Book Spotlights Women the Stones Rolled With—and Sometimes Over

Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards at the Cannes Film Festival, May 1967.
Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards at the Cannes Film Festival, May 1967. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In their music of the ’60s and ‘70s, the Rolling Stones weren’t exactly paragons for promoting gender equality and women’s issues. Songs like “Under My Thumb,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Stupid Girl,” “Brown Sugar,” “She’s So Cold” and “Bitch” were rife with misogyny and have not exactly aged well.

Ironically, you’d be hard-pressed to find a contemporary group—especially members Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—who not only relied on input and direction from their paramours, but who were shaped by them both artistically and personally. Until sometimes they were of no more use.

In Parachute Women: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones (320 pp., $29, Hachette), author Elizabeth Winder shows how a quartet of women helped the Stones become the Stones, whether any of them were aware or not.

“These four women put the glimmer in the Glimmer Twins and taught a band of middle-class boys to be bad,” Winder writes in the introduction. She notes that they opened doors to art, literature, drugs, sex, fashion, alternative lifestyles and even flirtations with the occult that would steer the group.

“The Rolling Stones may have risen to fame as rock’s favorite outlaws but only under the tutelage of these remarkable women, whose attitudes, creativity, vision, and style were devoured, processed, spat out, and commodified by the relentlessly male music industry.”

The book’s title comes from the Jagger/Richards song “Parachute Woman" off 1968’s Let It Bleed.

And while her prose sometimes dips into polemics, as well as look at historical times through a current lens, Winder notes there are three distinct and strict roles for women in rock culture (and especially of yesteryear). Wife/Girlfriend, Groupie or Bad Girl.
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Mick and Bianca Jagger minutes before taking their vows in Saint Tropez, May 1971.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
The four women in the narrative couldn’t have been more different: Faithfull was an actual convent school student pushed into a singing career (scoring with “As Tears Go By,” the first Jagger/Richards composition) who found freedom in pleasures of the flesh and the silver screen. Pallenberg was the witchy German-Italian actress, model, and style icon fearless in her zest for living a lifestyle that was exploratory in all areas.

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Marsha Hunt on tour in 1972 with 16-month-old Karis in tow.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Taking up fewer pages are Hunt, the quixotic, traveling R&B singer with an academic background at Berkeley (and the only Black woman of the four). It is with her that Jagger comes off as the most prickish.

After relentlessly pursuing her and stating his desire to have a child, they did only to be abandoned for a new conquest—the high society maven and future wife Bianca Jagger (of which the least is written). Hunt and her daughter with Jagger were reduced to living on welfare and begging for handouts when the Stone refused to acknowledge paternity.

That Jagger was involved at various points with all four women speaks volumes as to which Stone rolled the most.

“They paid a steep price to be consorts of rock gods. Caught in the vortex of the biggest rock band in the world, they struggled everyday to maintain their identities,” Winder offers.

Sometimes, Winder overreaches, as when she claims that Pallenberg singlehandedly “saved the Stones from slipping into oblivion” musically between the panned Their Satanic Majesties Request and the praised Between the Buttons.

She correctly points out unfair (both then and now) certain double standards. Jagger’s rampant promiscuity was expected and celebrated as the desirable front man of “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” When Faithfull took multiple lovers of both genders, she was slut-shamed.

During the famous drug bust at Richards’ home in Redlands, the topic of narcotics was all but forgotten when it was reported that police found Faithfull clad only in a bear skin rug (she had simply been taking a bath when the law barged in and rushed out) or had been “violated” with a candy bar during an “orgy.”
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Anita Pallenberg holds court with Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull and a friend in Heathrow airport waiting for their flight to Gibraltar then Tangiers.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Likewise, Richards’ deep and rampant use of all sorts of drugs, including heroin, added to his mystique as the rascally indestructible pirate. Pallenberg, indulging alongside, was the unfit and embarrassing junkie mother. Faithfull also became a drug addict.

Sometimes, the storylines would cross their streams, especially in the case of Pallenberg. After beginning as Doomed Stone Brian Jones’ girlfriend, his abusiveness and rampant drug use led her to the arms of bandmate Richards. But when she was cast opposite Jagger in the film Performance (in the non-stretching roles of a decadent rock star and his equally decadent girlfriend) they had an on-set affair, with their sex scenes likely involving, uh, some extras realism not taught in any acting class.

Winder does make the life seem pretty glamorous and appealing, with the couples on a seemingly never-endless run of European and beach vacations, glitzy film/play premieres and parties, poetry readings and shopping sprees, cafes and art galleries and endless ingestions of booze, drugs, and Bacchanalia.

Though the book seemed to be culled from other sources with no original interviews, Winder expertly weaves the stories of these four women who floated in and out of the Stones’ orbit, and often simultaneously or overlapping. Far more than just “rock chicks,” they helped mold the men and their music—even if it came at their own expense.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero