In praise of artistic theft
February 18, 2015 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Tom Petty knows what many don’t—that appropriation and originality can’t be separated.
posted by josher71 (93 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
He also knows to cash the check first
posted by thelonius at 11:10 AM on February 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm sure I have posted this here before, but The Axis of Awesome makes a pretty strong point about modern pop and originality here
posted by bobdow at 11:14 AM on February 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, there is influence. No, that is not the same as plagiarism. Yes, Greetings From Ashbury Park was made with a lot of Dylan-worship. No, no song on the album uses the same melody as a Dylan song. Yes, T.S. Eliot was very open about his quotations. No, that does not make The Waste Land the equivalent of a Girl Talk album.

This is such a passionately-argued, obviously-ridiculous argument (packed with gross factual errors) that I'm trying to figure out what ideological point the author is trying to make, since I don't know what else could motivate it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


When that Sam Smith song came out I googled it to find out who originally recorded it, it sounded so familiar. I saw that it was written by Sam Smith and thought. "Huh, guess I was wrong." Huh. Guess I was wrong about how wrong I was.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a passionately-argued, obviously-ridiculous argument (packed with gross factual errors)
posted by Sangermaine at 11:30 AM on February 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


You know what's really not original? Writing yet another "everything is a remix" article that fails to grasp that what people care about is distinctiveness, not some narrow definition of originality set up to be impossible to fulfill.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


The artistic implications of influence to copying to plagiarism are completely separate from the current legal regime for songwriting credit and payment.

I think Tom Petty knows the issue here is about getting paid and not about any artistic pretense.
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nice excuses for theft is still theft. If it isn't your idea, give credit where credit is due. It is very simple, but people want credit to build up careers on other people's expense so they can have an image of artistic genius when they are nothing but leeches.

Influence and inspiration is one thing, but it is not the same as ripping someone off. There is no fuzzy line: just sophistry and lies to pretend those lines are fuzzy.

Those who can, do, those who can't...plagiarize.

And people who plagiarize aren't just thieves, but liars. I know it is posh to justify every self-serving lie people cling on to these days so they don't have to face consequences or reality, but I am not buying it, even from a well-known singer...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:36 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


If Tom Petty is going to go around suing people for ripping him off, The Jayhawks ought to sue his goddamn pants off.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:40 AM on February 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


And on some higher plane of existence, George Harrison is thinking: "Whoa! Déjà vu!".
posted by TDavis at 11:41 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Keith Richards tells a story in his book about the Stones' song "Anybody Seen My Baby." Between recording it and releasing it, he was at home playing the song and his daughter and her friend starting singing along with the chorus - with the words to KD Lang's "Constant Craving." Many frantic phone calls and meetings and letters and contracts later, KD Lang and Ben Mink had a writing credit on a Stones album.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:42 AM on February 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


The question is, does Tom Petty get a cut of all those damn Grammys?
posted by teleri025 at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2015


entropicamericana, who did Tom sue?
posted by Cosine at 11:45 AM on February 18, 2015


Isn't all popular music derived from Pachelbel anyway?
posted by TedW at 11:46 AM on February 18, 2015 [9 favorites]




Lucky for The Strokes.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:49 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Correction: Petty never actually sued, so let me rephrase my previous comment: "If Tom Petty is going to go around taking percentages from people he thinks ripped him off..."
posted by entropicamericana at 11:49 AM on February 18, 2015


that fails to grasp that what people care about is distinctiveness, not some narrow definition of originality set up to be impossible to fulfill.

Except that that isn't really true. "People" draw imaginary lines-in-the-sand all over the place. There's almost never an argument over "originality" that isn't really an argument about something else--race, class, sexuality, gender etc. Other than the most straightforward plagiarism (copying word for word or note for note for very extended passages) there's nothing but fuzzy boundaries which we choose to turn into barricades to die (or sue) on--or not--for all kinds of complex and often underexamined reasons.

What's the difference between "appropriation" and "working in a tradition"? Between "homage" and "ripping off"? Between "being influenced" and being "derivative"? None of those things are hard-and-fast, and nobody maintains consistent standards across all cases.

This piece doesn't help shed much light on the subject for the reasons that have already been pretty well explicated above, but the issue is one that deserves continued exploration and which really can't be solved by any vague appeals to common sense standards.
posted by yoink at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dude uses "imbricated" instead of "overlapped." Hello, pretension.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2015


The question is, does Tom Petty get a cut of all those damn Grammys?

