She Moved Through the Fair

An Irish folk song that has been sung by every troubadour/Irish singer who ever sung for centuries, which Marianne Faithfull, in 1966, recorded with a prominent sitar accompaniment. Because it was 1966 and sitars were totally trending. It’s kind of terrible but it illustrates the odd niche Faithfull occupied as a pop singer. Keep in mind that teenage girl pop singers didn’t get to make very many creative decisions vis a vis their own careers, then as now. So this weird combination of very traditional and very on-trend was considered to be a product that record companies were confident in selling. Faithfull herself was a fragile product whose image was in many ways the creation of her management. With her fallen-aristocracy background and convent-school education, and of course, those looks, she was the embodiment of a certain centuries-old ideal of an English rose of a girl – pristine but plucky, virginal yet dead sexy, upper class but hardworking, etc. – but updated for the times, modern and hip, down with the trends, mod for the sixties. Edgy, even, with her dangerous friendships and her habit of saying and doing controversial things. Of course the real meat of Marianne Faithfull’s story is how she systematically sabotaged that image, how she very nearly killed herself on her journey to becoming a real artist. But it’s important to examine just what a seamless and appealing product she was at her pop star height, what a beautiful gleaming pedestal she leaped off of. Today, of course, no one wants to hear a girl in a Peter Pan collar trilling Irish folk songs in a thin reedy voice accompanied by dignified acoustic plucking, but the appetite for virginal teenagers with big eyes and innocent hearts is no less voracious. It’s the eternal fantasy of a girl who is ripe with unplucked sexual promise, with a full heart and an empty bed, a blank slate too young to have a real identity, too innocent to be wary of romantic entrapment, too full of love to hold herself back, just ready and waiting to be claimed and defiled and too dumb to know better. She doesn’t have a story of her own, she doesn’t have any needs except to be filled with whatever a man fills her with, she doesn’t have anything to express but longing. She’s basically not a person, she’s a trope. The music might change, but the trope does not.