Rock & Roll Feminism: Parachute Women by Elizabeth Winder

This post was sponsored by Hachette Books. All opinions are my own.

This one’s for the fashionistas, the rock n roll lovers, fans of the book Girls Like Us, the women’s history buffs, and the nosy nellies who love celebrity gossip.

If you know anything about us at Feminist Book Club, we love celebrating the unsung women behind the lives and careers of powerful men. In the case of Parachute Women: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones by Elizabeth Winder, the men in question are The Rolling Stones, and the women are magnificent.

Parachute Women is stunning group portrait of four women whose influence on the greatest rock band of all time cannot be understated. From Anita Pallenberg’s sensual sartorial choices, often sharing clothes with the band, to Marianne Faithfull’s (often unacknowledged) assistance in songwriting, this band would not have been what it was without these four women.

There are moments in this book that are wild and salacious, but it’s balanced by true humanity. I was frustrated alongside Marsha Hunt as she tried to navigate coparenting with Mick Jagger and I braced myself for the tragedy of overdose. But most of all, these extraordinary women are a testament to going your own way and looking cool as hell while doing it.

An interview with Elizabeth Winder, author of Parachute Women

Renee Powers: Tell me about your writing routine. Do you have any rituals before you get started or must-have snacks nearby? Paint us a picture. 

Elizabeth Winder: Chaos! Always green tea and chocolate nearby. I tend to find a couple songs that work for me and listen to them on repeat— this time it was Avril 14th by Aphex Twin. I’m surrounded by hundreds— and I really mean hundreds— of sheets of paper— all print outs of Anita and Marianne and Marsha and Bianca and Keith and Brian and Mick. I’m a visual writer and need to see what they were wearing and how they looked and moved and their body language— so I worked with these print outs scattered everywhere, all over tables, the floor, taped to walls. Sometimes I wrote by hand, sometimes on my iMac, sometimes in the notes app on my phone. At times I’d take a break, switch off the Aphex Twin and turn on a Stones song like Out of Time or Wild Horses or Ruby Tuesday. But I couldn’t ever write while listening to them, they roused up too many emotions.

RP: Were you always a Rolling Stones fan? When did you first learn about these influential women in their orbit?

EW: I’ve been a Stones fan since I was a child— that bluesy pirate devilry stuff has always appealed to me. As a teenager I discovered Marianne Faithfull— her music, her story and her general style. Then ten years ago— while reading Keith Richards’ autobiography— I found Anita Pallenberg, and I was totally bewitched.

RP: A lot of women came and went for the Stones, especially in the early days. How did you select these four?

EW: These four women were real rebels at heart. All four were fiercely independent thinkers. There’s Marianne- literary to the core and relentlessly curious, Marsha— music-loving and bravely living according to her progressive principles, Bianca the feminist before her time, and the wonderfully witchy Anita who as they say “out Keithed Keith.” Not just wild clothing (though they all had amazing style) or being on the arm of a rock star.

RP: Marianne’s story is particularly tragic and no one seemed to heed her cries for help while Keith Richards is lauded. You write: “in our society that hails male outlaws but shuns revel women, Keith was granted a respectable second act.” This reminds me of many of our contemporary pop stars (Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, and Demi Lovato immediately come to mind). What parallels do you see in Marianne’s story and how the media treats modern famous young women?

EW: There are so many parallels. Remember around 2009 when the press started trashing Amy Winehouse, publishing unflattering photos of her and sort of sickly relishing an anticipated downfall? Starting around 1969, the paparazzi would chase Marianne around, trying to catch her looking drugged or strung out or messy with circles under her eyes. Then the same started happening with Anita— the press would race to comment on her skin or weight or slovenliness. There’d be pictures of Keith too with occasional comments on his drug use— but they were far gentler on him and painted him in that lovable pirate light. And when I think of the press surrounding Britney Spears— from the repulsive way make journalists sexualized her to the hideous jokes about her mental health— I also think of Marianne Faithfull. Things have changed so much for the better in the last few years. But the aughts were just like the sixties and seventies in that way— that ghoulish delight in hounding women to their graves.

RP: Of Mick Jagger’s penchant for dating smart creative women you write, “he wanted to suck up all their genius—he didn’t want them working on projects of their own.” In fact, Marianne went uncredited for helping pen “Sympathy for the Devil.” Do you think these women could’ve accomplished more without these men? Or did their success come in spite of them?

EW: Marianne’s musical accomplishments are already so impressive. It’s true that she opened up Mick’s world creatively. He didn’t turn her on to books or ideas or art or inspire her much. But Marianne’s breakout album Broken English has that luminous phoenix rising from the ashes quality— would that have been possible without falling into darkness? Who knows. With Anita— her real work of art was her life— and what a life!

RP: Similar to the last question, who do you think The Rolling Stones would’ve been without the influence of these four women?

EW: The Stones were already an incredible blues band before they met these women. I’m not sure how they would have evolved. But the Satanic swagger that struck a chord in the late sixties and launched them into next-level fame? That was all Anita!

RP: The research for this book must have been wild. Did the sex, drugs, and rock and roll have any effect on you? Are you more or less hedonistic after writing this book?

EW: Less hedonistic— but not by choice! My Keith Richards days are over thanks to a few health issues. I envied the rock star lifestyle while writing the book— despite all the pain and darkness. All that wild glamour is intoxicating!

Thank you to Elizabeth Winder for taking the time to chat with me about this book. Thank you to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary copy and sponsoring this post.

Renee Powers founded Feminist Book Club in 2018 to provide a space for intersectional feminists to learn, grow, and connect. When not reading or running the biz, you can find her drinking coffee and trying unsuccessfully to teach her retired racing greyhound how to fetch. Favorite genres: feminist thrillers, contemporary literary fiction, short stories, and anything that might be described as "irreverent"

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