The Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova Carry on a Tradition of Music-Making Exes

Neil Sedaka was right: Breaking up is hard to do. Especially when you and your lover are a pair of working musicians with a productive and profitable creative partnership. Then it's real, real hard.

The trick, if you can do it: Break up, but don't disband.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova have it down. The actor-musicians made beautiful music together in the Oscar-winning 2007 busker romance Once, then embarked on a real, off-screen career — and real, off-screen love affair — as the indie-folk duo The Swell Season.

The career continues, but the affair, alas, does not: Hansard and Irglova ended their personal relationship earlier this year. Fortunately, that didn't stop them from touring in support of their sophomore long-play Strict Joy, an album that some reviewers speculate was artistically spiced by the break-up.

If the still-amicable former lovebirds need further inspiration, there's a short but compelling list of pop and rock superstars who managed to salvage the professional part of their partnership while giving the romantic portion the heave-ho. And here it is: The Five Best Rock Non-Break-Up Break-Ups.

Jack White and Meg White: Rock's all-time best alimony arrangement: Meg contributed the surname and Jack (born John Anthony Gillis) contributed the genius. Even if you dispute the theory that Meg's radically limited drumming ability was just the thing to enforce order on Jack's wily musical impulses, there's no disputing the fact that the duo's career took flight only after they terminated their marriage in 2000. And you gotta love Jack's coping mechanism: Just tell everybody she's your sister. Love: married 1996-2000. Career: 1997-present.

Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham: After toiling in near-anonymity for three years as Buckingham Nicks, the one-time college sweethearts hit pay dirt when Mick Fleetwood recruited them to join Fleetwood Mac in 1975. Unfortunately for their seven-year relationship, the new gig also landed them in one of rock's most legendarily incestuous "scenes" (Nicks would later have affairs with Fleetwood and the band's concert promoter, and Buckingham, well, he musta banged Christine McVie, right?). They split up in 1976 while recording Rumours but continued to collaborate. Their secret? Fruitful, creative souls. And lots of blow. Love: 1968-76. Career: 1968-present.

John Doe and Exene Cervenka: True, the X co-vocalists created their finest, most innovative roots-punk music (Wild Gift, Los Angeles, Under the Big Black Sun) while bassist and wife, but even after divorcing in 1985, their partnership yielded a very good album in See How We Are (1987) and two-plus decades of concerts and reunion gigs. And she got to marry Viggo Mortensen for a while. All you ladies are nodding your heads right now. Love: 1977-1985. Career: 1977-98; 2005-present.

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein: The future Blondie principals met in the early '70s New York proto-punk scene, becoming lovers and creative partners and ultimately going multi-platinum with classic pseudo-disco ditties such as "Rapture" and "Heart of Glass." Even after the band dissolved in 1982, they soldiered on as life partners for a good five years. It was only when Blondie reconstituted in 1997 that Harry and Stein worked together as platonic bandmates, and the results weren't bad: The group's reunion album, No Exit (1999), went all the way to number 18 on the Billboard Top 200. Lovers: 1973-87. Career: 1973-82; 1997-present.

David Bowie and Mick Jagger (?): We can't say whether Angela Bowie was telling the truth or just concocting some post-gag-order comeuppance when she told Joan Rivers that she found her ex-husband in bed with Jagger sometime in the early '70s, but we do know that the liaison — if it did happen — predated the pair's 1985 cover of "Dancing in the Street." Obviously, they healed. Lovers: ?. Career: 1985.

 
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