The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #140676   Message #3783058
Posted By: GUEST
03-Apr-16 - 11:11 AM
Thread Name: Hank Williams & plagiarism
Subject: RE: Hank Williams & plagiarism
I was just going to mention the expression "To steal from one is plagiarism, to steal from many is research" but someone has just beaten me to it.

There is a whole book on musical theft/borrowing, called "One For the Money" by (?British) music journalist Clintin Heylin, who has written a number of books, including one called "Behind the Shades" about Bob Dylan. There are 2 basic premises in the book (1) The phenomenon has been going on for years, from at least the beginning of musical recordings (b) The more creative people people (e.g. Dylan) steal more creatively. Therefore it is a necessary evil. Well worth reading.

It mentions Blowing in the Wind but the theory is that Dylan was at least sub-consciously influenced by "No More Auction Block". When Pete Seeger first heard the song, this was his theory anyway (if my memory serves me right). Someone else (whose I forget, though he was a young American singer) actually claimed for a while that he had written the song rather than Dylan, although admitted years later that this was not the case.

Seeger's most famous song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, seems to have been largely copied from a Russian Folk song (at least lyrically) according to the book.

The line "If you don't like my peaches, stop shaking my tree" appears in the song "Hesitation Blues" as performed by the Holy Modal Rounders on their first album; however I assume the song is a much older one (I think all but one of the songs are traditional on this double album). The phrase sounds a bit like a double entendre (if I see a double entendre, I always whip it out).

As a very amateur singer and songwriter, I try not to copy another song or tune but I am sure it is difficult not to do this sub-consciously. One song (called "Elder Blossom") turned out, after I wrote it, to sound musically very similar to the Hare Krishna Chant ("Hare Krisha, Hare Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama", etc) so even though the songs have never been recorded and only get performed at local "Open Mics", usually with only a few dozen people at most present, I have to watch out in case there are any shaven headed people with orange robes in the audience! (Of course being spiritual and anti-materialistic they would hardly be the sort to hire sharp lawyers - would they?

I could claim this was just a coincidence and perhaps get away with it but would be on very shaky ground with the chorus of another song (a light-hearted song about Suicide called "Don't Try This at Home") which for its chorus uses almost verbatim the words of a very short poem, written c. 1926 by the writer Dorothy Parker (one of the so-called Algonquin Wits who used to stay at the Algonquin Hotel in New York). The poem is pronounced called "RESUMAY" (actually spelled like Resume but I can't do an acute accent at the end of the "e") and goes as follows (my additional bits are in brackets):

(Oh) Razors (they) pain you
(And) Rivers are Damp
Acids (they) Stain You
And Pills (they) cause cramp
*Guns (they) aren't lawful
(And) Nooses (they) give
(And) Gas (it) smells awful
You might as well live

* odd this was written in the U.S.A.!

I also used the words of a very short poem (either written by Ezra Poundd or Arthur Eddington) in the first verse of a song called "The Brainy Baboon", which is based on the erroneous theory that if you left a crowd of monkeys together with a typewriter, given enough time they would produce the complete works of Shakespeare (I think "The X-Factor" and "Britain's Got Talent" is based on the same premise):

There once was a brainy Baboon
Who always breathed down a bassoon
For he said, it appears, that in billions of years
I shall certainly hit on a tune

I won't bother with the rest of the song here, except to say that the baboon ends up as Prime Minister.

Parker once wrote that the thought of suicide got you through many a bad night (meaning if things get really bad, you can always end it all). She is perhaps best known for saying, on being told that President Calvin Coolidge had died, "How Can They Tell?"

The writer H.L. Mencken (who would have been a contemporary of Parker) thought a lot of suicides were committed for rather trivial reasons - his argument was that it was worth hanging on for another Coolidge to appear (Mencken I think found Coolidge and other contemporary politicians a source of amusement).

My last verse in "Don't do This at Home" goes:

So if things are looking a little bit rough
Just say to yourself "I've got to be tough"
For if by our own hand, we sadly had died
We'd have missed Madonna's fall on her backside!

The last line refers to an event which happened in February 2015 when Madonna fell while performing on stage.

In the interests of balance, Coolidge didn't lack a sense of humour himself as the following examples indioate(the wording may not be exact:

"The American people want a solemn ass as President - I think I'll go along with that".

When told by a young girl that her father had bet that she couldn't get three words out of him, said to her "Pappa Wins."

On another occasion Coolidge and his wife were being shown separately around a chicken farm. His wife was shown a cockerel who apparently mated dozen of times a day, and she said to the farmer "Tell that to the President." When the President was told about the energetic cockerel, he asked "Same Hen or different Hens?" and was told "Different Hens", whereupon he said "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge".

These stories may well be exaggerated or even apocryphal; so many well-known and widely believed stories seem to be just that, e.g. George Washington never chopped down his father's Cherry tree and said to his father "I cannot tell a lie" (If he couldn't tell a lie, he had no business in politics!); Marie Antoinette didn't say "Let Them Eat Cake" (or if so wasn't the first to use this expression) and the quote about Voltaire defending to the death someone else's right to say something he disagreed with was apparently made up about 1900 long after Voltaire's death. Furthermore, William Tell, King Arthur and Robin Wood probably didn't exist, at least not in the form commonly believed; Lady Godiva existed but the story about her riding naked through the streets of Coventry appears long after her death and emanates from an unreliable source. I could go on and on.

At least we know that Lincoln did give the Gettysburg address.