert craziness.“Sure”, he said, “right now she must be coming down in the elevator” I confessed to him all I actually wanted (and whoever is reading this, please believe my very words) was just to walk them up to the restaurant table, and then I was done. As I said before, I’m not the kind of person who likes to interfere with anything, let alone something I wasn’t invited to in the first place. Anita showed up in a matter of seconds, elegantly dressed, bohemian style, in a leopard pattern printed dress and purse, flashing her classic smile. After greeting us gracefully, we started heading to the Nuestro Secreto restaurant, which can be accessed right from the very entrance of the mansion. Once again, I knew time would be never enough to have a proper chat, so far for me, but nevertheless I was happy enough to be with them and have a word in the meantime. Plus there was no way Anita could have remembered about our brief meeting at the stadium. We reached the restaurant five minutes later and, as promised, I said goodbye to them. That’s just when she unexpectedly invited me to have launch with her and Adam. «Aren’t you staying for lunch?» In the right place now. And in case it all happened because she felt sorry letting me go, she gave me another of those killer smiles confirming that she really meant she was inviting me to join them. “Oh, I’d love to stay!” “Sure, have a seat”, she confirmed, which I instantly agreed to while getting ready to be part of an unforgettable one-of-a-kind moment. I can’t actually remember now what we ordered to eat (quite weird for somebody as insanely thoughtful as me), but the three of us sure drank mineral water. Some details may always escape my mind. That’s the price one pays when you put much attention to a woman with an overwhelming personality like Anita had to say, someone who lived and survived (nearly) anything, when other personal issues take second place and you prioritize her knowledgeability above all, addressing literally any topic, which she proved to know quite much of.
Gerard Malanga, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Chuck Wein,
Anita, and a guest. Warhol’s Factory times
Readers may wonder why I didn’t ask her about all those facts and stories we read again and again over the years. But what was there to ask? And what would have been the outcome anyway? The answer is, they’re all pretty well-known, then why asking about them again? After all, this was no interview, this wasn’t me the journalist meeting her. No journalistic duties involved this time then, but just an informal and regular conversation. It was lovely and extremely funny to enjoy Anita’s great sense of humor throughout the two hours or more we’d been there. I just let it flow. Had it not been so, I would have sure asked her about the days when she was expelled from a German boarding school at 16, or her times at Andy Warhol’s Factory after she arrived to New York. Long before her entry into the world of the Rolling Stones, Anita was already a class A rebel with enough skills (out of her amazing physical beauty, she managed five languages) that she made best use of. That’s one of the reasons why listening to all she had to say was such an amazing experience. And although it was mostly English we talked (in Anita’s case, with a strong Italian accent), she would often come up with a few single words in a different language. She told us how much she loved the hot weather above all, and that she was always running away from the cold. That’s why, she explained, she shared her time in at least four different destinations in the world, mostly in Keith Richards’ house in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, “where the weather was always nice”, or in other places that also belonged to Keith , like the Redlands country house in West Wittering (located in West Sussex, England, yes, which was scene of the famous February 1967 police raid) or the one in Cheyne Walk, right by London’s Chelsea Embankment (where she started living with Keith in 1969), or even her native city of Rome where, as much as I remember, she told me she used to have, or still had a sister living there.
