On May 17, the married duo behind post-punk outfit the Handsome Furs made a surprising (and in some circles, devastating) announcement on their Facebook page:
“With a heavy heart the time has come to let all of you know that the Handsome Furs are no more.
The most important thing that needs to be said right now is how extremely grateful we are to all the fans all over the world that showered us with love and support over the years. Thank you for everything! It’s been an incredible 6 years and we owe it all to you.
Note that this declaration did not say “taking time off” or “going on a break”—the Handsome Furs are officially “no more.” And although Don Boeckner and wife Alexei Perry remain mum about how this news reflects the status of their personal relationship, the possibility that their professional breakup had absolutely nothing to do with marital troubles is highly unlikely.
Breaking up is hard to do—especially when once besotted, now bitter ex-lovers belong to the same successful rock band. This potentially gnarly situation begs the question: does the end of romance also mean the end of musical collaboration? Or can past paramours effectively put their differences aside and continue to make beautiful music together?
Here’s a reality check for all of you Romeos and Juliets of rock and roll: sleeping with a member of your band is never a good idea. A guitar-strumming lothario and twinkly-voiced songbird may seem like the perfect match in theory—but put them in a recording studio together or on a crowded tour bus for 365 days a year, and their sensitive musician egos are bound to clash. Every musical couple wants to be like Johnny and June; however, most of them will probably end up like slightly less tragic versions of Sid and Nancy.
In a March 22 interview with NME, Jack White declared that a reunion with ex-wife Meg White (the other half of punk-blues duo The White Stripes) has “absolutely no chance” of coming to fruition: “If we were forced to change our mind about that, I can only imagine the reason being we went bankrupt or really needed the cash… that would be a really sad thing…I would probably be issuing an apology along with show tickets.”
Another interview with The New York Times on April 5 made White’s feelings about his former spouse even more painstakingly clear: “Meg completely controlled the White Stripes. She’s the most stubborn person I have ever met.”
Although their marriage officially ended in 2000, the Whites maintained a musical partnership that lasted until 2011—an impressive feat considering the intimate (and almost certainly antagonistic) nature of their relationship. Their past as husband and wife was kept hidden from the public until 2005, but by then they had already established themselves as one the most daring and dynamic musical acts of the new millennium. While most divorced couples can’t stand to be in the same room as each other, Jack and Meg continued to rock out on the same stage for over 10 years before finally calling it quits.
Indie music fans hoped and prayed that this same collaborative spirit would unite Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon—the now-divorced power couple behind alt-rock mainstay Sonic Youth—and keep their band afloat even after the demise of their 27-year-marriage. Sadly, the group only lasted one post-separation tour before announcing their own indefinite hiatus. Love-struck band mates, take note: if the king and queen of indie rock couldn’t make it work, then til-death-to-us-part might not cut it for you either.
Despite the long list of bands that have fallen apart as a direct result of romantic discord (Rilo Kiley, Swell Season, Sonny and Cher), a select few have managed to stay together by creating exquisite harmonies out of interpersonal heartache. Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours in the midst of two tumultuous breakups—the divorce of keyboardist Christine McVie from bassist John McVie and the split of lead vocalist Stevie Nicks from guitarist boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham. The surprisingly enjoyable 11-track LP went on to become the eighth highest selling album of all time.
Superchunk is another example of a group that has continued to make music even after two of its members (lead singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance) decided to end their romantic relationship. McCaughan and Ballance remain best friends and business partners to this day—reigning as co-founders of Merge Records (the now-iconic indie record label that they created as an avenue for Superchunk in 1989) and still perform together on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, no band with past or present romantic entanglements is ever truly safe from dissolution. Popular indie rock outfits Arcade Fire and Yo La Tengo both feature husband and wife duos—Win Butler/Regine Chassagne and Ira Kaplan/Georgia Hubley—meaning a divorce between one of these couples could also signal an untimely end for the whole group. So, to all of the woefully naïve, star-crossed lovers who still think that “band incest” is a good idea…it’s not. For the sake of the band, the fans, and music as the nobler cause: just keep it professional.