Parachute Women: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones by Elizabeth Winder

God, what a delicious, gossipy, glamorous, but also emotional and thoughtful read is Parachute Women, Elizabeth Winder’s account of the Rolling Stones, from the time of their little-remembered album Out of Our Heads (1965) to their masterpiece Exile on Main St. (1972), and their four most significant girlfriends.

The women are given every bit as much play as Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (Brian Jones has a smaller role in the story, while the others —Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts—are just mentioned very briefly), and to have a palpably authentic female sensibility threaded into the lives of the greatest (and most macho) rock ’n’ roll group of all time is an overdue, relishable novelty. Her appealingly feminist thesis: “Marsha [Hunt], Bianca [Jagger], Marianne [Faithfull] and Anita [Pallenberg] never wanted to domesticate the Stones—it was the other way around.”

Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones. Pallenberg later dated Keith Richards.

Anita and Marianne—who command two-thirds of the book—helped turn two middle-class boys, Mick and Keith, into Dionysian culture heroes of the late 60s. Though they all did massive amounts of drugs, that fact enhanced the men’s bad-boy image, while leaving the women to be slut-shamed, scolded, and depressed. Marsha and Bianca gave Mick the stabilizing benefit of their own integrity after the sobering reckoning that was Altamont (the 1969 music festival in California where a Hells Angel stabbed a man to death just 20 feet from the stage where Mick was performing), as well as Keith’s over-the-top drug use.

Anita burst into the Stones’ life in Munich in 1965. A wildly charismatic, voodoo-practicing German actress, she had trained at Paris’s notorious Harlé Agency, where the models “made a living out of terrorizing men—and Anita was at their helm.” She started a voraciously sexual affair with the deceptively fragile and androgynous Jones, the founder of the Stones, who, at 23, had already fathered, as Anita exaggerated, “a string of illegitimate children.” (At this same time and age, Keith Richards had only ever slept with one woman—and at the urging of the Stones’ record producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, at that.)

After seeing Anita, Mick wanted a more sophisticated woman than his girlfriend at the time, the model Chrissy Shrimpton (the younger sister of Jean), who he thought too needy and conventional for him. So he pursued the intellectually worldly, polyamorous, and aloof British singer Marianne Faithfull, whose “As Tears Go By” stuck her in a too-sweet mold that didn’t reflect her true self.

Faithfull backstage with Jagger after her first night performance in Three Sisters, at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in 1967.

Marianne was finally won over by Mick’s (impermanent) kindness—she would soon see his coldness—and she taught the very English-to-the-core young man with the well-developed bitchery and ordinary taste (James Bond novels, crossword puzzles) everything about the arts, including ballet.

Through Marianne, Mick also met poets including Allen Ginsberg. “Ginsberg perched at the foot of the bed, Marianne and Mick naked under the … fur coverlet,” Winder writes, “here he was, the loutish playboy, chatting naked with a poet seventeen years his senior about the Marquis de Sade.” Throughout the book Winder elegantly captures the irony of innumerable situations they all thrust themselves into. (Marlon Brando’s propositioning of Keith and Anita together is but one of dozens of examples.)

Brian and Anita—now the wild, stylish couple of late-Carnaby-Street-era London—got into public fights that sometimes turned physical. Marianne couldn’t decide if Anita was “a witch or a sorceress,” but the two women became deep friends, in many ways preferring one another to their boyfriends. As “Ruby Tuesday” was released in 1967 and the men and women began expensively gallivanting around the world together soon after, they luxuriated in each others’ grand homes and country estates with a sensualized, patrician formality U.S. rock groups had no DNA for.

“Marsha [Hunt], Bianca [Jagger], Marianne [Faithfull] and Anita [Pallenberg] never wanted to domesticate the Stones—it was the other way around.”

Anita switched from Brian to Keith with a spontaneous vulgarity, and in the back seat of the car Brian was driving them in. (“I still remember the smell of the orange trees,” Keith said of the blow job. “When you get laid with Anita Pallenberg, you remember things.”)

