You're right: this song is about you
Women who inspired famous songs reveal what it was like to be a muse
Sunday 24 October 2010
The inspirations for some of the biggest selling and best loved songs in the world are to be revealed in a new book to be published next month celebrating the power of the musician's muse. The Girl in the Song: The Real Stories Behind 50 Classic Pop Songs, reveals details of the wives, girlfriends, rivals, exes and even complete strangers who are behind such hit songs as Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" and Coldplay's "Moses".
They range from Billy Joel's dancefloor hit "Uptown Girl", which was rooted in Joel's romances with not one but two supermodels – Elle Macpherson and Christie Brinkley – through to reggae maestro Bob Marley's relationship with Cindy Breakspeare, a former Miss World winner, which inspired him to write 'Turn Your Lights Down Low' in her honour. Others include the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which was banned by the BBC after speculation it was a paean to psychedelic drug taking, when, in reality, it was inspired by a painting by a classmate of Lennon's son Julian.
Some have gone further: Adam Levine, songwriter for the pop-rock band Maroon 5, wrote an entire album about his ex-girlfriend, Jane Herman. The band's debut, Songs About Jane, catapulted the group to fame, selling some 4.6 million copies.
The Independent on Sunday spoke to several former muses and asked them how it feels to be immortalised in song.
Song Miss You
Artist Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones)
Muse Jerry Hall
MJ: "'Miss You' is an emotion; it's not really about a girl. To me, the feeling of longing is what the song is."
JH: "There is no job as fun as being a rock muse. Something in you sparks their creativity. They need you to nurture and encourage them, something that I'm really good at. It feels great to be a part of their art. Being a musician's muse makes you immortal through their songs. Music lasts for ever."
Artist Noel Gallagher (Oasis)
Muse Meg Mathews
NG: "The meaning of that song was taken away from me by the media, who jumped on it. How do you tell your missus it's not about her once she's read it is? It's a song about an imaginary friend who's gonna come and save you from yourself."
MM: "It feels amazing when someone writes a song for you. But when we got divorced, he decided to take the song back! Whenever I hear it though, I have really fond memories."
Artist Damon Albarn (Blur)
Muse Justine Frischmann
DA: "It upsets me, that song. It upset me singing it. Doing that vocal upset me greatly. To sing that lyric I really had to accept that that was the end of something in my life. It's amazing when you do have the guts to do that with your work, because it don't half help you."
JF: "It's quite an odd thing hearing the song on the radio. It's quite a romantic gesture. I cried when I heard it."
Song Every Breath You Take
Artist Sting (The Police)
Muse Frances Tomelty
S: "It's a song of experience, about jealousy and possession. A sinister, evil song veiled in a romantic setting."
FT: "I hated it. I hated the intrusion in my life. I'm a terrible old slob. I hated not being able to run out the door and go and get the paper. I'm not famous any more and I've worked quite hard at that."
Artist George Harrison (The Beatles)
Muse Pattie Boyd
GH: [Later said] "Well no, I didn't [write it about her]. I just wrote it and then somebody put together a video and went out and got some footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen... so then everybody presumed I wrote it about Pattie, but actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles."
PB: "He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me. All I can say is I feel deeply flattered and honoured.... I don't know what else to say. I guess I'm really lucky."
Song Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
Artist Bob Dylan
Muse Suze Rotolo
BD: "She was the most erotic thing I'd seen. She was fair-skinned and golden-haired, full-blood Italian... We started talking and my head started to spin.... She was just my type."
SR: "I can recognise things [in the song]. It's like looking at a diary. It brings it all back. And what's hard is that you remember being unsure of how life was going to go – his, mine, anybody's. So, from the perspective of an older person looking back, you enjoy them, but also think of them as the pain of youth, the loneliness and the struggle that youth is, or may be."
Song Hey There Delilah
Artist Tom Higgenson (Plain White T's)
Muse Delilah DiCrescenzo
TH: "When I met her I said, 'I will write you a song and it's going to be the best song I ever write and it's going to be the one that makes us famous.' When I later gave her the song I wasn't really expecting anything. She just inspired the song."
DD: "I knew the song was fictionalised, but the song means so much to people so I don't mind playing along with it. I just thought he was being flirtatious. I had a boyfriend at the time."
Song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Artist Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Muse Judy Collins
SS: "It started out as a long narrative poem about my relationship with Judy Collins. It poured out of me over many months and filled several notebooks. I had a hell of a time getting the music to fit."
JC: "It's a lovely experience having a song written about you. He wrote that song to get me back – and he sang it to me and it didn't work! When I hear the song now, it always brings back the 1960s."
Song My Sharona
Artist Doug Fieger (The Knack)
Muse Sharona Alperin
DF: "It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat; I fell in love with her instantly. It sparked something and I started writing a lot of songs feverishly in a short amount of time. For her, it's been very good. She's very proud of it. She never complained."
SA: "It's absolutely humbling. I was a teenager when it came out, so when you get so popular, you don't want your friends to feel left out, so I chose to make it more of a humbling experience."
Artist Leonard Cohen
Muse Suzanne Verdal
LC: "I bumped into Suzanne, who was the wife of a friend.... She invited me down to her place near the river. I went with her, and I touched her perfect body with my mind, because there was no other opportunity. So she provided the name in the song."
SV: "It's not just the copulation. It is the understanding that we are irresistibly attracted to one another, and we have to deal with this. That produced a great piece of art."
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