Then there are Golden Rule considerations…
There were many outstanding comments today, but I have a soft spot in my heart for any comment that completes a post that I decided to shorten by raising the issue I omitted for length. Thus johnburger2013 gets another Comment of the Day nod for his musings on the elusive lines between homage, inspirations, quotes and plagiarism in music.
The three examples discussed in my post are not close calls, I’d insist: my friend, actor/lawyer/ classic rock maven David Elias informs me that John Lennon actually confessed that he had plagiarized the Chuck Berry song, and his was the least egregious steal of the three. Other instances, however, are not so clear cut: If he hadn’t sung all of them, a case could be made that every Gary Puckett song was plagiarized from every other one. (The same, in fact, has been said of Chuck Berry.)
In researching the Beatles story, I found an entertaining site called Sounds Just Like which explores johnb’s “line.” Most are a stretch: No, I don’t think John Williams ripped off Darth Vader’s theme from Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful of Sugar.” But I do know that Arthur Sullivan was imitating Mendelssohn big time in “Iolanthe,” and that recognizable musical quotes are important tools of the trade that should not be strangled by overzealous copyright prosecutions.
Here is johnburger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Beatles And Plagiarism: Continue reading
I knew that Brian Wilson had ripped off Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” to write “Surfin’ USA,” resulting in Berry owning the copyright to the Beach Boys hit. I knew that George Harrison had stolen the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” for his first solo hit “My Sweet Lord,” ultimately resulting in Harrison being found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” (suuuuuure) and paying $1,599,987 of the earnings from “My Sweet Lord” to Bright Tunes, since songwriter Ronnie Mack had died in 1963, shortly after “He’s So Fine” was released. ( George did not cover himself in glory, telling an interviewer, “As far as I’m concerned, the effect the song has had far exceeds any bitching between copyright people and their greed and jealousy.” You stole the song, George.)
I did not know until this morning, when I had a chance to listen closely to Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” on my car radio, that The Beatles had plagiarized it for the opening cut on “Abbey Road,” “Come Together (Over Me.)”
First it was the lyrics that got my attention. I heard Chuck sing..
“I was rollin’ slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers
Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me..”
Sounds familiar…where have I heard that before? Oh yeah!
“Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly…”
Then there was the melody, which was essentially identical, just differently arranged. Compare:
This, apparently, is the real L. Brent Bozell.
L. Brent Bozell, the outspoken head of the Media Research Center, doesn’t write the syndicated opinion columns that run under his by-line and has not for quite a while. Reporter Jim Romenesko did a little digging, and discovered that the red-headed face of the conservative group, a favorite guest of Fox talk show host Sean Hannity, uses Tim Graham, the MRC’s Director of Media Analysis as his ghostwriter, both for his columns and apparently his recent books as well.
Before the embarrassing deception was exposed, however—-Bozell’s special crusade is exposing and condemning dishonesty in the liberal news media—the company that distributes Bozell’s columns managed to expose its own flawed ethics as well. Confronted with Romenesko’s suspicions, Bozell’s syndicator wrote this response:
“If you know of one of our columnists who supposedly is not writing the column but rather ‘assigning an underling to pen them (an underling who is not credited),’ I think it only fair that you tell us who has been accused of this so we can talk to the columnist. Yes, we expect all of our columnists to write their own columns, though we understand that some work closely with researchers.“
Once the evidence appeared too overwhelming to deny (as in “lie away effectively”)—-various Media Research Center employees confirmed that Bozell didn’t write his own copy, with one telling him in surprise, “I thought everyone knew it.”—the defense, predictably, began to evolve into “everybody does it.” Continue reading
Not a composer, not deaf, and maybe Irish, female, and 12-years old, for all we know.
There need be no debate about whether this was unethical, or why. It is obviously one of the great arts hoaxes of all time.
Mamoru Samuragochi, the composer sometimes known as “The Japanese Beethoven,” was exposed this week as being more like a Japanese Milli Vanilli. A double fraud, he didn’t compose the works that made him Japan’s most popular classical composer, and he isn’t even really deaf, which was a large element of his fame and notoriety. Samuragochi has perpetrated a long, elaborate, audacious hoax, hiring a musical ghostwriter to compose for him over nearly two decades. The Man Behind the Curtain revealed himself as Takashi Niigaki, a lecturer at a Tokyo music college, who admitted to writing more than twenty compositions for Samuragochi since 1996, receiving the equivalent of about $70,000. Samuragochi’s most famous works include Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” the theme music for the popular video games “Resident Evil” and “Onimusha,” and especially the “Sonatina for Violin,” which is the program music for the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.
What interests me most about this strange story is how it illustrates the power of cognitive dissonance in the arts. Continue reading
Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” is a fascinating reflection on a remarkable career and the craft of making musicals by the greatest living master of the form. In the course of recounting his formative years, triumphs, failures, and duels with producers, authors and composers, Sondheim also critiques the lyrics of his predecessors, contemporaries and role models—as long as they are dead. In a nod to gentility or cowardice, the only living lyricist he subjects to his expert critiques is himself.
Sondheim is a tough judge, as one might expect from a composer/lyricist who meticulously measures each vowel sound and stressed syllable for maximum effect. He is also, by virtue of both his reputation and technical expertise, an influential one. The lyricists he grades highly in the book, such as Frank Loesser, Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields, are likely to have their reputations burnished by his praise, and those he slams, like Lorenz Hart and Noel Coward, will suffer by comparison. Because of this, Sondheim had an obligation, as a respected expert in his field, to make each case carefully and fairly. To his credit, Sondheim seems to recognize this, and all of his critical discussions of an individual lyricist’s style and quirks include specific examples and careful analysis. We may disagree with Sondheim as a matter of personal taste, but it is difficult to argue with his specific points, because they are backed up by examples, technical theory, and the weight of his authority.
It is therefore surprising and disappointing to see Stephen Sondheim slide into expert malpractice when he undertakes, clearly half-heartedly, a critique of the lyrics of W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. Continue reading
Now that I know I’m not the only one to be a bit troubled by the gleefully unethical practices of the absurdly talented high school students in the performance choir chronicled in the Fox TV series “Glee,” I will conquer my fear of rampaging “Gleeks” and say so.
In addition to the annoyance of the teens being played by 30-year-olds, their absurdly accomplished performing skills, and most of all, the speed with which they arrange, choreograph and master complex musicals numbers that a no professional performing group could equal in less than a week of twelve-hour days, there is this: the students regularly violate the copyright laws by using music, lyrics and exact copies of video choreography in their numbers.
Yes, the producers of “Glee” are really paying the artists involved; that’s not the point. The problem is that the show’s conceit contributes to an attitude among younger Americans (and a lot of old ones, like “The Ethicist,” Randy Cohen) that stealing intellectual property from artists is OK, everybody does it, and it is standard procedure. This encourages an unethical and illegal practice by glamorizing it, and also misinforms viewers who may not know that what the “Glee” kids do could involve big fines and serious legal problems in the real world. Continue reading