‘The Stones are their attitude, and that attitude is Anita’ – the women who transformed The Rolling Stones

Afew years ago, when author Elizabeth Winder got the idea to write a book about the women in The Rolling Stones’ inner circle in the Sixties, she kept having the same thought: “These women have such incredible and dramatic stories to tell,” she says, “I felt sure that somebody must have written a book about it already.”

In a sense, they have. Of the main women covered in Winder’s book, Marianne Faithfull, the most famous of the Stones’ former lovers, has written two memoirs; Marsha Hunt, who had a child out of wedlock with Mick Jagger, has written one; while Anita Pallenberg, who was Keith Richards’s partner in the Sixties and Seventies, has had a book written about her, as has Bianca Jagger. Winder, who did not speak to any of those women, nor to any of the Stones, for her book, wound up borrowing from all those sources. Yet, none of them came up with the particular, and provocative, premise of Winder’s work, titled Parachute Women.

The book is named for a Stones’ song from their 1968 album Beggar’s Banquet. It’s the central contention of her book that the women she covers – primarily Pallenberg and Faithfull – were crucial in teaching “a band of middle-class boys how to be bad”. It was the women’s influence, intellect and sophistication that transformed the relatively provincial and conventional Stones of the early Sixties into the bohemian revolutionaries who would bewitch the world several years later. “These women were way cooler than the Stones,” Winder says. “Mick and Keith wound up becoming some of the coolest people on earth, but they got that from them.”

The story of the women’s influence started, as so many Sixties stories do, with drugs. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones had never done any illegal substances in the early Sixties. “The only coke they had was mixed with rum,” Winder wrote. All that changed one day in 1965 when they met a young German-Italian model and actress named Anita Pallenberg whose first move was to pull out a spliff from her purse and casually ask Jones, in a heavy European accent, “vant to smoke a joint?”

Thanks to her, the three Stones wound up spending that entire night blindingly high. While the Stones already knew lots of models – Jagger was then dating Chrissie Shrimpton – Winder says Pallenberg was a different character altogether. Unlike the strait-laced Shrimpton, Pallenberg had an aloof hauteur, a louche air and an unsinkable confidence that made her an ideal fit for the worlds she moved in before she met the Stones. That included a time in Italy living la dolce vita, and a stretch in New York in both the demi-monde of Andy Warhol’s “superstars” and the avant-garde world of The Living Theatre company. “She was already a pirate,” Winder says.

Pallenberg’s first interest in the band was Jones, who had the best hair and was the most open to a woman with a natural bent for adventure. He also had the most sexual experience. “He really had it down and they didn’t,” Pallenberg told author David Dalton for his book The Rolling Stones: The First Twenty Years. “Except for Brian, all of the Stones at that time were really suburban squares.”

“How Anita came to be with Brian is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones,” Faithfull wrote in her memoir, Faithfull. “(Anita) almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée (the young rich).

The result helped create a cross-pollination of classes – mixing the middle and the upper – otherwise unseen in London at the time. Rock stars became equal to aristocrats, aided in the Stones’ sphere by Pallenberg’s access to the worlds of high art and hip people of wealth, including members of the Guinness family. Pallenberg also encouraged Jones’s creative side, evident in his newly expansive contributions to the Stones’ albums of ’66 and ’67, Aftermath and Between the Buttons. Her self-regard seemed unshakeable, and the result proved infectious. “If you were around her and she was on your side, she would boost your confidence almost in the way a dangerous drug boosts your confidence,” Winder says. “It makes you feel like you can get away with anything.”

Faithfull came into the band’s orbit in 1964 while attending a party for the band. Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, spotted her and famously said, “you have a contemporary face. I can make you a star.”

That’s a key reason Winder named her book Parachute Women to begin with. “It’s like these women were floating down from the sky,” she says. “In a metaphorical way, they had to bring themselves down to earth to bring the Stones up. Ultimately, they were always on a higher level.”

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