The Great Plagiarism Plague

Conversations with a Melancholy Elephant

 I borrowed the title for this weeks blog from my favourite writer, Spider Robinson. I am blessed to count this brilliant man as one of my friends. We often swap emails sharing ideas about music, life and everything. Spider never fails to get my mental wheels turning (and sometimes grinding) with his ideas. Not only is he one of the all time great Science Fiction writers , but he is also a wonderful songwriter and a true student of music history and humanity in general.


One of the great surprises of my lifetime was to be placed into the late Robert Heinleins outline Spider so brilliantly finished into a novel called ‘Variable Star.’ Thinly disguised (and for those who know me,  that’s not a weight joke) as Doc Coggs; a musician in a bar scene in space along with Amos Garrett and Greg Carol who are also thinly disguised; it was quite a thrill to be innocently reading along and to discover myself and my friends in space AND playing music! But that’s a story for another time…
Spider & Doug
Spider and Doug having a play on Bowen Island.
Recently, we were lamenting about the current state of the music biz; how young songwriters don’t seem to have the connection to their past in the way previous generations had. I mentioned that it would be interesting to ask young songwriters what school they did come from; be it Randy Newman , Willlie Dixon, Cole Porter, Guy Clark & Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, Lennon & McCartney, Hoagy Carmichael, Carol King or numerous others one could mention.
It was a ‘these damn kids today’ conversation that may be the similar conversation all parents have but I think it might be a bit different.
Modern technology is allowing young folks to release their music faster than we ever would have dreamed possible which has its good points but also may be a bad thing as they don’t have time to develop a craft, or find their history before they release their work to the world. The music business quickly devours it’s young and teaches that an artist must be a master-of-their-own-webpage as well as a great social connector and photo taker and video maker long before they are allowed to truly develop as artists, writers or musicians.
There is a simple joy of playing music they are not allowed to discover if they show any promise. It’s “straight to the galleys of the music business for you kid, just sign here and oh, can we keep your publishing for everything you and your children and your pets might ever come up with? “
Spider and Doug talk about todays music scene.
The thing Spider said, that really caught my attention was the following:
“Sometimes I think that maybe there are only so many good ideas.  So many possible story plots.  So many possible melodies that are pleasant to the ear.  And ours was a damn big generation, and very hungry, and we used them up faster and more broadly than usual.  
And copyrighted them.  Songs and stories and poems used to keep getting forgotten and then rediscovered.  No more.”
Spider Robinson (thinker and singer and writer)
I had never heard the idea expressed that way and I think it may be true.
Do you?
Spider even wrote a great short story about the subject, which I highly recommend.
The Book
Some words from Spiders Story, Melancholy Elephant:
“There are eighty-eight notes.  One hundred and seventy-six, if your ear is good enough to pick out quarter tones.  Add in rests and so forth, different time signatures.  Pick a figure for maximum number of notes a melody can contain.  I do not know the figure for the maximum possible number of melodies–too many variables–but I am sure it is quite high.   I AM CERTAIN THAT IT IS NOT INFINITY.”   
In other words, it used to be that everything old is new again. Now it may be that everything old is still here and someone may own it. Where does that leave the path of innocent creativity and Mother Muse?

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6 thoughts on “The Great Plagiarism Plague

  1. have you read Rob Kapilows’ book “all you have to do is listen, music from the inside out” This guy takes you back to before music was recorded or even written down. Before the commoner could appreciate the concert experience. And how we listen now, on loops over and over again with earphones all day…. He talks about how concerts (listening all together to the live performance) lives on and why. Although his angle is about the listener more than the music performer the journey of how music and how its played and listened to through the ages is fascinating.