The Trouble With Earworms

Gentle readers, if you have read my blog through, you may recall having read about my experiences with earworms.  Apparently this is not a recent phenomenon, rather it is just one of a “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Nor is the temptation to, or the unwitting act, of sampling (call that plagiarism) someone else’s work.  Regarding plagiarism, it’s called “plagiarism” if no credit is offered to the source, and it’s called a “tribute,” or “honorable mention” if the work is cited.  If it’s plagiarism, it’s a “temptation… common to man,” unless you have a good lawyer.  Then it’s one of two things.  It could be an honest mistake, as those words or that music or that idea is close to something similar, but not close enough to be actual plagiarism.  Or, or “The Court$ have determined that there i$ in$ufficient evidence to prove any intentional plagiarism nor malice.”,_HWV_319_(Handel,_George_Frideric)   says, “The first movement is a re-working of Handel’s first draft for his overture to Imeneo, HWV 41, while the last movement has some near-quotations from Keyboard Sonata in G major, K.2 by Scarlatti, first published that same year in London.”

Scarlatti’s tune must have been quite infectious, as Handel apparently sneezed and a very viral Scarlatti’s Syndrome spread notes across Handel’s page.

 Here’s another one, reflected upon by gentleman and blogger Peter Jost:

Here, the second composer, Sarasate, actually followed the instructions of the original composer, Szentirmay, to more correctly  cite this part of his piece.  As a writer if I actually plagiarized someone’s written work, first I’d feel guilty about it, and second I’d cite the person I stole it from because of my habits and because I can’t afford to defend myself against a lawsuit.  But if I were a composer, I’d have a very hard time if there was a song in my head and I scored it out, remembering whose piece it was.  If I remembered it as something I heard before, I wouldn’t claim that or work it in without first trying to cite the original composer.  If I didn’t however, it would be an accident.

The question is a difference of definitions.  Is it that you deliberately plagiarized, or did you “sample” without giving proper credit to your source?  Did you do it on purpose?  If you did, you are, first, fucking lazy. And you are, second, an idiot.  And you are, third, a criminal.  All those allegations of plagiarism in the political arena should tell Americans something about their elected officials, if just that some of them use the same speech writers.  Oh, and speaking of speech writers, I’m available for hire, and I work cheap:  Only $40,000 per speech, Mr and Mrs Clinton.  I’ll give the same rate to Mr and Mrs Obama, sure, why not.  And I guarantee that you won’t have a hint of anything being plagiarized.  It’s a negotiable rate.  Call me, we’ll discuss.  Don’t have your people call my people.  I don’t have “people,” it’s just me.

Consider, in the modern era, the works of one of my very favorite bands, Led Zeppelin.  The authorities hauled poor Robert Plant into court to defend himself for having apparently plagiarized a chord progression from another band, Spirit.  For historically modern music, including the Led Zeppelin case with others, the issue is well handled by writer Jim Faber here:

And there have been other examples.  Eric Carmen is a brilliant keyboardist and singer whose works included sampling from ancient, long-dead composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. .     Carmen’s family immigrated from Mother Russia, so it seemed natural for Mr Carmen, after his classical piano training, might take a melody line from one or two of his favorites and write lovely lyrics for them.  Wouldn’t you know Rachmaninoff’s estate contacted Mr Carmen and he agreed to pay them 12% of any royalties received for the two songs they caught.  According to a web forum entry, Carmen would have had to wait 38 more years to publish those two songs to get all the royalties.  But Carmen had to make a living back then, didn’t he?  The songs were pretty good, and popular, so much so that others have moved in to cover All By Myself, notably the hilarious Igudesman and Joo.

Now I’ve put that song in your head, and I’ve got you reminiscing about lost loves.  Or, laughing at the hilarity.  I was first taken by the hilarity, and then struck by the musicianship.  They’re talented, brilliant musicians.

I don’t want to leave you, “living alone,” and “think[ing] of all the friends [you’ve] known,” only to realize that “when [you] pick up the phone, nobody’s home.”  I’m right here.  Sure, I’m at work.  It’s one of the annoying realities of my life, because, not for lack of trying, I’ve not yet won the big lottery and Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes.  When I do, I’ll let you know, and you can call me any time.  But if I were to leave you like that, I would be a terrible person.  When I have an earworm, paradoxically, I turn to rumored plagiarists Led Zeppelin.  I usually go with The Ocean Song, or The Immigrant Song, but today, I already have an earworm in my head.

When I’m down, I keep hearing this:

But I’m down oh, yeah yeah, oh, yeah
Yeah, but I’m down, so down
Ooh, my baby, oh, my baby
Let me take you there
Come on, oh let me take you there
Let me take you there.

No, I don’t want to bring you down, I want to take you to someplace nice.  That’s what Kashmir is all about.  The singer wants to get away from the harshness of life, and take his subject someplace nice.  Feeling down?  Let’s go together.


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