Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Remix, remake, rethink, redo

I'm an old fart. I figure I'm supposed to be excited about this victory of the Marvin Gaye Estate over Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. After all, those guys are obviously fucking assholes and brought the whole damn thing on themselves by being fucking assholes.

Not to mention, Thicke was the first modern singer to test my philosophy that people getting older reject newer music at some point as some kind of natural cycle. I mean, sure, there's been lots of music in recent years I don't like, but that I just didn't like in the same way I didn't like music from my generation or from the generation previous. It's just normal old shitty. Seeing Thicke somewhere was the first, and still only, time I saw a musical artist that just fucking pissed me off because of the purity of its awfulness, and how incredibly far that awfulness existed away from anything I've ever considered entertainment.

So, seeing that fuckstick brought down should really bring me pleasure.

But it doesn't.

Because it's wrong.

Here's The "Blurred Lines" Verdict Is Bad News, Even If You Hate Robin Thicke by Michaelangelo Matos, which makes a lot of good points on the matter. Probably better than the ones I'll make.

The thing is, though, I realized I can't say John Fogerty was right in his victory over Saul Zaentz for the claim that The Old Man is Down the Road infringed on Fogerty's earlier composition of Run Through the Jungle or that Morris Levy was wrong in his claim against John Lennon that Come Together infringes on You Can't Catch Me by Chuck Berry and then say these assholes's shitty song was legitimately plagiarism of Gaye's Got To Give It Up and not be a goddamn hypocrite.

So, no, I don't think this was a good decision. Unlike Matos, I don't think it will set any incredible precedent. Frankly, it's not even as shitty as that Levy/Lennon case, although, since that was settled and not decided in court, it's a different legal beast.

The thing is, without even having a strong opinion on the merits of this case, I'm nervous about any of these kinds of decisions. I'm deeply skeptical of recent changes to Intellectual Property law and our societal view of Intellectual Property. I'm not sure I agree with every word, but I'm generally on board with the thinking presented in Why Piracy is Good and Copyright Sucks by Lloyd Kaufman. I certainly think that we need to return the value of the public domain to the public and to the arts as part of the conversation, from which it's been largely removed since the Copyright Act of 1976.

The fact is, I'm a fan of remix culture. I'm a fan of it with the growth of the blues and how those guys riffed off each other and, by today's standards, ripped each other off, building it into new things, up to, and including, the birth of rock & roll.

And I love cover songs. Not all of them. Not even necessarily most of them. But the idea of them.

Look, Louie Louie by Richard Berry is a modest and pleasant little doo-wop song. It isn't until The Wailers got a hold of it did it turn into what we all know it as, a stomping garage rock classic.

Even then, I don't think it really came to all it could be until The Sonics recorded their take in that style that it really turned into all it could be, and that's the only version I ever listen to simply for entertainment at this point.

But we're still in the range of perfectly legal, paid for cover songs. Let's look at some plagiarism.

Let me introduce you to You Need Love, written by Willie Dixon and performed by Muddy Waters. It's a solid, groovy little blues number.

What it's not is great. Dixon and Waters were both great, together and separately, but this is one of their lesser songs. I mean that as a compliment. Not many people's lesser songs are anywhere near that good.

On the other hand...

... Whole Lotta Love finds Led Zeppelin undeniably ripping it off. The vocal melody is very much the same and many of the lyrics are even identical and the rest follow the same established patterns. Zeppelin's version takes it to another planet, though. It breathes and screams and bleeds.

And a lot of the things that give it that life are things that are unlikely to have happened if they had done a straight cover. It's most likely the very things that went into thinking they were twisting it into a whole new song that makes it so special. The fact that they failed at making it an entirely new entity feels nearly irrelevant when you consider it in this light.

It's in this light that I think the problem with movie remakes.

Fogies my age like to bitch about the fact that they remade Robocop. I think the problem is that only risk averse corporations remake these things. Frankly, they're generally not any worse than the other risk averse bullshit the studios put out. It's the fact that they're so obviously risk averse when compared to originals that are so fully of life, vigor and creativity that makes remakes more frustrating.

Imagine a world in which smaller, ballsier studios or independent producers could do with something like that. They could bring in a Carpenter, Cronenberg or Kaufman onto it. Not to mention, the risk averse studios would have to face the risk that their remake could be blown out of the water by the more interesting remake.

As with everyone else, I don't have an answer. This is another conundrum that lacks an easy answer.

The problem is, we're all treating it like it has one and that we've settled on it. I think we need to open it up a lot.

And, y'know, Free Thicke! Or something...

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