Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $29.00 $37.00 CAD
- ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
Also available from:
Discover the true story of the four women who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help shape and curate the image of The Rolling Stones—perfect for fans of Girls Like Us.The Rolling Stones have long been considered one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands of all time. At the forefront of the British Invasion and heading up the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the Stones' innovative music and iconic performances defined a generation, and fifty years later, they're still performing to sold-out stadiums around the globe. Yet, as the saying goes, behind every great man is a greater woman, and behind these larger-than-life rockstars were four incredible women whose stories have yet to be fully unpacked . . . until now.
In Parachute Women, Elizabeth Winder introduces us to the four women who inspired, styled, wrote for, remixed, and ultimately helped create the legend of the Rolling Stones. Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, and Anita Pallenberg put the glimmer in the Glimmer Twins and taught a group of straight-laced boys to be bad. They opened the doors to subterranean art and alternative lifestyles, turned them on to Russian literature, occult practices, and LSD. They connected them to cutting edge directors and writers, won them roles in art house films that renewed their appeal. They often acted as unpaid stylists, providing provocative looks from their personal wardrobes. They remixed tracks for chart-topping albums, and sometimes even wrote the actual songs. More hip to the times than the rockers themselves, they consciously (and unconsciously) kept the band current—and confident—with that mythic lasting power they still have today.
Lush in detail and insight, and long overdue, Parachute Women is a group portrait of the four audacious women who transformed the Stones into international stars, but who were themselves marginalized by the male-dominated rock world of the late '60s and early '70s. Written in the tradition of Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us, it's a story of lust and rivalries, friendships and betrayals, hope and degradation, and the birth of rock and roll.
September 14, 1965, Munich, Circus Krone Bau. You could tell she was different from the other Stones groupies, in her beige fur jacket, skintight sweater, and Ossie Clark mini. She looked nothing like Carnaby Street’s trendy dolly birds with their knee socks and baby-doll dresses, their saucer stares of white liner, gobs of mascara, and strips of Glorene. Everything about her suggested experience, from her hard-to-place accent to the gladiator sandals she’d had handmade in Rome. She was overtly sensual—sexual even—but exuded an almost masculine energy. Even Mick was intimidated by this German/Italian actress, who pounced backstage with the stealth of a cat. Was she just another fangirl or Jack the Ripper in disguise?
She hovered in the door of the dressing room, her gaze sharp, her smile cocky, revealing flashes of fang-like teeth. She dug around her pockets for a vial of amyl nitrate. “Vant to smoke a joint?” Mick and Keith eyed her suspiciously. They’d never done drugs before—the only coke they had was mixed with rum. She glanced at Brian. “Yeah, let’s smoke a joint,” he said, eyes filled with tears. “Come back to the hotel.” They returned to his room to smoke and talk for hours, and he spent the night weeping in her arms.
Anita followed the Stones to Berlin the next day. Tours were strictly girlfriend-free zones, and here Brian was flaunting his bewitching new lover. He was breaking all his rules, and he’d only known her a day.
Compared to Anita, the Stones were grubby adolescents, awkward and hopelessly naive. London wasn’t quite swinging yet, and British rock was barely emerging from its gawky teen phase. Anita was “cosmopolitan beyond anyone’s imagination” and catnip to young rockers who craved the aura of experience. It was clear she’d lived many lives—skipping school with the street kids and artists in Rome, grave digging, beach drinking, boyfriends with Vespas, Café Rosati with Federico Fellini—“all that Dolce Vita stuff.” She’d lived in Warhol’s Manhattan as a Factory girl; she’d danced on tables at Regine’s in diaphanous gowns. Whatever you’d experienced, she’d already done it a thousand times.
Mick stared at her with lustful awe, Keith admired her from a distance. “The first time I saw Anita my obvious reaction was, ‘What the fuck is a chick like that doing with Brian?’”
