This feature originally ran February 2016.
Sex sells, but when it comes to songs, love sells even more. The music world lives, eats, and breathes love songs, from Adele’s powerful ballads to The Beatles’ catchy pop songs and everything in between. It’s a given that any album taken off a store shelf will have a heartbreak revival anthem or a grateful ode to the magical feeling of being in love – but how often do we see those idealized lyrics come to life onstage?
The thing is, two musicians circling around one another in this weird solar system known as music, especially if you’re in the same band together, makes things tense. You’re under the same songwriting pressures, entertainment stressors, and desire to climb ahead, all while also rooting for your partner. It’s natural to feel a nagging sense of intrusion and irritation. That’s why most cool music relationships — Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Jack White and Meg White, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale — end in divorce. When two stars get too close to one another, things ignite – or, worse, they explode.
But we’re not here to mourn failed relationships. Puh-leaze. This is about acknowledging couples whose love is still going strong. When it comes to this breed, many of them stay out of the spotlight; that’s one of their keys to longevity. Another secret? Well, after looking at this list, it’s safe to say it’s important to have a heart of gold. While it’s easy to nab relationship goals from couples whose unexpected deaths — Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love; Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson; John Lennon and Yoko Ono — cut things short, it’s better yet to look at the modest couples still rocking out today. After all, they’re the ones who not only figured out how to keep the peace while dealing with the drudges of touring, sleep exhaustion, and soundcheck struggles, but they wake up each day ready to do it all over again – and they look happy doing it.
Here are a handful couples we aspire to be like. How do they pull off being in a band together for decades without ripping their hair out? Unfortunately, we don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we never will. These are the real relationship goals. Like all goals, they’re achievable if you try … or something like that. How does that tune go again?
– Nina Corcoran
Tina Weymouth & Chris Frantz of Talking Heads
It’s hard to believe, but these two were dating before the Talking Heads even existed. David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth all studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1970s. Byrne and Frantz formed a band in 1973 called The Artistics, and Weymouth, who had been dating Frantz for several months at that point, often drove them to and from gigs. In the wake of the band’s dissolution a year later, the three moved to New York City and tried to form a new band. They couldn’t find a bass player until Weymouth, after encouragement from her boyfriend, decided to pick up the instrument herself. In June of 1975, they performed their first show as Talking Heads, marking the beginning of a musical revolution and one of the most envy-worthy relationships to exist.
Take all of that and then multiply it by two. Why? Because Weymouth and Frantz were also in Tom Tom Club together, as if being in one world-famous band wasn’t enough. They’re the rhythm section that just won’t stop. Proof: they’ve been happily together for 43 years and counting.
Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
There’s no one quite like Tom Waits. Naturally, the one to complete him is one of a kind, too. He and Kathleen Brennan met in 1978 on the set of Paradise Alley when pursuing their respective acting careers. They hit it off and got married two years later. Their earliest collaboration, One from the Heart, saw Waits working on the film’s soundtrack while Brennan wrote the script. There’s no better way to tell their run-in than with his own words:
“We met on New Year’s Eve at a party in Hollywood,” he told Chris Douridas in a 1998 interview on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. “I was leaving the next day. I was moving to New York City, and I was never coming back here to the Los Angeles area ever again. That was what I said. But I’d said that before. So we met on New Year’s, and then I left. I was gone for about four months, and then I got a call to do One from the Heart. I came back and I got a little office with a piano in it, and I was writing songs and Kathleen was working at Zoetrope. She was a story analyst. Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door, and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.”
Waits credits much of his cleaning up to her role in his life, especially regarding alcoholism and his future songwriting. “I didn’t just marry a beautiful woman,” he told the Guardian. “I married a record collection.” In addition to working on various soundtracks together, he’s penned numerous songs for her, the most famous being “Johnsburg, Illinois”, named after her birthplace. Now, the oldest of their three kids plays drums in Waits’ band. It’s a family affair, only there’s no real drama – just positive reinforcement and a lot of well-attended shows.
Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips of Luna and Galaxie 500
A New Zealand musician who was born in the ’60s doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to spearhead the lowbrow dream-pop wave. Apparently Dean Wareham didn’t care. The iconic singer-songwriter formed Galaxie 500 in 1987 after he and his two bandmates graduated from Harvard University. He soon traded in one local fangroup for another, quitting the band four years later (and breaking devoted fans’ hearts in the process) to form indie pop act Luna in its wake (and then win the heart of his future wife). Justin Harwood and The Feelies’ Stanley Demeski joined him for several years before dipping out, which saw Britta Phillips of Belltower and Lee Wall fill in their shoes, respectively.
Almost immediately, Wareham and Phillips began dating in 2000 and eventually got married. Since then, they’ve released a slew of collaborative albums together under the moniker Dean & Britta as well as various film scores, including one for Noah Baumbach’s excellent arthouse movie The Squid and the Whale in 2005.
Alan Sparhawk & Mimi Parker of Low
Maybe slowcore works so well because its emotional core begins forming in elementary school. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker — two of the three members of Minnesota band Low — first met when Sparhawk moved to Minnesota at nine years old. The two stayed close friends and, the way these things go in grade school, developed crushes on one another. Even though he began writing songs around the age of 13, it wasn’t until he was 24 years old that he teamed up with Parker to form Low. In 1994, they released their first album, I Could Live in Hope, which introduced the world to their remarkable harmonies. On record and off, Sparhawk and Parker create a warm, lonely, hollowed set of vocal overlaps that remain lush even when sung with full lungs. After 25 years of marriage, their harmonies still ring out like they did when they were in their honeymoon phase. That’s expected in a way. When your songs carry on into an endless lapping night, so does your love.