Thursday, February 12, 2009

Opinions, I Has Them

Last night, at band rehearsal, we were discussing doing Coldplay's "Viva la Vida." The guy who's sort of our de facto music director said Coldplay didn't write that song, Joe Satriani did. This was his snide way of getting us on the topic of the plagiarism lawsuit. Well, he sucked me into an argument, he sure did!

I argued that just because two songs sound alike doesn't mean they purposefully plagiarized. He argued that “George Harrison, Michael Bolton, and others have lost cases like this, and those songs don't have the exact same melody like the Coldplay one! It's not just the same chords, it's the same melody!" I said, "I guess it'll have to be settled in court, although I'm not sure I'm comfortable with lawyers and judges deciding about musical creativity..." Then he proceeded to argue that the Grammy awards shouldn't have rewarded the Coldplay song. I said the Grammys shouldn't take a position on it before it's been decided in court - "they can't take sides in this!" I said. Which made him snort. Snort. "Go listen to the Satriani song," he said, and we dropped it and moved on to other topics, like the drama between members of our band!

When I got home, I listened to the Satriani song ("If I Could Fly"). It's easy to find comparisons on YouTube (they keep getting yanked off, so no use embedding), and the sample of it on iTunes is the section of the song that's in question.

Basically, my feeling is that yes, both songs do use the same three notes in their melodies. They also both go "two measures to play the three notes (A, B, A flat), then two measures sort of riffing on those notes, repeat." The riffing is not the same, but it is a similar idea. I think it's absolutely credible that more than one songwriter could have thought up that structure independently! I also think that had Coldplay known how similar "If I Could Fly" was, they would have changed up "Viva la Vida" a bit during the writing period. It's a risk with no payoff to knowingly copy an existing song. My verdict? No plagiarism. A situation that sucks for both sides, probably more so for Satriani, but life sucks. No plagiarism.

However, it might be worth mentioning that when "Viva la Vida" came out and I fell in LOVE with it, and wanted to hear it over and over, I was surprised that it was a Coldplay song. In general, I think Coldplay's music is positively coma-inducing. (I do like "Yellow" and "Clocks.") They write a song that doesn't really sound like Coldplay, and it gets accused of plagiarism? That's kinda interesting.

I prefer not to get sucked into arguments like this, but it definitely happens from time to time! My husband is intimidated by my strong opinions. Of course, he never argues, never ever ever. Does he have opinions and he just prefers to keep them to himself, or does he not have opinions? I don't know. And we've been together for seventeen years!

So in light of this "reputation" I have, it's interesting that my reaction to some recent news events is "ho hum, who cares?"

I'm talking about Christian Bale and Michael Phelps.

Christian Bale cussed out a crew member on a movie set. So what? This is the guy who lost 60 pounds, weighing only 120 pounds, for The Machinist. This is the guy from American Psycho. Guess what? He's crazy intense. We knew that. Why does anyone care about this "news" story?

Many have said it: who cares that Michael Phelps was smoking pot? He publicly said he was taking a break after the Olympics; one might expect him to go a little wild with the partying after so many years of extreme discipline. I've never smoked pot, because I'm a goody-two-shoes, and even I am nonplussed about this. Anyone who made him a "role model" for anything other than training for swimming is an idiot and needs to kindly remove their head from their fanny.

Now, Joaquin Phoenix. I'm worried. This hip-hop thing may or may not be a hoax, and the fact that his brother-in-law Casey Affleck is following him around with a grin and a videocamera instead of getting him help indicates that it probably is a hoax, but nonetheless Joaquin is not okay. Did you watch the Letterman clip followed by the clip from his appearance promoting Walk the Line? Bearded Joaquin can't form words or thoughts. It's worrisome.


smalltownmom said...

Hey, Barbra -- Your Opinions? I Agree. Completely.

So a similar 3 note sequence now equals plagarism? Sad. (I remember a 5 word limit in writing class 30 years ago.)

If monkeys typing might eventually come up with Shakespeare, I think most musicians have already played those certain musical sequences over and over again.

Joaquin was on something... legal or not, but he was not responding normally.

Margaret said...

My you have a lot to get off your chest. Regarding Coldplay: Music is so ubiquitous these days. In the bank, in the restaurant, the elevator, the car next to you -- and those are just places you hear it when you're not even looking for it. I think it would be so easy for a refrain or part of a melody to worm its way into your brain without your even knowing it. It's not like words that you consciously copy from a page.

Kathy H said...

I agree about Coldplay, but I think I heard something about one of their musicians being spotted at a Satriani concert...or was Satriani spotted at a concert for the musicians he allegedly stole it from? Either way, I don't think it's enough to be plagiarism.

I love how you sum up the Michael Phelps situation. ;)