It wasn’t that they were intimidated by her model status. Mick and Keith were both dating models—English ingenue types with no runs in their stockings and long-lashed doe-eyed stares. But Anita was a different breed entirely. She’d been one of Catherine Harlé’s models in Paris—a champagne-popping modeling agent known for rebellious It Girls with rock and roll connections. Half eighteenth-century salon, half Warholian Factory, Harlé’s agency in Place des Vosges didn’t churn out your typical mid-century models. Harlé’s girls included Snowqueen of Texas Deborah Dixon, hippie icon Talitha Getty, Dalí muse Amanda Lear, and Teutonic rock goddess Nico. They stormed down Rue de Turenne like granny-booted gladiators, with men like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones trailing helplessly in their wake.
These girls were miles apart from the dolly birds and English roses across the channel. The Twiggys, Patties, Chrissies, and Jeanies, so popular in London, remained in the shadow of their male counterparts. They earned their own money, lived in their own flats, and enjoyed more freedoms than their mothers had done. But they didn’t cleave from the roles society molded for them, nor did they challenge their male peers.
Harlé’s models didn’t just challenge society—they laughed in its face. No milk baths or 10 p.m. bedtimes for them. “They behaved like men,” wrote Parisian journalist Fabrice Gaignault. “They were so important for the culture of the time. They were a little frightening for the Parisian male, because Parisian men were bourgeoisie, and they were nothing like that. They were free, stronger than men.” Pop singer Jacques Dutronc even wrote a song about them, “those who know how to speak to the models of Catherine Harlé.”
These were women who made a living out of terrorizing men, and Anita was at their helm. She partied harder, drank more, danced more, smoked more than any of the men around her. “We were out every night,” recalled Deborah Dixon. “Of course, we were smoking dope—they were wild days—but we were having a lot of fun. In those days, especially in London, the girls were all wishy-washy—we were completely the opposite. Anita was different. She set up sort of an aggressive look. A look that said she was not just going to be a doll.”
Nor would she submit to the macho celebrity photographers. She stopped their bravado dead in its tracks, ripping off her lash strips, smudging black liner with her thumb, bitching about the hot stage lights and the thick cold cream assistants used to clean her face. She sometimes blew off gigs entirely, instead made her name on the dance floors of Maxim’s, Regine’s, and Chez Castel (always slipping in the side door for free). She wore undereye circles like a badge of honor and sneered at models who “went to bed at nine, wearing eye masks.”
Brian prided himself on being the only Stone brave enough to take Anita on. (He was, at this point, “the only Stone who inhaled.”) “They were still schoolboys,” Anita said of Mick and Keith. “Brian was acting on it faster than anyone else—he knew his stuff very well.” But Brian—the band’s self-proclaimed leader—was also the Stones’ most vulnerable member. Mick and Keith had bullied him for years, and Anita walked into this fractured dynamic.
Of all the sexist cultural myths floating around, women as gossips might be the worst. Mick was the emperor of gossip and bitchery—setting the tone for childish power struggles from the band’s very inception. Three years in and they were still at it—classic playground lunch-table snubbery—with Brian as the target. “Mick and I were incredibly cruel to Brian,” Keith wrote years later. “I used to do this vicious impression of Brian. It was all funny, but incredibly cruel, and people just used to roll up laughing. It was a period that was really bitter, very nasty—not for Mick and I particularly, but for Brian.”
Emotions embarrassed the repressed English Mick and Keith. Anita was attracted to Brian’s emotional intelligence. His delicate looks appealed to her too, the way he straddled masculine and feminine. Sharp cheekbones, Pan-like movements that were more fey than androgynous. “Sexually I like girls as well as men,” Anita explained, “and Brian seemed to combine both sexes for me at the same time.” Despite his insecurities, Brian was remarkably comfortable with his sexual identity. Mick and Keith were still trapped in mid-century gender norms and fifties homophobia.
At a time when women were expected to be earth angels, Anita was sexually brash—propositioning John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas (it was really an excuse to hitch a ride to Tangier), sending Jeff Beck notes in the middle of the night. She was nonchalantly bisexual. (Anita: “Everyone does it in Italian summers.”)
