you follow the rock press even a little bit you’ve probably
heard about Joe Satriani’s plagiarism lawsuit against Coldplay.
Seems Satriani discovered that Coldplay’s hit “Viva La Vida”
shares a melody line with Satriani’s previously released “If
I Could Fly.” Almost immediately, somebody posted a mash-up
video on YouTube showing the two songs side-by-side, and the
similarities were compelling—until someone else came on and
demonstrated that the keys and tempos of the two tracks were
manipulated to create an illusion of similarity.
More to the point, as pointed out on Mike Masnick’s ace Web
site Techdirt, the fairly pedestrian melody line, like almost
any melody line under the sun or moon, sure didn’t start with
Satriani. There’s a track from Argentinian rockers Emanitos
Verdes, Marty Balin’s “Hearts,” Cat Stevens’ “Foreigner Suite,”
Billy Joel’s “Honesty,” and at least a dozen more that have
been pointed out by clever folks on YouTube. You can go investigate
your self. Well, at least you can look at the ones that have
escaped the efforts by EMI, Coldplay’s label, to remove all
these tattletale videos off of YouTube, the stupidity and
illegality of which could be the subject of a whole ‘nother
column, but we’ll move on.
Taking it from the ridiculous to the absurd, Yusuf Islam (formerly
Cat Stevens) last week announced that Coldplay copied from
him, not from Satriani. Islam apparently was alerted
to this by his kid, and I’ll bet you a nickel his kid got
hipped to it from . . . YouTube! But hey, does that mean that
Satriani ripped off Cat Stevens, too? And does Cat Stevens
seriously believe that he came up with that melody
line first? Really?
To try to put this in a little perspective, Techdirt quoted
a 1940 federal court decision in a music plagiarism case that
I hadn’t seen before and that’s fabulous:
must be remembered that, while there are an enormous number
of possible permutations of the musical notes of the scale,
only a few are pleasing; and much fewer still suit the infantile
demands of the popular ear. Recurrence is not therefore an
inevitable badge of plagiarism.
that suits the infantile demands of my popular brain! Taking
Satriani’s and Stevens’ claims to their logical conclusion,
one could argue that at least 80 percent of popular music
should be owned by Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Otis Blackwell,
King/Goffen, Barry/Greenwich and Dozier/Holland/Dozier. And
there are probably hundreds of geezers from the ’20s and ’30s
who’d have a big problem with that.
some interesting phenom ena going on in the music world. Record
companies are shrinking and failing. The cost of making good-sounding
recordings is becoming negligible—I have a decently-equipped
recording studio right here at my fingertips, on my computer
(not that I have any idea how to use it). People’s demand
for music is, as always, insatiable, whether they pay for
their music or not. Listenership is fragmenting into niches
as a result of broadcast radio’s demise, Internet services
like Pandora and Last.fm, and people’s ability to create massive
and portable personal libraries of handpicked music.
Musicians struggle to get noticed, and the savviest are banding
together, creating collectives that pool all the talent necessary
to run an independent record company. Except they’re not really
record companies, at least not in any kind of formal, traditional
sense. These collectives are generating huge amounts of great
music, presenting the music in innovative and exciting ways,
and are supporting both local and visiting acts (cooperatively
with other collectives) on the road and, most importantly,
on the Internet. I think these collectives are just about
the most important force in music today.
We’ve got a bunch of them right here, and we’ll be talking
to some of them at the next CRUMBS Night Out event at the
Linda Norris Auditorium on May 30. Matthew Loiacono of Collar
City Records and Alex Muro of B3nson Recording Company will
be on hand to talk about how they do business. Live music
will be supplied by Saratoga’s astonishing band Railbird.
If you haven’t seen Railbird yet they will go on at 7; the
music collective panel is at 8.
Also: Get out yer hankies. Mike Pauley pointed me to an astounding
set of photos by photographer Sebastien.b of the old Colonie
Coliseum/Starlight Theater in decline. You can see them at