Friday, 23 November 2012

Why I Never, Ever Think I'm Being Original. Ever.

“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
The argument rages on. The death of originality. There is no such thing as "new". You've heard it all before, of course, ha ha.

In 1991 I wrote a song. It was called "I Forgive You". It wasn't a very good song but it was one of only two songs my band, "Blasphemous Disciples" had.

You can tell by the name of the band how bad the song was.

I was utterly convinced it was original, born of my mind. Some other-worldly inspiration channelled only to me.

Years later I was listening to the the New Order track "Hurt" and thought, "Hang on, they ripped half my song off!" Which was impossible of course without:

a) A working time machine
b) New Order having heard the song a decade later (only about 20 people have ever heard it), and most importantly (this is the killer)
c) WANTING to bloody rip the song off.

None of these were the case.

What had actually happened was that several weeks or days earlier I'd been listening to "Hurt" by New Order, for the first time, and (this is the important bit) whilst very drunk. This had the effect of seeping into my subconscious, marinating in a stew of internal basslines and catchy lyrics until eventually I "wrote" the song.

There was also a nice bit (I'm quite proud of) which plays the bass line as full chords on an electric guitar, acoustically without any amplification. I think it's what real musicians call a "bridge".

It turns out THAT was nicked from the King song, "I Kissed the Spikey Fridge" (don't ask - it was the 80s). Although I have zero memory of ever hearing that song in its nascent decade. Again, this means nothing. What I remember and what I remember I remember are often two entirely different things.

So the main lyric, the title and the bridge were unwittingly stolen from two 80s songs I had no memory of hearing. There have been famous accusations of musical plagiarism where the 'defendant' has sworn blind he's never heard the original song in question. You know what - I believe them. I believe they don't recall hearing the song but I'm damn sure they did.

I stumbled along wearing my self-woven cloak of false genius for years until I unpicked that tangled knot. Which proved that not only could I be VERY wrong about my own mind but that perhaps there was hope that others could be too about theirs.

But it's Friday and further amateur epistemology will have to wait until I have had a few more drinks. Cheers!

Update: I found the song. I made a little slideshow of contempary and very embarassing photos to go along with it. Here it is CLICK