Men of course were allowed their peccadillos—especially rock stars with all their proverbial fans and groupies. But for the Stones in ’65 this was mostly male bluster. Mick and Keith had barely slept with anyone. Only Brian was sexually experienced. “Brian was so far ahead of them you wouldn’t believe it,” Anita recalled to David Dalton. “He had chicks. All the chicks. And he used to fuck everybody else’s chick. I mean, he knew it, he really had it down and they didn’t. Here are Mick and Keith up onstage trying to learn how to be sex objects, and Brian already had a string of illegitimate children! Except for Brian all the Stones at that time were really suburban squares.”
Brian was the real deal. Mick kept a bottle of Scotch rattling in the back of his car, but it was really just for show. By the time he met Anita, Brian was consuming two bottles a day. In fact, he usually stunk of brandy—he’d read somewhere that jazz musicians used it as a food substitute.
Alcohol exacerbated Brian’s fragile disposition—leading to tantrums, meltdowns, car crashes, and crying jags. But that didn’t bother Anita. She liked Brian’s mercurial nature—moody was better than boring in her book. He’d quickly shake off the doom and snap back to his jaunty self. In those days his curiosity was stronger than his self-destructive impulse.
They both shared a natural curiosity and innate receptiveness—qualities that formed the backbone of their relationship. “He had a wonderful curiosity,” remembered Anita. “Curious about new things, new places. He wanted to know everything that was going on, wanted to meet new people, new ideas, learn the new dances; the other Stones were more like frightened. Brian was much more ready to go to strange places to meet people he didn’t know. Not like Keith, who in those days sort of sneered at anybody who tried to get too close to him.”
For now, Keith and Mick regarded her with suspicion. (“You could see them exchanging looks like Who’s this weird bird?”) Years later they would realize that Anita was the magic ingredient, the secret to their success.
She grew him, the way women do grow one.
Prince Stanislas Klossowski
Thanks to Anita, Brian soon found himself half of the sixties’ hottest, most dangerous couple. He’d always been known as the “edgiest Stone,” but Anita pushed boundaries even further—S&M, sex clubs, dildos, hot wax, sadomasochistic games. One houseguest caught Anita creeping into the bedroom with a giant whip. Through the wall he could hear her whipping Brian.
They were mad, bad, and dangerous to know, tearing around London in Brian’s black Rolls-Royce—license plate DD[Devils Disciple]666, making the rounds at clubs like the Ad Lib, the Speakeasy, and the Scotch of St. James. Their antics were boundless, especially at parties, where they were known for spiking drinks with LSD. She revived Brian’s boldness and vitality, and a large part of that was her unabashed sexuality. At a time when most women were still in hairspray and girdles, she’d be pantsless in riding boots, rumpled hair, and a black rugby shirt, sipping liquid mescaline at a party. Even rocker Pete Townshend was blown away by Anita when he ran into her in Paris on the arm of Brian Jones: “They were so sexually stimulated, they could hardly leave the room before starting to shag.” He was in awe of the pair, who seemed to be “living on a higher plane of decadence” than anyone he’d ever met.
Much to the chagrin of Brian’s bandmates, Anita dipped in and out of the American tour in the fall of 1965. Her presence emboldened Brian’s obnoxious behavior, as displayed in their speedboat stunt at Miami’s beachfront Fontainebleau hotel. Anita raced around like a maniac, cackling as she terrorized the others by slamming her boat into theirs. Brian went a step further, driving his boat out to sea until he ran out of gas. One thing was for certain—there’d be no smooth sailing with Anita on board.
By the end of the American tour, the worldwide press had started to follow their romance. Bravo magazine featured a two-page spread, with Brian declaring, “Anita is the only girl for me.”
Rave magazine followed with its own exposé, “A Story About a Stone—a Love Story.” In Paris they were the talk of the town—and all anyone talked about at Françoise Hardy’s engagement party. Rumors swept through Europe that the two would soon be married, and by Christmas Disc Weekly posed the provocative headline “Brian Jones Wedding?” New Musical Express suspected that “the wedding is definitely on, and Bob Dylan will be the best man.”