Clouds of artificial smoke coming out of her electronic cigarette, extremely tanned and with her skin slightly wrinkled, the then 73-year-old Anita still carried the sex appeal that had been a permanent trademark all though her life. And whereas she no longer had that fresh beauty so typical of her when she was younger, her particular way of speaking, coupled with an established femininity, still made her a very attractive woman. And that halo all around her! There’s something rather strange that always happened to me whenever I had the chance to meet somebody I admired, or wished I’d ever meet in person, being it for an interview or, such as in this opportunity, that of a fortuitous encounter, and that’s in a way or another, I always feel that person isn’t actually there in front of me, in spite getting this endless collage of images and intermingled stories that remain away from what is really happening at the very moment you’re talking to them. It mostly felt like it every time I had the chance to meet somebody with a heavy history behind, that I really admired, or meant a lot to me. That’s when I’m not able to separate all that from the true reality, as redundant as that may sound. It’s like one dimension within another, while both get constantly blurred on the fly. For that reason, meeting Anita had little to do with the actual fact of being there with her, instead making me feel I was watching an unlimited short film where the thousands of images of her I saw over the years, being them photographs or footage, came one after another non-stop, taking me to a parallel dimension. Which is a probably the same that could happen to anybody into the lives and times of the Rolling Stones, as it’s undeniable that Anita Pallenberg epitomizes a crucial element in the band’s history. Because, to put it this way, if there’s no certain amount of danger involved, there’s no rock and roll at all. And I’ve always believed Brian and Anita were the first ones to come up with that pinch of danger in the Stones, something which they’d go along with in their formative years and beyond. Brian gave the Stones their original style and attitude, anticipating which would come later, while Anita with her piercing gaze and dangerousbad girl aura was just the icing on the cake, an irresistible dish on the table.
Brian Jones, Anita and Keith in Tangiers, Morocco, 1967
That’s the main reason why, all through the lunch, I wasn’t essentially able to take my eyes off her, while another shot of a thousand images crossed my mind, and all that now taking place only a few inches from me. All those pictures of she and Keith, Anita seducing Mick while shooting Performance (which led to the very first rift between the Glimmer Twins), Anita “the Great Tyrant” who controls the underground city where Jane Fonda landed in Roger Vadim‘s science fiction film Barbarella, or another of her film roles, in A Degree of Murder, which original movie soundtrack by ex boyfriend Brian Jones remains unreleased to this day. Instead, I chose to look and listen to her, while (once again) that endless number of images kept going through my head with Anita in the leading role, the Stones’ muse par excellence, and no way it could stop. The full blooded “it girl” during much of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who after all this time couldn’t help but give you a crushing smile, that very one an English magazine once referred to as «that witchy smile», the kind of girl everybody wanted to have.
On the set of «Barbarella» (1968)
It’s noon and it’s summer and in this restaurant in a fancy hotel in Buenos Aires here’s the woman whose veins have seen vast doses of opiates go by, when being a junkie had to do only with one’s own decisions, and not because of a snobbish pose to satisfy a photographer’s eye. The one who was part of the whole thing behind “Sympathy for the Devil” during a pivotal year, when many people started considering Anita “the sixth Stone”. «Is it true that all those ’oohs, ooh, oohs’ in the song was your idea?» I’d rather refrain from asking her. She may not be interested in setting the record straight, or in reviewing other pages of her past, which she makes clear when, after my suggesting she should write her autobiography some day, she honestly replies “I can’t remember anything”. It was a short way of explaining the true story behind her answer, her actual reluctance to do so as, since “all that the publishers want are the stories with some scandal involved” Neither it was needed to discuss her contribution to the Stones’ mystique. It was enough of her to express her unconditional love for the band’s history, of which now wonders about its fans, “Don’t they realize they’re already grown-ups and that they need to have some rest after a show?” Now it’s Anita who’s shooting questions. “Sure”, I said, “but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it” And then she smiles back, followed by another puff from her electronic cigarette. Later on she would refer to the Toronto 1977 days, when she and Richards got arrested at the airport after customs searched their luggage and found out they were carrying drugs. Well, you all know the story. Richards would get his visa back after a while, which allowed him entrance to the USA, while Anita had to wait for many years. “That was the worst time of my life”, she would confess, as we ordered more mineral water. Interestingly, she proposed talking about the current political scene in Argentina at the time, when we tried to explain to her that our previous government had restricted the local population to get any foreign currency for many years, a subject she suddenly changed to express her love for her children and grandchildren. Adam had invited Anita to visit Early Stones, by Michael Cooper, the photo exhibition featuring his father’s works which was currently taking place at Ciudad Cultural Konex that very afternoon once we finished our lunch. With just one last Stones show in Buenos Aires to go, and with no intentions to follow the rest of the Latin American tour (“I’m not following it, after Buenos Aires I’m going back to Jamaica”) we finally left the restaurant and headed for the exhibition, where Adam was honoring his father once again displaying pictures from the Stones’ early years, which Anita had been an essential part of.
