Anita Pallenberg, paramour of numerous Rolling Stones, died this week. She was either 73 or 75, a sixth Stone or a glorified groupie, and the muse for a great band or the cause of its near destruction.
“I’ve always been a hanger-on,” Pallenberg once reflected. Others recalled her as the force and focus in any room she entered. Like so many of her contradictions, both observations strike as true. The alpha female model and actress whose magazine covers and movies no one remembers remains fresh in our memories because of the men she dated.
The femme fatale befriended Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones in Munich in 1965 by offering him drugs. Their relationship ended in in Morocco in 1967 after one of many unsanctioned, unscheduled intergender boxing matches, most of which she won, between the guitarist and the girlfriend because of drugs. The girlfriend dumped that guitarist before shacking up with the other guitarist, who, along with the singer (who later bedded the girlfriend, too), subsequently dumped the band’s founder, who shortly thereafter died at the bottom of a swimming pool.
If it all sounds a drag, Richards at least got one of his best songs out of the distasteful episode. In 1973’s “Coming Down Again,” he sang: “Slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie/Tasting better every time/He turned green and tried to make me cry/Being hungry it ain’t no crime.”
After revisiting the love triangle in music, Richards did so similarly in memoir. “It’s said that I stole her,” he wrote. “But my take on it is that I rescued her. Actually, in a way, I rescued him. Both of them. They were both on a very destructive course.”
And then, like Pallenberg’s old boyfriend, Pallenberg’s new boyfriend embarked on a “very destructive course.” The guitarist’s heroin addiction, his gypsy fashion, and even his “elegantly wasted” personality all roughly corresponded with his rough relationship with Pallenberg. Richards attached to Pallenberg led to Keith at his most Keef.
Did she kill Brian Jones or create Keith Richards?
If her relationship with Jones corresponded with his disintegration, her 13-year partnership with Richards overlapped with the greatest period for the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. She directly inspired “You Got the Silver,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Beast of Burden,” and “All About You.” She more directly shrouded the group in her dangerous, hedonistic aura. Maybe Mick Taylor, Jimmy Miller, or open-G tuning gave a band in perpetual identity crisis an identity. Maybe a leggy, alluring German succubus did. Jimmy Page only sold his soul to the devil to attain sonic success. Keith Richards gave himself away to a more malevolent force.
Pallenberg aborted their first child to shoot a movie, sought to abort their third child but gave birth only to give up the girl to Richards’s mother, and lost their fourth child ten weeks after his birth under circumstances alternatively described as sudden infant death syndrome or pneumonia. Somewhere along her hedonistic adventures she contracted hepatitis C. Richards likened her to Adolf Hitler but he appeared as mesmerized by her as audiences at Nuremberg were by him. She practiced black magic, voodoo, and other dark arts. Her natural charms proved more powerful than any wizardry. When she aroused the suspicions of Canadian customs by bringing 28 pieces of luggage into the country in 1977, agents found heroin and cocaine in the guitarist’s hotel room and he soon found himself in a jail cell. Richards kicked one destructive habit in the wake of Toronto. Another one persisted until 1979, when, in the couple’s bed, Pallenberg’s 17-year-old groundskeeper-boyfriend killed himself allegedly after a game of Russian roulette gone wrong (when do they ever go right?).
Keith Richards dumped Anita Pallenberg soon thereafter. His life appears much better. His music sounds way worse.