Yes! Sort of!
"Since Lynne and Petty didn’t do any new writing for this work, we are considering their original work to have been interpolated by Napier, Phillips and Smith for 'Stay With Me'," Bill Freimuth, the academy's senior vice president for awards said. "Lynne and Petty will not be considered nominees nor will they be considered Grammy recipients, should the song win. Rather, they would be given certificates to honor their participation in the work, just as any other writers of sampled or interpolated work." (source)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:55 AM on February 18, 2015


And when it feels right, the last thing on a musician’s mind should be whether someone else might have had the same combination of chords.
Why do people who want to talk about appropriation always focus on the chords? It's not about the combination of chords, it's about whether a song makes a crap-ton of people think "Major parts of your melody sound identical to a melody in a pre-existing song that lots and lots of people are familiar with".
posted by 23skidoo at 11:58 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe Petty just didn't want to make *too* big a deal out of being "interpolated" by the new millennium's Michael McDonald.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:03 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Correction: Petty never actually sued, so let me rephrase my previous comment: "If Tom Petty is going to go around taking percentages from people he thinks ripped him off..."

I don't know when The Jayhawks first recorded Waiting For The Sun but there is a pretty well known demo out there of Petty doing Mary Jane from 1989, FWIW the riff is already there.
posted by Cosine at 12:09 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is what separates Science from Art. Scientists actually give credit by including a list of references and citations when they publish their work. And this is done, not to cater to any egocentric sense of credit, but rather to serve the basic scientific principles of transparency, verifiability, etc: the scientific method is a bigger thing than any one individual. And I would argue that this scholarly practice is a consequence of respecting the process of creativity in the first place.
posted by polymodus at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2015


> No, that does not make The Waste Land the equivalent of a Girl Talk album.

It was, but Pound cut all those bits out. Pound was a bad person but a very good editor.
posted by jfuller at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, nothing in the article about how plagiarism/originality/ideas of "authenticity" play out in terms of which demographics tend to get compensated and which demographics don't. Awesome!
posted by beefetish at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2015


Petty's first hit "American Girl" was Byrds-esque enough to fool a lot of people way back when, so I guess he knows of what he speaks. And Michael McDonald is way better than this Sam Smith joker.
posted by jonmc at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


What's the difference between "appropriation" and "working in a tradition"? Between "homage" and "ripping off"? Between "being influenced" and being "derivative"?

A commercial economy.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:18 PM on February 18, 2015


It's not about the combination of chords, it's about whether a song makes a crap-ton of people think "Major parts of your melody sound identical to a melody in a pre-existing song that lots and lots of people are familiar with".

True enough. Like with that Stones song, the fact that that melodic line is used in the chorus (like it is in Constant Craving) and that both songs use similar rhymes in the same rhythmic slots ('craving', 'baby') lets people make the identification super easily. Same for the Jayhawks' little riff at the intro vs. Petty's for the Mary Jane song - it's the rhythm, instrument, sound and placement in the song all together. Weaving bits of a melody or riff into say a keyboard part somewhere else in the song (or for the first pairing, using the melody in a verse with different vowels), whatever, wouldn't bring the comparison to mind so readily. But doing that kind of reworking would involve a more conscious approach than I think often happens - it's the memes as units that stick in and work through people's minds, mostly unconsciously, I think.

(I once thought I wrote the most amazing bassline ever. Like, it blew my mind how good it was, I thought. It turned out to be the whole horn part at 1:26 here.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


And Michael McDonald is way better than this Sam Smith joker.

Maybe as a singer, but at least Sam Smith didn't ruin the Doobie Brothers.
posted by TedW at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


To be honest, I was kinda hoping this thread would be a bunch of jokes about not backing down and not having to live like a refugee and dragging people's hearts around and whatnot.
posted by box at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


I once thought I wrote the most amazing bassline ever. Like, it blew my mind how good it was, I thought.

Freshman year of college I got a guitar riff stuck in my head that I just had to write a song around. As soon as I played it for my roommates, they informed me of "Rebel Rebel."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


"People" draw imaginary lines-in-the-sand all over the place.

Fair enough.

