Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Five Cases of Unrequited Love That Inspired Songs

Rock songs inspired by women? Well I could easily done a top one hundred here, or it might have been easier to do a list of songs not inspired by women. To limit the list a little I'm only going to include women who the songwriter, at the time of writing the song at least, had failed to actually get off with.

5. Lillie Langtry inspired Pictures of Lily by The Who

 'Pictures of Lily made my life so wonderful'

A "ditty about masturbation and the importance of it to a young man".

Usually the women who inspire rock songs are people the songwriter has actually met. However in this case Pete Towshend is writing about a woman who died sixteen years before he was born.

The inspiration in this case appears to be a music hall actress whose picture one of Townshend's girlfriends had. Langtry is probably better described as an 'adventuress', as she appears to have done most of her 'acting' between the sheets of various royal beds. Amongst her conquests were apparently the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII of England), the Earl of Shrewbury (then the owner of Alton Towers) and Prince Louis of Battenberg (Prince Philip's granddad). Not a bad little list.

Apart from Townshend, she also appears to have inspired George MacDonald Fraser, who names her as one of the conquests of Sir Harry Flashman VC and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who made her into Irene Adler, "The Woman" who Sherlock Holmes had a bit of a crush on.

As Ms Adler and the great detective never got it together you wonder whether the celibate Sherlock, like the boy in this song, also 'enjoys' her pictures?

4. Suzanne Verdal inspired Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

'Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river'

A much covered song, including by the early Fairport Convention, Suzanne has a melody that is one of the few that can properly be described as haunting.

The inspiration was one Suzanne Verdal, then the partner of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, whose most famous work is a giant fountain in San Francisco dedicated to Quebecan independence. Cohen says that 'everyone was in love with Suzanne', including him, although, as the song says, he could only 'touch her perfect body' with his mind.

Cohen met her in Montreal, and they would walk by the St Lawrence River before popping back to her place for 'tea and oranges'. An early eco-activist, she was big into recycling, which wasn't terribly fashionable at the time and so probably explains the line ‘you know that she’s half crazy but that’s why you want to be there.’

She travelled the world as a dancer and by the late nineties she was living in a home made shack with her seven cats and working as a dance instructor and massage therapist. However a serious accident ended her dancing career and she ended up broke and homeless.

The song appears in the soundtrack of last year's Reeth Witherspoon film Wild, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Verdal was a childhood friend of the author's mother, so it seems everyone really did love Suzanne.

3. Pattie Boyd inspired Layla by Derek And The Dominoes

 'Layla, I'm begging, darling please.'

The bible warns us against coveting our neighbour's ass, but far worse is coveting the ass of your neighbour's wife. In this case the bottom in question belonged to Pattie Boyd, then the George Harrison, then still a Beatle and good friend of Eric Clapton, who was the one doing the coveting.  

Pattie was a model in the sixties who had one line in the film of A Hard Day's Night. Harrison asked her to either marry him or have dinner with him, and she ended up doing both.

It was Pattie who persuaded the Fab Four to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Eastern mysticism worked for Harrison, but the marriage was a bit of a car crash, literally. Pattie was seriously injured when Harrison decided to drive his Mercedes at 90mph during a blackout along a road still under construction. She survived,  but was soon relying on alcohol and cocaine to get through life with her womanising husband.

Clapton meanwhile had the serious hots for Pattie, and after she turned him down he embarked on three years of heroin addiction, which is a bit of an overreaction in my opinion. What was worse is that he then did the 'sleeping with her sister' thing by moving in with Pattie's younger sibling Paula. Once Paula heard Layla she realised what was going on and moved herself out.

Pattie and Paula had another sister by the way, called Jenny, who inspired Donovan's, Juniper and married Mick Fleetwood. They appear to have been that kind of family.

Clapton eventually quit the drugs, and the pro-Enoch Powell rants, and Pattie quit Harrison. They married in 1979, but it was a very similar story and soon Clapton was sleeping with other women whilst Pattie hit the bottle. They divorced in 1989.

Sometimes unrequited love is best left unrequited.

You'd think this would have put her off men for life, but instead she married again just last month to a property developer. However you can't accuse her of rushing into things the third time, as she has been with Rod Weston for twenty five years.  

2. Debbie Bone inspired Disco 2000 by Pulp

'Your name is Deborah. Deborah. It never suited ya.'

Someone who certainly knows a thing or two about getting nowhere with women is Pulp front man, and coolest dude of the 1990s, Jarvis Cocker.

The Deborah in question here was family friend Debbie Bone. The song apparently pretty much tells it as it was and "the only bit that isn't true is the woodchip wallpaper."  

Bone went on to a career as a mental health nurse and innovator in the field of children's mental health. She was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list just this year. Tragically she died of bone cancer in January, just hours before she was due to receive news of the award. She was only 51.

She and Cocker may never have been more than friends, but they stayed in touch and he sang Disco 2000 for her at her 50th birthday party last year. The song is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.

1.  Danae Stratou inspired Common People by Pulp

'She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge'

Another failure to the 'lanky northern git' that turned into a Britpop anthem.

(Lets forget about the William Shatner spoken word version).

There must be a little bit of doubt about the identity of the identify of the Greek student who told him 'that her Dad was loaded', as BBC3 tried and failed to get Cocker to pick out her picture a few years ago, and a Greek-Cypriot artist called Katerina Kana believes it was her. As she does claim to remember Cocker, unlike Stratou, she has a good claim.

However as the only Greek student who 'studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College' at the time Cocker was there, Ms Startou is currently the most popular choice. In reality Cocker didn't take her to a supermarket, or anywhere else. In fact she appears to have turned him down flat and forgotten about the entire incident. A certain amount of artistic license has therefore gone into the song, especially as the middle class Cocker can't really claim to be one of the 'common people' either then or now.

Stratou herself has gone on to be an internationally renowned installation artist specialising in very big outdoor, errr, things. She eventually married a Marxist Professor of Economics by the name of Yanis Varoufakis.

When the left wing Syriza party swept into power in post-austerity Greece, Varoufakis was invited to become finance minister and champion of the common people of Europe's most unfortunate nation.

Stratou and Varoufakis recently had an encounter with some of those common people whilst out for a meal in Athens' Exarchia district. Exarchia is the home of Athen's arty-intellectual-lefty types and is regularly engulfed by anti-government riots that resemble small wars. During the stand-off Ms Stratou stood her ground and protected her husband, showing she is no more phased by balaclava wearing anarchists than she is by amorous 'lanky northern gits'.


So there we are, the moral of the story? Self abuse can be inspirational, there's nothing wrong with tea and oranges, nice girls should never marry racist guitarists, sometimes it's good to just stay friends and don't worry too much if you are an ultra-cool rock star and the girl you fancy dumps you for an economics teacher.

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