Reporters met them at Heathrow post–American tour, demanding answers about their supposed engagement. Brian could not resist tantalizing the press: “Anita is the first girl I’ve met that I’ve been serious about… [W]e’re very fond of each other. Obviously, it’s more than a casual acquaintance.” Anita’s response was typically cryptic: “It will be very soon… otherwise it won’t be at all.”
Brian was downplaying the relationship. He’d spent most of 1965 debating going solo. While Mick and Keith rose to power as the songwriting duo, Brian slowly lost control of his own band. It was more than just pride—the music they were making ceased to mean much to him. He detached himself, numbing out with booze between blasé recording sessions. He’d started to collapse on tours, sometimes requiring hospitalization. He didn’t give a damn—about himself or the Stones.
All that changed when he met Anita. With her by his side, he felt competent, confident, and strong enough to take on Mick and Keith. Quitting the band was now the furthest thing from his mind.
At the time she first started to hang out with those guys. She opened up a whole world to them. She was the most attractive girl any of them had ever been around, and she had a genuine feeling for books and poetry, and the guts to get involved with things.
By early 1966, Anita and Brian were officially living together in his flat on Elm Park Lane. Brian was the first Stone to discover Chelsea, which was rapidly becoming London’s fashion mecca. Mod shifts and minis had lined the streets of the neighborhood since Mary Quant opened her shop years before. But a new look was emerging in the shops of Kings Road. Something elegant and deconstructed and totally unique.
“I wasn’t into Mary Quant,” Anita explained years later. “She was too middle-of-the-road, and that mod, op-art thing wasn’t really for me. And Biba was too big. I wasn’t so into that very English look. In Italy we always had salsa, the mamba, all those Latin dances, which gave me a different feel for things, so my style was fedoras, belts, little twenties jackets, lace that I’d collected. If I wore miniskirts, I’d have them made by Granny’s.”
Granny Takes a Trip was a tiny boutique at the end of Kings Road. Purple walls hung with art nouveau posters and drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, green-tasseled lampshades, gilt lustre glass, Victorian sunshades made of fringed black silk—even an old-fashioned phonograph. Granny’s resembled what a “not too expensive Victorian brothel may have looked,” and it quickly became Anita’s second home. “Everyone knew everyone. We’d try on clothes and smoke a joint in the back.”
Anita’s influences rubbed off on Brian, who was by far the most sartorially inclined Stone. Men’s fashions were changing—vivid velvets, pointy boots, and gender-fluid styles. The “Peacock revolution” had begun. Under Anita’s influence, Brian styled himself in Edwardian ruffles, William Morris prints, and Oscar Wilde frills. His flourishes were noticed all over London—the strands of pearls and cobalt beads, pink suede button-ups trimmed in handmade lace, Anita’s silk scarves tied round his knees and wrists, and plumed cavalier hats à la the Three Musketeers. With his hair dyed the color of Anita’s, they blurred the line between masculine and feminine. Two lithe blond devils.
At identical heights and weights with matching flaxen pageboys, it was easy for the couple to swap clothes. They spent hours in front of the mirror trading jewelry, scarves, and velveteen trousers. After one acid trip Anita dressed him as Parisian pop chanteuse Françoise Hardy—a longtime obsession of Brian’s. Anita merrily brushed out his blond fringe, lined his lashes with kohl, zipped him up in a line skirt and Vivier boots. A black-and-white-striped pullover and vinyl trench completed the outfit. They spent the evening in a strange kind of role reversal, with Anita pretending that she was Brian seducing Françoise as impersonated by Brian.
“When Brian turned up in Anita’s outfits,” wrote Marianne Faithfull, “fashion changed. It was the beginning of glam rock, David Bowie and Alice Cooper.” In today’s parlance, she was an influencer, a stylist, a cultural maven. Not only was she transforming Brian, she was about to transform the Rolling Stones.