Other than the most straightforward plagiarism (copying word for word or note for note for very extended passages) there's nothing but fuzzy boundaries .... What's the difference between "appropriation" and "working in a tradition"? Between "homage" and "ripping off"? Between "being influenced" and being "derivative"? None of those things are hard-and-fast, and nobody maintains consistent standards across all cases.

I have no quarrel with people trying to sort out the borderline cases. But this article (as usual for this sort of thing) does the opposite—it denies that there's anything to sort out. "Nothing is really original anyway, so there's no difference between what this guy Smith is doing and what T.S. Eliot did" is the equivalent of those proofs that show 1 = 2 by sneakily dividing by zero in the middle.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


"People" draw imaginary lines-in-the-sand all over the place.

Not real people.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:40 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know when The Jayhawks first recorded Waiting For The Sun but there is a pretty well known demo out there of Petty doing Mary Jane from 1989, FWIW the riff is already there.

Yep, just watched the Petty HBO documentary where he talks about "Mary Jane" being an older tune that just never made it on an album but finally did when the record company wanted a new track for the Greatest Hits. May predate the Jayhawks tune by a decade or more.

Jayhawks' "Hollywood Town Hall" is a really really awesome album nonetheless.

And while I always liked Petty, someone a few years back pointed out how he ripped off the Replacements' line "rebel without a clue." So he's no stranger to the five-fingered musical discount himself.
posted by kgasmart at 12:48 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


TedW, for all intents and purposes the Doobies were two different bands-the boogie band led by Tom Johnston and the blue - eyed soul outfit they became once McDonald joined. I like both incarnations.
posted by jonmc at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


A couple of weeks ago, at the end of an all-day writing and recording session, I realized the song I and my bandmate were really excited about had almost exactly the same bassline and chord progression as a song released by a band I like a few years ago. I spent a couple of hours the next day completely re-writing and re-recording the song, but it's nice to know that so many people would defend me fiercely if I had decided not to.
posted by The World Famous at 12:51 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stick to covers and play only for beer and you can avoid this problem entirely.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:58 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is what separates Science from Art. Scientists actually give credit by including a list of references and citations when they publish their work. And this is done, not to cater to any egocentric sense of credit, but rather to serve the basic scientific principles of transparency, verifiability, etc: the scientific method is a bigger thing than any one individual. And I would argue that this scholarly practice is a consequence of respecting the process of creativity in the first place.

Fraud in science? Nevar!! 'Cause, like, scientists RAWWK!
posted by No Robots at 1:11 PM on February 18, 2015


We should have a norm of sharing where we got our inspiration from. If I loved Band A and then learned they were inspired by Band B, I would buy Band B's music as well.

You can see some of this among bloggers, who frequently credit and link to each other. Everybody wins.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:15 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is what separates Science from Art. Scientists actually give credit by including a list of references and citations when they publish their work.

It's true that science has a culture where they try, but it doesn't really address the fact that at any given time, the intellectual tools available, the zeitgeist about what's interesting to work on, and lots of less formal conversation make up a lot of vectors that aren't always acknowledged. Probably one of the easiest ways to see this is through cases where sexism is apparent (Marie Tharp, Rosalind Franklin), but there's more and subtler ways where influence gets attenuated and contributions get left out.

And next thing you know people are arguing over whether MC Newton or DJ Leibniz copied the other's hook, and fools don't even know they're both ripping off Gauss (we're still all ripping off Gauss).
posted by weston at 1:20 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


they're both ripping off Gauss

Leibniz d. 1716
Newton d. 1727
Gauss b. 1777

Your math is off.
posted by No Robots at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2015


Fact: Archimedes was ripping off Gauss.
posted by weston at 1:46 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nobody's mentioned Spider Robinson's "Melancholy Elephants" yet?

And hey, full text available for free on his website or at the Baen free library!
posted by wenat at 1:50 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wrote a song once that was a ripoff of a Misfits song, although I had never heard the song before.
posted by gucci mane at 1:53 PM on February 18, 2015


This is what separates Science from Art. Scientists actually give credit by including a list of references and citations when they publish their work. And this is done, not to cater to any egocentric sense of credit, but rather to serve the basic scientific principles of transparency, verifiability, etc: the scientific method is a bigger thing than any one individual. And I would argue that this scholarly practice is a consequence of respecting the process of creativity in the first place.