Richards and Pallenberg with their son, Marlon, at London Heathrow, in 1969.

Keith bloomed in Anita’s orbit. Eventually he adopted the “aura of brooding malevolence” he would become known for, with one journalist noting that the distinction between his appearance before and after Anita was like “the difference between Buddy Holly and Jack the Ripper.”

Mick and Marianne were “always at their closest when behaving like children,” giggling over LSD, and while she got a kick out of seeing Mick flirt with women, and men (“he was the sex object”), his lack of introspection made Marianne feel barren and lonely in the relationship.

The Stones’ fame grew—through “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Beggars Banquet—but the women independently starred in their own movies and plays. Anita’s stardom in Barbarella and Candy gave her campy cachet. Marianne had a highly praised turn as a vulnerable, affecting Ophelia in Hamlet.

“Ginsberg perched at the foot of the bed, Marianne and Mick naked under the … fur coverlet.... Here he was, the loutish playboy, chatting naked with [Ginsberg] … about the Marquis de Sade.”

But it was Anita’s tour de force role as witchy Pherber in 1970’s Performance that shook the group up. Mick played opposite her, and the sex was real. He pursued her afterward, but she sent him back to Marianne, then depressed, pregnant, and zonked on barbiturates. She had a miscarriage at seven months, starting a serious downward cycle of heroin abuse. (Marianne forgave Anita, though. The fast friends stayed close until Anita’s death, at 73, in 2017.)

No one outdid Keith and Anita in the off-the-chart drugs department: barbiturates for breakfast, quaaludes in the afternoon, shooting up in the evening. They had two babies now, and they moved from one slovenly kept mansion to the next.

They had faced tragedy—all the Stones had experienced the violence at Altamont, and Brian had drowned in his swimming pool in 1969 when Anita, who was present, felt she should have been watching. Later still, Keith and Anita’s third baby died of sudden-infant-death syndrome, with Anita feeling responsibility and guilt. Keith was cavalier—or tough—enough to play a concert the night of the baby’s death.

No one outdid Keith and Anita in the off-the-chart drugs department: barbiturates for breakfast, Quaaludes in the afternoon, shooting up in the evening.

Mick had protected himself from all this mayhem by turning to one, then a second, sensible, stable woman. The first was Marsha Hunt, who had grown up in Philadelphia, was educated at U.C. Berkeley, and had become renowned as the face of “Black is beautiful” in the English version of the rock musical Hair.

Marsha Hunt and her daughter with Mick Jagger, Karis, in 1975.

She didn’t even drink, much less do drugs, and her clean-cut essence felt like a real-deal emotional rescue to Mick, who begged her to have his baby. She did, giving birth to a daughter, Karis. But by now Mick—gathering no moss—had fallen for Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías, a stunning, stringently moral Nicaraguan social activist who detested rock ’n’ roll, which she saw as vulgar.

This, of course, is who Mick would marry, in May 1971. They would stay married for seven years, during which time she would become a Halston-clad fashion force and a staunch feminist activist, while, to Mick’s disgrace, Marsha had to chase him for child support.

Bianca and Mick Jagger the morning after the end of the Rolling Stones’ European Tour party in Berlin, in 1973.

Mick would next marry the young blond Texan Jerry Hall (who, with her democratic taste, next took a geriatric Rupert Murdoch for her husband). The surprise happy ending was, and is, Keith’s lasting, seemingly normal marriage to the wholesome model Patti Hansen of Staten Island.

Someone left out of the book—and I’m curious why—is Mick’s post-Jerry girlfriend, the statuesque designer L’Wren Scott. On March 17, 2014, just before her 50th birthday, L’Wren arranged the furniture in her loft exquisitely, dressed up with ferocious perfectionism, and, presumably thinking her best days were over for holding on to this particular boyfriend, hung herself from her ceiling.

I remember Mick’s wails, as reported by the press: “My lover! My lover!”

Sheila Weller is a journalist and the author of eight books, including, most recently, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge