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Anita Pallenberg, Beggars Banquet and Corrupting the Rolling Stones


Parker Love Bowling

April 10, 2024


Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, an intimate documentary about the actress and rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer, premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Nearly a year after the film’s first screening, it is finally being released by Magnolia Pictures on May 3rd. Though it is not her voice, the film is narrated in Anita’s own words, using text from her unpublished memoir. The trailer opens with the statement, “I’ve been called a witch, a slut and a murderer. Maybe people confuse me with the roles that I’ve played.”

People have been accusing Anita Pallenberg of being a witch since the late 1960’s. She had an intense interest in the world of the occult, a world she said “fascinated” her, but whether these stories are hyperbolized, spread like the fire that engulfed her and Keith Richard’s Sussex home in the early 1970s, or are true, perhaps will never been known. Regardless if it was witchcraft, or just the influence of her brilliance, there is no denying the effect Anita Pallenberg had on the band’s transformation. If it was not for Anita, the Rolling Stones would not have gone down in history as the rock ‘n’ roll bad boys they are known as today. Everything ‘cool’ about the Rolling Stones, Anita gave them. The ‘look’ that immortalized the band even came from Anita’s own wardrobe. She shaped what they became, as men and as musicians. 

Anita Pallenberg lived many lives even before linking up with the Rolling Stones in 1965. She had traveled all over Europe modeling, spent time in Rome with Fellini and his crowd, and in New York with Andy Warhol at the Factory. She was worldly, intelligent, and quite intimidating. When she met the Rolling Stones at one of their shows in Munich, they were nothing more than another straightlaced British Invasion band, having never even dropped acid before. The only one of them brave enough to take on a woman like Anita, was Brian Jones, who at the time seemed to be the unspoken leader of the band. 

Under Anita’s spell, Brian thrived, at least at first, and it showed in the music. Jones introduced several instruments new to the band during the recording of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 album, Aftermath, lending to their newly found psychedelic sound. (She was also responsible for Brian Jones making his first and only film score, for a movie she starred in in 1967 called A Degree of Murder.)

When it comes to the Rolling Stones’ music, Anita’s influence can be heard most prominently on the 1968 studio album Beggars Banquet, which is said to be the album that “changed everything” for the band, putting them on the trajectory toward super-stardom. At this point in time, Anita and Brian’s relationship had already blown up and fizzled out, and after many physical altercations, Anita left Brian for Keith Richards. Anita did for Keith exactly what she had done for Brian two years prior, which was help mold him into the artist he was always meant to become. She introduced him to psychedelics, poets and philosophers alike, just as Marianne Faithful had done for the band’s front man, Mick Jagger. 

With Beggars Banquet, the Rolling Stones really came into their own. Their music started to mean something, to be politicized and deep. Having already solidified their bad boy status after a 1967 drug raid on Keith Richard’s home, “Sympathy for the Devil” reinforced their dangerous image. Though “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” are the most popular songs on Beggars Banquet and deemed some of the greatest rock songs ever made, the blues tracks on the album are just as good, if not better. “No Expectations” and “Jigsaw Puzzle” are both heartbreaking and beautiful, really demonstrating the range of the Rolling Stones and their talent as not only musicians, but lyricists as well. The whole album incorporates world music with their original blues-inspired sound, and Anita’s sensibilities to create a record that was, and still is, completely prophetic and profound. When Anita criticized the final mixes of the songs, they were redone to her liking. She was a trusted member of the team, and she knew it, stating, “I feel as though I’m rather like the sixth Rolling Stone.”  

The album was a complete artist triumph, and it was to be the last one Brian Jones would play on. His relationship with the band already began to sour before his split from Anita due to his mood swings and substance abuse issues, but when Anita left him for Keith, the damage was to be irrevocable, and not only because it broke his heart. Journalist Robert Greenfield best articulated the magic of Anita, which was that “Anita is key. Whoever possesses her has the power.” And that power had transferred from one member of the band to the other. Anita shined her light on Keith, leaving Brian in the shadows.

Beggars Banquet has been immortalized not just through vinyl, but celluloid as well. Jean-Luc Godard shot the recording sessions for “Sympathy for the Devil” and turned it into a film with the same name (with the alternate title One + One), exhibiting the culture of 1968 through a series of vignettes and giving the viewer an in-depth look at the creative process of the Rolling Stones. Brian Jones can be seen strumming acoustic guitar, Mick Jagger working on vocals, and Keith Richards beginning to lay down what was to become one of the most famous guitar solos in history. Anita can also be seen in the film briefly near its end, singing back-up vocals on “Sympathy for the Devil” in her long cape, holding a cigarette and whispering into Keith’s ear.

Jean-Luc Godard was not the only filmmaker desperate to work with the Rolling Stones, and thanks to Anita, Mick Jagger was cast alongside her in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, a film whose script was written solely for Anita. She also introduced the band to Satanic filmmaker, Kenneth Anger. The Rolling Stones collaborated with Anger at length, starring in his films and scoring some of them as well. Kenneth Anger and Anita shared a love of the occult, the teachings of Aleister Crowley and Satanism. “I believe that Anita is, for want of a better word, a witch,” Anger admitted in retrospect. 

Kenneth Anger briefly lived with Keith and Anita at their Sussex home, where Anita, now heavily addicted to heroin, would lay down all day in her bed, surrounded by thousands of burning candles, foreshadowing the fires to come – but the biggest explosion of all was that of the Rolling Stones, burning brighter than any rock stars before them, all thanks to a woman whose influence and magnetism were so powerful, she inadvertently set the whole world aflame. 

Whether Anita was a witch, casting spells for the band’s success (like the spell she cast on Bianca Jagger to get her out of Mick’s life), or just was supremely interested in the practice, is irrelevant. Her influence on the Stones, and therefore the entire culture of the late 1960s, is undeniable. As the Rolling Stones’ former personal assistant, Jo Bergman said, "Anita is a Rolling Stone. She, Mick, Keith and Brian were the Rolling Stones. Her influence has been profound,” and that influence expands way beyond that of being a muse to Brian or to Keith, or even to Mick, but rewriting the history of music all together, for without Anita, the Stones would not have gotten their signature look (the current ‘blueprint’ for the rock star), would not have written “Sympathy for the Devil” (among other songs), and would merely be remembered as just another British Invasion band for teenage girls to fawn over, definitely not as the great rebels of the music industry or rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Without Anita’s influence, who knows who would reign