No, what seperates science from art is empiricism and testability/falfsiability. Plagiarized science or science that was a product of parallel discovery still "works"/can be repeated and tested because that's how fucking science works, innit. Doesn't matter the name that's on it or if that credit is accurate. The "scientific principles" come into play during the design of the experiment, ie, is this actually testing what it's says it's testing? The scientific method, just like empirical reality, doesn't give a damn about this socially constructed notion of "credit" or "authorship".

What that says about art, I don't know. Scientifically speaking, given that music exists in a mathematically constrained space (ie, range of sound audible to humans, over a distinct period of time, chopped up in various ways that can be described mathematically), it ought to be possible to get some kind of handle on just what "sounds like" originality or distinctiveness to the average person. Like, I bet on some level of abstraction, there's a curve for that.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:58 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


And while I always liked Petty, someone a few years back pointed out how he ripped off the Replacements' line "rebel without a clue." So he's no stranger to the five-fingered musical discount himself.

Which, as Wikipedia mentions on the page for that song, was used as a song title by Jim Steinman in 1982, years before the Replacements used the phrase.
posted by effbot at 2:07 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Unconscious plagiarism is a real phenomenon, and it's a good reason for being in a band instead of a solo act. Like cotton dress sock, I once thought I had come up with a genius song- only for my drummer to eventually realize that it was the riff to 'Buck Hill' by the Replacements.

There is a line between plagiarism and transformation, and Sam Smith didn't step across it with his song. Introduce a new bridge, some solos, change the tempo between the verse and the chorus, arrange the song with an entirely different combo, do something. But Smith didn't really alter the underpinnings of the song, just gave it some new lyrics. And that's hack work. That's laziness. He could have kept the essence and the hooks of the song and tweaked it enough to be tolerably distinct from Tom Petty, and it would have taken maybe a week of work to do so. And Smith is big label enough that somebody should have been able to point it out to him, even if the initial plagiarism is unconscous.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:16 PM on February 18, 2015


It happened to me when we did the Radiohead covers on Music - sometimes you miss the obvious because you're too focused on other aspects of what you are doing.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2015


Scientifically speaking, given that music exists in a mathematically constrained space (ie, range of sound audible to humans, over a distinct period of time, chopped up in various ways that can be described mathematically), it ought to be possible to get some kind of handle on just what "sounds like" originality or distinctiveness to the average person.

One thing I'm pretty sure of: as with dissonance, the result won't line up with technical musical criteria too well. For example, it's often alleged that "Stairway To Heaven" is a ripoff of "Taurus" by Spirit, but as far as I can tell the only similarity is that both are played on an acoustic guitar and both briefly use the same very common chord progression.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 2:39 PM on February 18, 2015


Derivative works happen. Legal frameworks can be employed to help all artists in this world. Use them. It's no big deal. People are pissed at OMG art has a business side.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:47 PM on February 18, 2015


The text links to it, but it is seminal and worth reading: Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstacy of Influence
posted by lalochezia at 2:58 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unconscious plagiarism is a real phenomenon,

and i think this is a classic case of it - because the one part that is truly identical is the musical phrase "stay with me" - the third line of the chorus is different - the verse is totally different, not even the same chord progression, it's the "stay with me" melody that got him in trouble

all he had to do is was add a note to "stay" and a couple to "me" and he'd have had a different melody - forget about the chord progression, that really isn't copyrightable, otherwise a crapload of people would be in trouble - and actually, the groove is pretty different and the piano uses different inversions

things like this are going to happen when you have three chord choruses

also petty was probably smart to take a settlement - there's been a lot of court cases over things like this and a 3 note motif isn't much to hang a case on - although this one is certainly identical and it's obviously the hook of the song

it's clear to me that any songwriter with common sense who would have realized the identicalness of this song would have changed it just enough, so i'm thinking this was unconscious
posted by pyramid termite at 3:06 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


What's the difference between "appropriation" and "working in a tradition"? Between "homage" and "ripping off"? Between "being influenced" and being "derivative"?

I'm inspired, you're derivative, she's a thief.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:12 PM on February 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


What's the difference between "appropriation" and "working in a tradition"? Between "homage" and "ripping off"? Between "being influenced" and being "derivative"?

lawyers - of course
posted by pyramid termite at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


CNTRL+F "Robert Johnson"

0 of 0

Huh. Ok, then. Everything old is new again.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered about this with chord progressions...e.g., My Sweet Lord and He's So Fine. Remember that one?