Another picture of Anita at the Konex, with Silvia Cooper,
Adam’s wife (Photo: Adam Cooper)
Before jumping on the elevator that would take us back to the ground floor of the hotel, I considered having a picture with her: “Anita, I hate to say this, but I’d love a picture of the day I met you” “Oh no, sorry, I’m not wearing any make-up”, she reacted, flashing another of her classic smiles. That’s when I realized that, after all, and against any logic, at least this time a thousand words would be worth an image. To my surprise, there came an unexpected bonus. By the time we got to the main entrance of the Four Seasons, amidst some 35-odd degrees, Adam asked us to wait for him outside as there was something else he needed to do, which turned into about 10 minutes of me and Anita all alone sitting on one of the benches right by one of the hotel doors. Under the blazing sun, she asked me to get her another bottle of water. I was back with the bottle in a matter of seconds to find her taking one of her Camels from her purse, then tasting it like it was her first cigarette that day.
With director Volker Schlondorff during the filming of «A Degree of Murder» (1967)
I kept asking questions to her, one right after another, until from a cloud of smoke that made her look like in the days of Nellcote, she boldly said:“Are you gonna keep asking me questions all the time?” Oops. “Sorry, I cannot think of any other way to talk to you, Anita”, I honestly acknowledged. Then, a few minutes later, when I took out my pack of Marlboros and offered her one saying “Would you like a cigarette?”,unsuccessfully trying not to make it sound like a question as much as possible (is there any other grammar way of saying so, after all?), she laughed histerically. “You said your name is Marcelo and that your family came from Italy, so what’s your last name?” Now it was Anita who asked the questions. “Sonaglioni, Marcelo Sonaglioni, and you know what, I never got to find out the story behind my last name and…” She stopped me. “¡Marcelo Sonaglioni!”, she said in a loud voice, like she was introducing me to an audience. “That’s the name of an Italian serpent!”, she assured, while I enjoyed my cigarette with Anita Pallenberg in the thick of more clouds of smoke, the girl whose ex boyfriend Keith Richards once dedicated the song “You Got the Silver”to, definitely as much dazzled as I felt now. With Adam back into scene, it was time to leave for the Konex, but I decided not to join the party this time, as I still had to meet my friend, as previously arranged. Anita grabbed my arm and I walked her up to the car. “Oh, aren’t you coming?”, she said. “Unfortunately I can’t, but I look forward to seeing you again soon. And thanks for an amazing time!” Hugs and kisses were exchanged, before she and Adam left in a taxi on their way to dad Michael’s exhibition.
Just last year, as I was about to travel to England, an interview with Anita had been almost confirmed (where I would have asked her all those questions I had in mind and had to keep to myself the day we had lunch), but then I was informed she broke one of her ribs, so it was postponed for another time, which now won’t ever happen.
The news first published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa on last June 13 was a bolt from the blue. Even though she had been experiencing several health issues over the last few years, Anita’s body clock finally determined it was time to stop. She died peacefully surrounded by her loved ones in a Chichester hospital, in West Sussex, not far from Redlands. How the world turns, before we got the shocking news I had already arranged to meet up with Adam on Wednesday, just a day after Anita passed away. We didn’t cancel it at all. Adam was already there when I got to the bar. He was really down, and quite sad and shaken. “You know, that was like losing my mother, because Anita was like a substitute mother to me…”, he told me. We realized we didn’t feel like talking anything, but about Anita. “Did you see Keith’s post on Facebook?”, Adam asked. “It reads ‘A most remarkable woman. Always in my heart.’ ”. Keith’s heartfelt post also included a picture of Anita, looking incredibly beautiful, originally shot by his father Michael. Adam was almost in tears. We ended up unwinding ourselves, like in all the wakes, a nice way to remember the people we love, while I kept reminding him about the many stories we lived the day we had lunch with Anita, when both of us saw her for the last time, something I will thank Adam for forever.
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