Cross-dressing and gender-bending were virtually unthinkable in midsixties mainstream society. Libertine rumors of bisexuality trailed Anita and Brian like a glamorous mist. The London scene was rapidly changing—Mick and Keith were in danger of being left behind. Until now it had been dominated by late-fifties rockers—all grotty leather jackets and beer-soaked pub brawls. But a new aesthetic was emerging. Suddenly it was hip to read poetry, talk about cosmology, occult lit, and conceptual art.
With her Continental background and keen social instincts, mixing crowds came naturally to Anita. She’d befriended Lord Harlech’s children years ago in Italy, and through them groups of other aristocratic hipsters. Thanks to Anita, the Stones were soon socializing with Robert Fraser, Sir Mark Palmer, Christopher Gibbs, and Tara Browne. It was the first time in history that aristocrats of that caliber so blatantly sought out the company of rock musicians in such large numbers, and the Stones benefitted immensely from Anita’s cachet.
“How Anita came to be with Brian,” wrote Marianne Faithfull, “is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones. She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorée… The Stones and these hip aristos were a perfect match for each other. A union of the two later seemed inevitable. But no one had the foggiest idea how to go about it. Except for our Anita.”
She pushed Brian into fraternizing with flamboyant Eton art dealers—something the Beatles had already dabbled in but initially disinterested Mick and Keith. One of those art dealers was Robert Fraser, London’s enfant terrible, who by the end of the year was enmeshed in the Stones’ inner circle. Anita and Robert were two Pied Pipers of the wild Chelsea art scene. Parties at “Groovy Bob’s” always began with glittering bowls of drugs and everyone helping themselves. With plenty of hash and lively art banter, these evenings were more like salons than see-and-be-seen parties. Mick and Keith would eventually join in. Anita loved these parties from the beginning.
The crowd at Robert’s found Anita equally fascinating. Art dealer Chrissie Gibbs found her “highly intelligent and extremely well read.” After art school Anita had lived with Italian painter Mario Schifano, dabbled in the anarchist Living Theatre, and was equally comfortable with German Romanticism and Andy Warhol. Her intellectual pedigree saved her from labels like “girlfriend” or “arm candy,” and she led as many conversations as she listened to.
Rockers, artists, and experimental trendsetters now socialized with rich young aristocrats—shattering the barriers of England’s highly stratified class system. In April 1966, Guinness heir Tara Browne celebrated his twenty-first birthday at the family estate in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains. Caravelle jets were hired to transport Tara’s two hundred guests to Dublin—Paul McCartney, Mick and his girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton, Christopher Gibbs, Paul Getty and his girlfriend Talitha Pol. Limousines were waiting to whisk them over to Luggala. Anita and Brian—who had already dosed themselves with liquid LSD on the flight over—shared a ride with photographer Michael Cooper, Paul and Talitha, Bill Willis, and Tara’s wife, Nicky.
Giggling, excited, and high, they crossed the craggy mountains. The air was chilly, they were close to the estate. They pulled over for Brian to pee. Everyone jumped out of the car. That was when they saw the dead goat. Michael Cooper captured the happy troupe in snapshots, playing leapfrog, clowning around the cliffs, cavorting in the brisk April air.
Once ensconced in Luggala, Anita and Nicky somehow decided that Mick was the devil and managed to lock him into a courtyard behind the house. They raced through the woods, leaping over briar, crouching behind trees, speaking paranoid code on walkie-talkies (someone had given as a birthday gift for Tara), watching Mick struggle to free himself from the pen. Just one more of Anita’s wild scenes.
All to the magical backdrop of the Lovin’ Spoonful playing their “good-time music.” It was a good time, a great time, a moment in history—and it wouldn’t last.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace of the sixties was much slower to change when it came to women. Anita had the self-possession of a cat, that same steely defiance and obstinate will, but most women—especially the girlfriends of rock stars—didn’t share her audacity. “You could see that she could do exactly what she wanted,” recalled model Pattie Boyd. “She was actually a bit scary.… I’ve never met a young girl with such incredible confidence.”