Then later, there was the stuff about a short "sample" from a different song you used...never understood that one....

When this progressed to code and features, e.g., "one click ordering" is now patented, I kinda lost interest.

Yep, everything old is new again...and patented this go-round!

The unusual thing here is Petty shrugging it off....
posted by CrowGoat at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2015


Publishing companies have brainwashed you millennials that there is such a thing as original thought. Part of the reason music has absolutely sucked in the 21st century is because every interesting song ends up in the trash bin because no artist wants to get sued out of existence by some publishing company for stealing a single riff.
posted by any major dude at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe as a singer, but at least Sam Smith didn't ruin the Doobie Brothers.

That's only what a fool believes.1

--------------
1McDonald, Michael, and Kenny Loggins, C. What a Fool Believes. The Doobie Brothers. Ted Templeman, 1978. Vinyl recording.
posted by Ratio at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Publishing companies have brainwashed you millennials that there is such a thing as original thought. Part of the reason music has absolutely sucked in the 21st century is because every interesting song ends up in the trash bin because no artist wants to get sued out of existence by some publishing company for stealing a single riff.

posted by any major dude at 3:36 PM on February 18 [+] [!]


Not sure if gimmick account or eponysterical...
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 3:49 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is what separates Science from Art. Scientists actually give credit by including a list of references and citations when they publish their work. And this is done, not to cater to any egocentric sense of credit, but rather to serve the basic scientific principles of transparency, verifiability, etc: the scientific method is a bigger thing than any one individual. And I would argue that this scholarly practice is a consequence of respecting the process of creativity in the first place.

As a musician, I don't think it would be possible for me to meaningfully 'reference' most of my original stuff, short of providing a very long list of music I have listened to (and even that would probably be incomplete). I don't know that you can separate note finely than that, necessarily - in some cases perhaps, but most of the time I couldn't tell you what if what I've listened to in my life feeds into something and what doesn't, and to an extent, it all does anyway.

TL;DR: music is not science and you can't necessarily reference like that.
posted by Dysk at 4:11 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


culture is appropriation
posted by Sebmojo at 4:35 PM on February 18, 2015


Do you know what culture is? It's appropriation. That's what culture is.
posted by The World Famous at 5:09 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Appropriation is approbation!
posted by doubtfulpalace at 5:13 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


In university, a situation that was even more annoying than unintentional plagiarism happened to a friend of mine. He wrote songs, and one of them was great, with an unusual chord progression (not like "avant jazz" unusual, but not "hey, it's Pachelbel's Canon again" either). It was the song everyone wanted to hear the most when he played a show. And then a few months later, a new song was all over the radio by Weezer or somebody, with the exact same chord progression.

My friend never played at any big clubs, so it's unlikely that anyone in Weezer (or whatever the band was) actually heard his song. Plus, given that it was all over the radio only a few months later, it had to have already been written by the time my friend wrote his song. So it was entirely coincidental. But because of this, my friend had to give up playing the song, or putting it on an album, because anyone who heard it outside the small group of early fans would just assume he ripped it off, either consciously or unconsciously. There's just no way it could have been entirely coincidental, except that it actually was.
posted by Bugbread at 5:34 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I see your Jayhawks and Tom Petty and raise you an RHCP.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:51 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which, as Wikipedia mentions on the page for that song, was used as a song title by Jim Steinman in 1982, years before the Replacements used the phrase.

Jim Steinman, as in "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Jim Steinman? Good lord.

In any event: Once wrote what I thought was a pretty good verse/bridge, very pop-py in a mid-'70s dBs sort of way. Then my brother says: Those are the same chords as "Won't Get Fooled Again," which obviously you aren't going to mention in the same sentence as the dBs; very different styles, very different approaches. But the same chord structure and it's derivative; because you listened to both bands, you wind up somehow unconsciously incorporating the chord sequence of one, in the style of the other.

It's all one big mash-up.
posted by kgasmart at 6:10 PM on February 18, 2015


I see your Jayhawks and Tom Petty and raise you an RHCP.

In the 90's I'd heard the song "Under the Bridge" on the radio several times but didn't know the title and spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out which of Tom Petty's albums it was from. ("Okay, it's not any of the songs on his Greatest Hits album, which is weird because it's on the radio all the time...")
posted by straight at 8:36 PM on February 18, 2015


Introduce a new bridge, some solos, change the tempo between the verse and the chorus, arrange the song with an entirely different combo, do something.

