ICON TO ICON
Love songs for one cultural hero from another
by KOD Staff
With iconic pairings like Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin, we’ve always been captivated by the relationships between our cultural heroes. In an obvious attempt at privacy, artists are always reluctant to speak openly about one another and often their songs are the only truthful window onto their lives. For Valentine’s Day we collect our favorite tracks that illuminate the relationship between two great artists:
Amy Winehouse on Nas – 'Me and Mr Jones'
In 2010, Nas, also known as Nasir Jones, admitted he was the subject of the Amy Winehouse track, ‘Me and Mr Jones’. The song included allusions to the rapper’s Jewish heritage and to his daughter, Destiny. Sharing the same birthday, the two artists had a close bond but the song’s lyrics fuelled rumors that Amy was in love with Nas: ‘You thought I didn’t love you when I did”. The rapper used Twitter to refute claims that the two had an affair; “Amy was my sister. Genuine person who spoke her mind and didn’t give a f*ck!”
Leonard Cohen on Janis Joplin – 'Chelsea Hotel #2'
In 1972, Cohen dedicated ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ to “A brave woman who put an end to it all” – an obvious reference to Janis Joplin. The song looked back on their brief affair in New York: “I remember you well in the Chelsea hotel / you were famous, your heart was a legend”. Later, Cohen expressed regret for putting a name to the song; “I’ve always disliked the locker- room approach to these matters”.
Janis’ approach to the affair was far from sentimental. Before she died, she said Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison were both people she slept with without really liking them, “just because I knew who they were and wanted to know them”.
Joan Baez on Bob Dylan – 'Diamonds and Rust'
In 1963 Joan Baez invited Bob Dylan to play alongside her at the Newport Folk Festival. "I was crazy about him,” she said later. “We were an item and we were having a wonderful time." Bob ended the affair during his 1965 British tour and the song ‘Diamonds and Rust’ was released ten years later.
In 2010 Baez told The Huffington Post how Bob read her the entire lyrics to ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ from a phone booth in the Midwest. Joan relives the moment in the lyrics of ‘Diamonds and Rust’: “As I remember your eyes/ Were bluer than robin's eggs / My poetry was lousy you said / Where are you calling from? / A booth in the Midwest”.
Graham Nash on Joni Mitchell – 'Our House'
Graham Nash met Joni Mitchell at a Hollies gig in March 1969. They were together for two years and it was their life, away from the prying eyes of their fans, which he idealizes in ‘Our House’. When asked about the song’s inspiration, Graham recalled “One of those grey days in LA that foreshadows spring; Joni bought a vase on the way home from breakfast. When we got back, she gathered flowers in the garden, and while she was away from the piano, I wrote ‘Our House’, capturing that little domestic moment.”
Patti Smith on Robert Mappelthorpe – 'Wild Leaves'
Patti Smith wrote ‘Wild Leaves’ as a 41st birthday present to Robert Mappelthorpe. “We were Hansel and Gretel,” Patti Smith writes of their relationship. “We ventured into the black forest of the world.” Together as struggling artists in New York, the couple’s relationship endured tough times, including testing poverty and Robert’s struggles with his own sexuality. Although they parted ways as boyfriend and girlfriend, they remained close and Patti talks about him with genuine tenderness throughout her autobiography, ‘Just Kids’.
Lou Reed on Edie Sedgwick – 'Femme Fatale'
“Andy [Warhol] said I should write a song about Edie Sedgwick. I said “Like what?” and he said, “Oh don’t you think she’s a femme fatale, Lou?” According to Lou Reed, this was the conversation that gave birth to the Velvet Underground track, ‘Femme Fatale’. Both Lou and Edie were staples of The Factory, Andy Warhol’s New York studio. Released in 1966, ‘Femme Fatale’ affirmed Edie’s status as 60s icon and superstar.
Kurt Cobain on Courtney Love – 'Heart Shaped Box'
With the original title ‘Heart shaped coffin’, Kurt claimed the song was based on a documentary he watched about children with cancer. However, Courtney Love had given him a heart shaped box before the song’s release and Kurt’s biographer, Charles Cross, believed the track was actually based on Kurt’s relationship with her. Cross called it “the most convoluted route any songwriter undertook in pop history to say “I love you”.
Edith Piaf on Marcel Cerdan – 'Hymn to Love'
Edith Piaf wrote ‘Hymn to Love’ for her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Although he was married with three children, Edith described Marcel as the love of her life. She first performed the song in September 1949, a month before Cerdan was killed in a plane crash as he was flying from New York to Paris to see her.