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…

Patti Smith

1946 (Chicago) –

Smith has been an influential presence, both for her music and as a committed cultural activist. Mapplethorpe (companion and sometime lover), Burroughs (her close friend and ‘guide’), and Dylan (who recognised a fellow-feeling for poetry) were all formational influences. Cale produced her first album, Frank shot a video. She collaborated with Springsteen and Shephard, met Coleman in a pizzeria in Italy, was with Ginsberg when he died, and helped get Corso buried next to Shelley. Sontag said she could appreciate her because she’d read Nietzsche. She appeared onstage with Dylan, Burroughs, Glass, Springsteen and Coleman. All became enduring friends.

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…

Michael Kelly

Michael O'Kelly

1762 (Dublin) – 1826 (Margate, England)

Arne taught Kelly piano. Attwood travelled with him to visit Leopold Mozart, with a scheme to take Mozart’s son Wolfgang to England, but it didn’t come off. He was a good friend of the younger Mozart, frequently dining with him, and singing in the première of ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’ Kelly described Mozart as “remarkably fond of punch”, and claims always to have beaten him at billiards. The librettist da Ponte, he said, had a lisp and the character of a coxcomb. Kelly also worked in Venice with Paisiello and Martin y Soler. Hook was the ghost writer for his ‘Reminiscences’. Sheridan, a London friend, joked with him about his twin occupations dealing in wine and music.

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


Carlo Broschi

1705 (Andria, Italy) – 1782 (Bologna)

Farinelli was by all accounts one of the great opera singers – not simply a great castrato – and as such, had an international career. He studied with Porpora. Broschi, his brother, wrote much of the music for his London debut. He collaborated with Scarlatti in Spain, where he went for a few months but stayed 25 years, gaining great political power. Metastasio, with whom he’d worked in Rome as a teenager, provided words for much of the music Farinelli directed in Spain. He spent his final few months with Metastasio in Bologna.

Édith Piaf

1915 (Paris) – 1963 (Plascassier, France)

Cocteau was a close friend: he wrote a short play for her, and famously died deeply affected a few hours after hearing of her own death. Montand was a protégé and lover. Captivated by his music, she helped Yupanqui in his career, and gave Aznavour (her secretary, driver and confidant — who also wrote for her) his big break. Chaplin was a friend, and Dietrich a close one (she was witness at Piaf’s first wedding); no substantial evidence seems to exist to support rumours that they may also have been lovers.

Édith Piaf knew…

  • Jean Cocteau
  • Yves Montand
  • Atahualpa Yupanqui
  • Charles Aznavour
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Charlie Chaplin

Bob Dylan

1941 (Duluth, Minn.) –

Dylan is widely regarded as one of the half-dozen most influential composers and performers in popular music. As a young unknown, he played harmonica for Belafonte, was taken under Spivey’s wing, learned from meeting Fuller and Carthy, and took cigarettes to the ailing Guthrie, his biggest role-model. He got a break opening for Hooker (who said they stayed up drinking and playing all night), went to a passover meal with Brando, and discussed getting married by Davis. He toured with Haggard, joked about song-writing with Cohen, swapped cassettes with Waits, and was told by Williamson he played too fast.

Bob Dylan knew…

Tom Waits

1949 (Pomona, Calif.) –

Gravelly, uncompromising, oddball: Waits is a one-off. He said he knelt at the altar of Ray Charles for years, and once shook his hand at an airport. Richards, proposed as a dream collaborator, became a friend and played on several tracks. Bryars said an afternoon spent recording with him was as beautiful a musical experience as he could remember. Jarmusch, Coppola (a long-time friend) and Altman all cast him in films. He called Gilliam a man you’d want in the boat at the end of the world. Waits worked on three pieces with Wilson (one with Burroughs), and said nobody had affected him as much as an artist.

John Lennon

1940 (Liverpool) – 1980 (New York)

Lennon’s significance derived from the potent mix of his singing and songwriting and his forceful character, on and off stage. He and McCartney met as teenagers (their famous partnership was increasingly full of tensions). Dylan — each influenced the other — allegedly introduced him to cannabis. Jagger, Richards (both mates on the London scene) and Bowie were among his occasional collaborators; Richards said Lennon felt he had to party even harder than himself, an uphill challenge. Lester directed two films, tapping his sardonic humour, while Spector helped produce, complete with loaded pistol. Ono’s offbeat art intrigued him; they married.