But then, isn't that person just doing a better job of obfuscating the fact that the work is a derivative work?
posted by MikeKD at 10:20 PM on February 18, 2015


When I first heard the Sam Smith song, I immediately started singing "Won't Back Down." This was before any of the press. Then I saw that YouTube video where the guy sped up Stay With Me and slowed down Won't Back Down and superimposed the two, and well.. I felt just as smug as any Apple fanboy did in 2008.
posted by ostranenie at 10:39 PM on February 18, 2015


See also: that awful Smash Mouth song and Jean-Jacques Perrey's "Swan's Splashdown." Or Reservoir Dogs v. City On Fire.
posted by ostranenie at 10:41 PM on February 18, 2015


“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.'"

--Jim Jarmusch
posted by zardoz at 11:13 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have no quarrel with people trying to sort out the borderline cases. But this article (as usual for this sort of thing) does the opposite—it denies that there's anything to sort out. "Nothing is really original anyway, so there's no difference between what this guy Smith is doing and what T.S. Eliot did" is the equivalent of those proofs that show 1 = 2 by sneakily dividing by zero in the middle."

You could try something as original as reading the fucking article, which you have pretty much exactly backward. It's not saying there's no difference, it's saying that the difference is in how transformative the appropriation is. That's the whole point of the T.S. Eliot, Springsteen and Nabokov references.

"As is usual for this sort of thing," Jesus.
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


You forgot this previously, btw: Viva La Vida - A Copy of a Copy? Did "Auto-Tune the News" guy accidentally write Coldplay's Viva La Vida? (in which Michael Gregory confuses the heck out of a bunch of MeFites).
posted by effbot at 1:07 AM on February 19, 2015


I've always wondered about this with chord progressions...e.g., My Sweet Lord and He's So Fine. Remember that one?

Anecdote from that trial: After the judge had ruled that Harrison did indeed plagiarise My Sweet Lord, the lawyers from both sides were chatting. The prosecution lawyer happened to comment that he actually liked both songs. To which Harrison's counsel responded with rapier legal precision "but you just argued that there was only one song!"
posted by colie at 1:30 AM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

Up next: there is no such thing as "authenticity", which is a concept always used in the service of racist and classist anxiety.
posted by thelonius at 5:26 AM on February 19, 2015


Remember that time some Scottish band did a five-finger discount of a melody from an Oscar-nominated song? That was awesome.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:03 AM on February 19, 2015


Many frantic phone calls and meetings and letters and contracts later, KD Lang and Ben Mink had a writing credit on a Stones album.

Did Richards have to surrender all royalties and songwriting credits for this song, like Richard Ashcroft had to do for "Bitter Sweet Symphony"?
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:32 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Up next: there is no such thing as "authenticity", which is a concept always used in the service of racist and classist anxiety.

Up next: Patent falsehoods stated as gospel truths!

It's interesting to me how these sort of arguments on MetaFilter tend to ignore the folk tradition, instead couching the argument as rock versus pop. Anyway, there has to be some sort of middle ground. The Carter Family and Woody Guthrie wouldn't have been able to operate as they did in today's environment, and then where would we be?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:48 AM on February 19, 2015


You could try something as original as reading the fucking article, which you have pretty much exactly backward. It's not saying there's no difference, it's saying that the difference is in how transformative the appropriation is. That's the whole point of the T.S. Eliot, Springsteen and Nabokov references.

He brings up that point only to dismiss it in the end:

When Green Day makes millions from writing a song that uses the same basic idea as a Dillinger Four record from six years earlier, it offends our sense of decorum.... It’s a very American belief to demand credit where we think credit is due. Never mind that most of what we consider great art is the uncredited appropriation of some other artist’s work.... Tom Petty didn’t invent that chord progression, and Sam Smith shouldn’t be pilloried for thinking it was his. Because it should be his, as much as it is Petty’s.

It's not the most clearly written article, but if you want to disagree with my reading of it, how about an argument instead of a snort of derision?
posted by doubtfulpalace at 9:06 AM on February 19, 2015


Smith is big label enough that somebody should have been able to point it out to him

His material is pretty poor and slapdash, for someone who's been hyped so much. Compare Adele's 21 and One Direction's second album, where some of the world's best songwriters were carefully assembled, and this kind of slackness would never have got through. The gospel choir just underlines the lack of imagination.

