Is the New York Philharmonic just a cover band? After all, rather than writing and performing their own material, aren’t they just rehashing old tunes by Mozart, Stravinsky and Beethoven? One of the conceits of underground music scenes, is that the performers are genuine creators. While they might lack technical proficiency, they write and perform their own material. However rough it sounds, at least the audience is getting something original.
Or maybe not.
In the New York Times’ Measure for Measure blog, anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis confronts the horrible myth-rotting truth: "All aspects of creativity are basically reconstituted bits and pieces of things we’ve seen, heard and experienced, finely or not-so-finely chopped and served in a form that hopefully blends the ingredients into something ‘new.’" He wonders whether song-writing is really more like song-composting:
I am often shocked to discover that a song I’ve written has been a blatant unconscious rip-off of somebody else’s song, either in its structure, or lyrics, etc; if I’m lucky the other person’s song is not particularly popular or recognizable!
Sometimes I realize this as soon as I’ve come up with it: "Oh, I can’t use that great chorus I just wrote, I guess it’s the same melody as that Gnarls Barkley song." Sometimes I don’t realize until years later where the ingredients of a song came from. Discussing this with a few friends of mine, we decided to make "unveiling" mix tapes for each other — tapes that would reveal the original songs we had, knowingly or unknowingly at the time, been "inspired by." (”Inspired by” is sometimes known as "illegal infringement of copyright," depending whether or not you’re in a court of law!) I already knew some of the songs I would have to put on my own "unveiling" tape; I was well aware that certain songs I’d written had been "inspired by" (since I’m not in court) bits of other people’s songs…
… Thus so many of us snobby “real” artists are just cover artists in disguise, taking various devious steps to confuse our listeners into praising our “songwriting.”
But in an age when entire albums are assembled by sampling other people’s recordings is this really so shocking? Bands like the Dandy Warhols gleefully perform their heists in plain sight. When they want to rip some Lou Reed they helpfully title the song (Tony, This Song Is Called) Lou Weed. What could be more honest than that?