The Electric Commentary

Monday, November 22, 2004

Plagiarism, sampling, and the spaces in between.

The New Yorker has produced several fascinating articles in the last few months and this piece by Malcolm Gladwell is no exception:

Not long after I learned about "Frozen," I went to see a friend of mine who works in the music industry. We sat in his living room on the Upper East Side, facing each other in easy chairs, as he worked his way through a mountain of CDs. He played "Angel," by the reggae singer Shaggy, and then "The Joker," by the Steve Miller Band, and told me to listen very carefully to the similarity in bass lines. He played Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and then Muddy Waters's "You Need Love," to show the extent to which Led Zeppelin had mined the blues for inspiration. He played "Twice My Age," by Shabba Ranks and Krystal, and then the saccharine seventies pop standard "Seasons in the Sun," until I could hear the echoes of the second song in the first. He played "Last Christmas," by Wham!, followed by Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" to explain why Manilow might have been startled when he first heard that song, and then "Joanna," by Kool and the Gang, because, in a different way, "Last Christmas" was an homage to Kool and the Gang as well. "That sound you hear in Nirvana," my friend said at one point, "that soft and then loud, kind of exploding thing, a lot of that was inspired by the Pixies. Yet Kurt Cobain"--Nirvana's lead singer and songwriter--"was such a genius that he managed to make it his own. And 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'?"--here he was referring to perhaps the best-known Nirvana song. "That's Boston's 'More Than a Feeling.'" He began to hum the riff of the Boston hit, and said, "The first time I heard 'Teen Spirit,' I said, 'That guitar lick is from "More Than a Feeling."' But it was different--it was urgent and brilliant and new."

Most of the article deals with a women named Dorothy Lewis, an expert on serial killers. Friends kept recommending that she see a new broadway play called "Frozen." When she eventually got around to seeing the play, she realized that it was about her (including the use of verbatim quotes taken from her work).

Read the whole thing.
(Hat tip, Jodi)

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