Nobody will be playing the Sam Smith song in ten years, unlike Petty's which still has a bit of freshness to it.
posted by colie at 9:21 AM on February 19, 2015


Nobody will be playing the Sam Smith song in ten years

I have no opinion either way about the Sam Smith song, but I will note that predictions like that have a poor record of anything better than random success.
posted by yoink at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


yoink, I'll bet you 100 dollars I'm right and we can return to this thread in ten years to settle up.
posted by colie at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2015


You're on--but I'm comfortable making it a million dollars (and for a million dollars I can guarantee you that someone is going to playing the Sam Smith song in ten years!).
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


"It's not the most clearly written article, but if you want to disagree with my reading of it, how about an argument instead of a snort of derision?"

That's not actually dismissing it. Is the problem that you're not reading where you're putting your ellipses? "Never mind that the same chord progression has been used hundreds of times, in varying ways and forms; it’s that we don’t think they properly made it their own."

He spends the whole piece explicitly disclaiming a model where ownership trumps creativity, and instead — explicitly — says the focus should be on "creativity" over "commons."

And it's pretty fucking rich to get indignant about derision when you start off with: "You know what's really not original? Writing yet another "everything is a remix" article that fails to grasp that what people care about is distinctiveness, not some narrow definition of originality set up to be impossible to fulfill."

To coin a phrase: Physician, heal thyself.
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 AM on February 19, 2015


"Never mind that the same chord progression has been used hundreds of times, in varying ways and forms; it’s that we don’t think they properly made it their own."

Yes, this too is in the section where he sums up (what he thinks to be) common opinion in order to dismiss it.

instead — explicitly — says the focus should be on "creativity" over "commons."

Precisely because he thinks that taking from the commons is itself a creative act, not because he wants to distinguish more vs. less transformative borrowing.

Here's the conclusion of the piece:

Tom Petty didn’t invent that chord progression, and Sam Smith shouldn’t be pilloried for thinking it was his. Because it should be his, as much as it is Petty’s. The creative common space of musical notes, of sing-along refrains, will always be a game of maybe-try-it-like-this, a tweaking and reconstituting of the existing materials you have to work with. And those materials are never unformed lumps of clay; they’ve been shaped into discrete gifts, meant to be used and abused, affected and affecting. The very notion of a “pop song” means the limitations are profound, while the resources for appropriation are vast. Your verse is not your verse, your chorus is not your chorus, your song is not your song. Your song is our song. Your song is my song.

That's the opposite of saying that the difference is in how transformative the appropriation is.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 12:01 PM on February 19, 2015


"Yes, this too is in the section where he sums up (what he thinks to be) common opinion in order to dismiss it."

No, he dismisses specific arguments attendant to the general consensus on ownership and originality.

"Precisely because he thinks that taking from the commons is itself a creative act, not because he wants to distinguish more vs. less transformative borrowing."

No, under his thesis taking from the commons is necessary for creativity but not sufficient. Read it again.

"That's the opposite of saying that the difference is in how transformative the appropriation is."

No, it's not. It's pointing out that the concept of originality as ownership is incoherent, ergo Smith being pilloried or giving Petty a cut of the songwriting credit is incoherent.

You're really fixated on trying to slot this into being just like every other essay you think you've read about it and willing to ignore all of the points against that because… you're too lazy to respond to new arguments? Your approach to an argument over the incoherence of the way originality is generally treated is to reject the novelty and return to knee-jerk arguments that you can hack out? From the title on down, the thesis is that appropriation is part of originality and creativity, but arguing that precludes distinctions within originality or creativity is not supported by the text, no matter how many times you try to reduce the article into something you can swallow.

I mean, does he have to use <blink> tags around "Our outrage should never be about the theft itself; it should be about using what one steals badly" to make you realize that he means exactly that?

This is neither a particularly novel nor difficult argument to follow, and if you've really seen as many of them as you claim, you should be able to distinguish it from others pretty easily. Why you are unable or unwilling to do so in this case is a mystery beyond my ken.
posted by klangklangston at 2:39 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, does he have to use tags around "Our outrage should never be about the theft itself; it should be about using what one steals badly" to make you realize that he means exactly that?

