Jun 22, 2023

Ironic Epilogues of 4 Famous ‘True Story’ Songs

Getting a song written about you sounds neat, but just ask whoever Caroline is, and she’ll tell you it’s not universally flattering. In fact, finding out how your lyrically inclined buddy really sees you might be what finally inspires you to get your roses together. Or maybe someone does write you a love song, but you know it’s empty because, off the airwaves, they treat you like… roses.

Whatever the case, a lot of songs based on true stories don’t hold up so well in the ensuing years. Such as…

Have you ever wondered, as you bob your head along to the melody of Counting Crows’ biggest hit playing over the grocery store intercom, just who this “Mr. Jones” was? He’s a somewhat mysterious figure in the song, just a guy who goes out bar-hopping with the singer, has a flamenco-playing father (if you can correctly parse those pronouns, which, well done), and wants to be a big star, at Bob Dylan’s level but ideally just a little more funky. That’s really all we know about the guy. That could describe about half the dudes you see partying in L.A. on a given night.

It turns out Mr. Jones’s first name is Marty, and he was Counting Crows’ first bass player. He left the band shortly before they got famous with the song bearing his name about how much he wanted to be famous, but that’s not the ironic part. Remember that flamenco-playing father? He was David Serva, the first American flamenco guitarist to find success in Spain and almost as well known for leaving a brand-new wife and child at practically every tour stop. Jones left Counting Crows specifically because he’d decided he didn’t want fame, fearing that he’d turn into his dad. Adam Duritz, singer/songwriter of Counting Crows, ended up agreeing with him. Now, when he plays “Mr. Jones,” it’s not a catchy little ditty but a melancholic dirge, with lyrics changed about having “second thoughts about” fame. It never would have charted.

“Layla” was one of the greatest unrequited love songs in music history… until it wasn’t. It was written about maybe the most written-about women in music history, English model Pattie Boyd, who was rather inconveniently married to Beatles guitarist George Harrison when his best friend, Eric Clapton, became obsessed with her. He bombarded her with love letters that she initially thought were from an unhinged fan, which she laughed at with her husband, drove away his own girlfriend, and dated her sister, all in an attempt to… it’s not super clear.

Finally, he recorded “Layla,” then came over and “played the track for her several times, studying her face intently.” Not only did she not call the police, she married him. Despite writing “Something” for her — obviously the superior song — her husband actually sucked so much that this worked.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly happily ever after. For all he’d pined for Boyd, Clapton was incapable of not being the worst husband. He spent pretty much their entire relationship drinking and drugging, abusing her in every possible way and having enough affairs to produce two children (so, at least two). On the other hand, he did subsequently write “Wonderful Tonight” for her, so… nope, that doesn’t make anything better. They divorced after 10 years and Boyd remarried a real estate developer who hopefully doesn’t write any songs for her.

“I Believe” is a cheesy mid-1990s ballad by the “Hey, Leonardo” guy about vague injustices and his confidence that “love will find a way” to fix it or whatever. It’s basically that joke song “We’ve Got to Do Something” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, except not a joke. It takes a hard turn into the specific in the third verse, though, detailing the singer’s relationship of “a little over a year” with a girl named Lisa. She’s been keeping it a secret because she knows her father won’t approve but “believes that love will see it through and one day he’ll understand, and he’ll see me as a person, not just a Black man,” aaaaaand we’re crying in line at the bank.

Even more so after finding out that absolutely everyone’s warm and fuzzy faith was brutally misplaced. Two years into Blessid Union of Souls songwriter Eliot Sloan’s relationship with this Lisa woman, her father did find out about them and learned a valuable lesson about tolerance and understanding because love found a way. Just kidding, he threatened to cut off her college tuition if she didn’t break up with Sloan. She chose education, and Sloan was still heartbroken enough about it to include in the liner notes of the album on which “I Believe” appears, “Lisa, give me a call sometime just to say hello, my number’s still the same.”

The story could have been salvaged if they’d had a nice catching up, but as of 2000, she never called. So that’s a bummer. Who’s ready for a happy ending?

The fact that the band’s name is Jane’s Addiction is your first clue that “Jane Says” isn’t going to be a flattering portrayal. Indeed, the title’s namesake is painted as a pathetic creature who feels naked without her wig, eats her dinner from her pocket, knows her roommates want her to move out and can’t even land a proper punch. Throughout the song, she makes all kinds of grand proclamations about leaving a bad boyfriend, quitting drugs and saving up to move to Spain, giving the distinct impression that if she was your friend, you’d politely nod, not believing a word of that shit.

But she did! Jane Bainter, who lived with the band in the 1980s, was never as much of a loser as the song makes her out to be. She actually had a good grown-up job at a management consulting firm at the time, but she did wear wigs and other outrageous clothes when she went out, and she was “nearly always high.” As of 2001, though, she was proud to report she’d been clean for eight years, enjoying a long career behind the scenes in the music industry and generally living her best life. “Oh, and I did get to Spain, by the way,” she added.

We love to see it.