Rock girlfriends were deluged with stalking, death threats, and hatred—a rabid jealousy addressed in Pop magazine’s “don’t hate Jane Asher” letter. It was common for fans to wait outside their idol’s homes—an occurrence that frightened Mick’s girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton. But Anita saw them for what they were—harmless teenyboppers eager to please and easy to manipulate. When lovestruck Stones fans camped outside her house, Anita invited them in, served them tea, and let them make Brian’s bed.
Anita was well aware of how she differed from the other Stones girlfriends, with her pan-European cosmopolitan, high-art Fellini background: “The others all seemed to have a chick on the side, with a toupee, false eyelashes, and all that. You know what I mean, and foam for the fanny and stuff for not getting pregnant and all that shit. Mick’s girlfriend Chrissy Shrimpton was a secretary type—nine to five, Miss Proper, hairdressers on Thursdays. The girl Keith had: very normal, very plain, no challenge. Charlie Watts had a kind of drab wife he kept in the background—you know background women with personalities like elevator music.”
Chrissie—model and younger sister of Jean—was part of the “old” (but still quite current) look and scene—miniskirts, double-decker lash glue, hair falls and white boots, makeup columns in Fabulous and Tiger Beat. And though she modeled Ossie Clark and appeared in fashion pages, she’d never be part of a celebrity couple like Anita and Brian. Those two were the very first rock star couple—a concept that hadn’t even existed yet. Yes, fans knew about Jane Asher and Pattie Boyd, but these women simply lacked the drama and otherworldliness of Anita.
Only Anita had those qualities, and for the moment, she was shining her light on Brian. That made Mick seethe. He was always paranoid about falling behind and not being hip. About being the last one to the scene, which he often was—jumping on the psychedelia bandwagon a year too late, trying acid long after the others. The way Brian was worshipped by hot California bands stoked Mick’s insecurity further. He had a fraught relationship with his middle-class background, and Chrissie’s parents were farmers from Buckinghamshire. In other words, Chrissie was as milk-fed as Mick himself, and he hated her for it.
If Mick was self-conscious about being middle class, he was still inextricably drawn to its trappings. When he bought his first home—a fifth-floor flat on an Edwardian mansion block of the grand, bourgeois Marylebone Road—it only underlined his alienation from the current Brian/Anita/Keith alliance in wild bohemian Chelsea. When Keith’s girlfriend left him for Jimi Hendrix in the fall of 1966, Anita and Brian took him under their wing. Now everyone was having fun without Mick, and Anita was the ringleader. He’d bullied Brian to tears, but like most bullies, Mick hated being on the outs himself.
He envied Anita’s obvious power—the way high society (Mick’s ultimate goal) and bohemians alike seemed to court her. Then there was her influence over Brian and now Keith. He lashed out at her with dismissive insults and mockery. “Mick really tried to put me down, but there was no way some crude, lippy guy was going to do a number on me. I found that if you stand up to Mick, he crumbles. I was always able to squelch him.”
Mick couldn’t control Anita, but he could control Chrissie. His Harley House was intended to be their newlywed home. But after moving in, Mick coolly announced that he no longer wanted to marry her—he just wanted to live with her. Chrissie was devastated but accepted her fate. She was now completely dependent on his success and his bank account.
- “A fascinating portrait …. backed up by keenly described historical background and an expert understanding of 1960s and ’70s rock culture. The result is a wild ride worthy of rock’s heyday.”—Publishers Weekly
- "A vivid portrait of the women behind 'the world’s first rock stars'... Gossipy, entertaining, and quite right in insisting on the central role of women in making an iconic band iconic."—Kirkus
—Ann Powers, author of Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music“I've been waiting for someone to write this book since I read Marianne Faithfull's memoir on a cross-country flight thirty years ago. The story of how women dismissed as consorts, groupies, and open secrets created the aesthetic that brought the Rolling Stones to glory—and significantly contributed to their music, too—has been buried too long. Winder embraces its dishiness while going deeper, showing how these brilliant, strong women shaped cultural history even as the men around them tried to contain and even destroy them.”
- On Sale
- Jul 11, 2023
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Books