This is his summary of Eliot's argument, not (necessarily) what he believes himself.

And no, I'm not too lazy to respond to new arguments that aren't particularly novel or difficult. I think the essay is a bit confused, and that even the author probably isn't sure what he really thinks, but that in the end he comes down on the "everybody does it, so don't get on Smith's case" side. He certainly throws in a lot of the usual bromides to that effect: Because, frankly, there is no such thing as a purely original piece of art.... Pilfering another artist’s work is how anyone making art begins.... Artistic appropriation is not only part and parcel of the process of making art, it’s 99 percent of the process—and that never changes.... There are only 88 keys on a piano, and just six strings on a guitar.... Never mind that most of what we consider great art is the uncredited appropriation of some other artist’s work....

Even if I'm wrong and you're right, sprinkling his article with these clichés goes a long way toward earning my original comment. And even if that were as uncivil as accusing someone of not reading the article, which it wasn't, why do you feel the need to keep ratcheting up the insults with every comment, with no further provocation from me?
posted by doubtfulpalace at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2015


Ugh, this whole situation makes me so sad. What a sick system it is, and the older I get, the more understanding I have of what it means for time to pass, the more hideous it is to me. What does the world get out of letting somebody just squat on this little bit of a melody for another hundred years? Fucking nothing.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:28 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pilfering another artist’s work is how anyone making art begins....

'Begins', yes. But this song has just helped Smith sell millions of records and won all the Grammies practically. What he's done is simply incompetent - especially when you consider the years of opportunities he's had to perfect his material and his act:

"Smith was placed in formal vocal training at the age of 8... Much of his childhood and adolescence, thereafter, was spent in theater rehearsals; his mother, then a prominent banker in London, often asked her son to perform for friends and associates at dinner parties. From the age of 12, Smith’s career was handled by six different managers."

I'm not normally someone who views pop as cynically manufactured junk for the masses - because if you dig into the big breakthrough hits (Baby Hit Me One More Time for example), you almost always find something musically intriguing. But not with this song.
posted by colie at 12:52 AM on February 20, 2015


I actually find Stay With Me to be pretty stale-sounding and derivative regardless of where the melody came from, but I don't see any reason to assume Sam Smith was familiar, or consciously familiar, with I Won't Back Down, which peaked at #28 on the UK Singles Chart three years before he was even born. (Personally, I know only 8 of the top 20 songs on the Billboard top 100 for the whole year of 1986.) I don't know how old his co-writers are but they look fairly young as well. I asked my mid-30s English boyfriend if he thought Sam Smith would have heard the Petty song. He said, "Yeah. Well... it would've been on the radio at least." But do people born in 1992 even listen to the radio? I'm older than that and even though I listen to tons of music, I have similarly shocking gaps in my knowledge, because what with the internet, mp3 players, phones, etc. it's been up to me to select most of what I listen to since I was 13.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:09 AM on February 20, 2015


What he's done is simply incompetent - especially when you consider the years of opportunities he's had to perfect his material and his act ... I'm not normally someone who views pop as cynically manufactured junk for the masses - because if you dig into the big breakthrough hits (Baby Hit Me One More Time for example), you almost always find something musically intriguing. But not with this song.

But this is all hopelessly subjective. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with you that "...Baby One More Time" does anything remotely musically intriguing. And there are people who would disagree with your contention that Smith's song is insufficiently different / transformative.

There is simply no objective way to look at two pairs of similar-but-not-identical songs and say "These two are sufficiently different to count as different songs, but those two are actually the same song."
posted by straight at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with you that "...Baby One More Time" does anything remotely musically intriguing. And there are people who would disagree with your contention that Smith's song is insufficiently different / transformative.

It's a discussion worth having though, because it helps us understand how music creates its effects. The Britney song marks the start of the Max Martin-Cheiron Studios absolute domination of recent pop, and has enough thematic development of a limited palette to keep any classical musicologist busy, not to mention a sound-world of textures so dazzlingly rich and painstakingly created (some voices are apparently layered 40 times on the recording) that deeper study can indeed reveal interesting and intriguing solutions to musical puzzles.

Whereas the Smith track sounds like they knocked it off in an afternoon with very little inspiration other than someone else's half-remembered track.
posted by colie at 5:13 AM on February 21, 2015


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