Paul McCartney

1942 (Liverpool) –

McCartney’s songwriting and performing partnership with Lennon, despite its fractiousness, was one of the most notable in popular music (his relationship with Ono was also terse). Pinter invited him to parties, Dylan introduced him to cannabis. Wilson and McCartney were friends across decades, if never close, and competitive mutual influences. De Kooning, befriended through his wife’s father, inspired him to paint. He performed on stage with his friend Ginsberg, got another friend, Hamilton, to design a famous cover, and played a studio session with Wonder. Lynch interviewed him about transcendental meditation. Unfortunately available biographies tend to lack objectivity.

Paul McCartney knew…

Ornette Coleman

1930 (Fort Worth, Tex.) – 2015 (New York)

Coleman’s restlessly innovative approach to structure and harmonics, and penchant for unorthodox performance situations, has strongly influenced younger musicians in and beyond the field of jazz. Cherry, Higgins and Haden (a lifelong friend — Coleman saw collaboration and friendship as practically the same) joined him as early and key partners. Lewis, Bley, Bernstein and Thomson all supported his career. Dolphy, Hubbard, Redman, Jones, McLean and Sanders were among musicians who played with him; Ono, Smith, Reed and Burroughs were accomplices further afield. Ayler was a good friend, while Roach (Coleman said) punched him in the mouth.

Ornette Coleman knew…

Olivier Messiaën

Olivier Messaien

1908 (Avignon, France) – 1992 (Clichy-la-Garenne)

One of the great 20th C composers, Messiaën’s unusually individualistic music has been widely influential. He studied with Dukas and Widor: his own body of students included Boulez (characteristically condescending), Stockhausen, Goeyvaerts, Barraqué, Henry, Grisey and Kurtág, while Xenakis sat in on his classes. Boulanger disapproved of his teaching methods, Delaunay lent him a painting by her husband, Jolivet was influential as a fellow-member of la Jeune France, and Bernstein conducted an important première. Messiaën wrote to Poulenc thanking him for defending him, and visited Durey during the Occupation. Milhaud described the Messiaëns as “charming and impossible.”

Olivier Messiaën knew…

Mick Jagger

1943 (Dartford, England) –

For a good decade, Jagger was a leading counter-cultural icon and thorn in society’s side. His fellow-conspirator Richards was first met at primary school — their creative partnership was crucial to the Rolling Stones’ success. Waters, Berry and Dixon — strong influences all — came to see them in Chicago; Spector, another significant connection, was also met on their first US trip. Southern and Capote (who wore ear-plugs all the time) both tagged along on tour. Jagger extolled Diddley’s generosity of spirit, and was responsible for Wolf’s only TV appearance. Godard made a famously incoherent film featuring the Stones.

Mick Jagger knew…

Louis Durey

1888 (Paris) – 1979 (Saint-Tropez)

Koechlin, Schmitt and Roussel all encouraged Durey as a new talent. A relative latecomer to music, he was instrumental in forming the group ‘Nouveaux Jeunes’ with Auric and Honegger; the addition of Poulenc, Milhaud and Tailleferre expanded it into the group ‘Les Six’, with Satie a benign presence (he said they considered him a kind of mascot) and Cocteau as self-appointed ringmaster (Durey was not over-fond of him). Ravel was a respected personal friend, Radiguet and Laurencin fellow Saturday-night socialisers with the group. Milhaud and Cocteau pleaded with him to stay when, two years on, he retired to the Riviera.

Keith Richards

1943 (Dartford, England) –

Richards and Jagger first met at primary school. When Lennon and McCartney gave them a song (the Rolling Stones’ first single), they played it through together and started a friendly give-and-take relationship. The Stones’ first tour was headlined by the Everlys, Diddley and Little Richard (Richards liked the latter especially). Dixon, Waters, Wolf and Berry — all heroes — were met on their first visit to Chicago, Waters helping carry their amps. Richards much later organised Berry’s 60th birthday party, and played in his backing band. He played (among others) with Dylan, Waits, Hooker, Franklin, Shorter, Lewis and Nelson.

Keith Richards knew…

Joe Strummer

1952 (Ankara) – 2002 (Broomfield, England)

Strummer’s band, the Clash, were British punk’s militant wing. Jones invited him to join an early version of the group; their role as songwriting parters became central to it. Lydon’s Sex Pistols opened for Strummer’s former band: the Clash later reciprocated. Both Scorsese and Jarmusch were big fans, Strummer appearing in films by both. He had previous form with McGowan, and became an irregular member of the Pogues in the singer’s absence. They and Costello all appeared in a sub-standard film. Cash didn’t record the song Strummer wrote for him, and didn’t recognise him the one time they met.

Joe Strummer knew…

  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Mick Jones
  • John Lydon
  • Shane McGowan
  • Elvis Costello
  • Jim Jarmusch
  • Johnny Cash
  • Martin Scorsese

Jimi Hendrix

Jimmy Hendrix;Jimi Hendricks

1942 (Seattle) – 1970 (London)

Hendrix, one of rock music’s most influential exponents, broke new ground in electric guitar playing. He learned his craft backing Cooke, Wilson, Curtis, Little Richard, and Ike and Tina Turner among other soul/rhythm and blues stars, and gigged with King. Among British admirers he telegrammed McCartney to fly out and play bass with himself and Davis (it didn’t happen), joined the Rolling Stones backstage on his birthday, and won a toss with Townshend to decide who would play last. He gave his friend Zappa a guitar he’d set alight, and told Smith (found sitting on his studio steps) he was also kind of shy.

Jimi Hendrix knew…

Jan Ladislav Dussek

1760 (Čáslav, Bohemia, now Czech Republic) – 1812 (Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France)

Dussek has been described as an unjustly neglected composer, whose works anticipated later romantics (including Beethoven). As a young man, he met C. P. E. Bach (perhaps taking lessons from him). Haydn wrote from London to Dussek’s father, praising his son; he later lent Haydn his piano. Da Ponte rented Dussek and his father-in-law’s shop to store his 12,000 books, but found himself saddled with their debts. Dussek also met Cramer and Clementi in London, and gave some lessons to Onslow. Spohr (a friend originally met in Hamburg) and Goethe joined in Dussek and his Prussian patron’s spirited festivities.

Iannis Xenakis

1922 (Brăila, Romania) – 2001 (Paris)

Xenakis was a major composer of the later 20th century, with a noted feel for structure and for mathematically-informed composition. Neither Milhaud nor Honegger appreciated his talents; Boulanger declined to take him on, but pointed him towards Messiaën, who saw where his uniqueness lay (Stockhausen was a fellow-pupil). Working for Corbusier, he defended Varèse in his collaboration with the architect (in fact largely designed by Xenakis). He worked in Schaeffer’s electronic studios, was invited by Copland to teach at Tanglewood, and joined Rostropovich’s jury. Corbusier and he enjoyed shocking diners by removing their glass eyes. Boulez hated him.

Iannis Xenakis knew…