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RHCP plagiarizes Tom Petty? [05 Jun 2006|02:32pm]

There is a developing scandal in which the Red Hot Chili Peppers stand accused of plagiarizing Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane" in their recent single, "Dani California". You can listen to this mp3 comparing the two and see what you think.

I'm a big fan of the Chili Peppers, and probably an even bigger fan of Tom Petty. I went through a phase where the only song I listened to was "Last Dance with Mary Jane". It was kind of my Midwestern anthem. I listened to it at home, camping in the woods, in the car, in headphones walking around, at friends' houses. There was a slightly shorter equivalent phase involving, "Under the Bridge", "Give It Away" and "Suck my Kiss". So this scandal is comical. I knew there was a reason I liked both bands so much!

I have not purchased this latest RHCP album yet. I've been told that it's not that great. That's too bad, because I really liked the previous album, "By the Way". It's very original (for pop music), and lyrically lovingly surreal ("Comin' on strong, Baudelaire..."). It features one of my favorite (for reasons I can't explain) lines, "This time o' night's for singin' songs about the local news".

So is this plagiarism? I don't think so. Yes, the songs sound similar. I need to listen to the complete songs side-by-side and see for sure, but the fragments played in the above mp3 don't sound criminally alike to me. I'm pretty sure I saw the RHCP perform this new single on SNL a few weeks ago (sadly I just deleted that episode off my MythTV last night so I can't check), and "Last Dance" did not come to mind — even though, like I said, if you look at a picture of my brain, you can see a clear imprint of the song title right in the middle, just above "The Big Lebowski".

Also, I don't care. People seem to delight in proving that artists aren't really artists; that the people who are financially successful from their music lack talent. I'm puzzled by the ferocity with which people seize on these kinds of issues, without explaining why it matters. People prioritize originality, even though what that means has never been clear. Much great music has been built on repetitive forms and standards. I don't think that protecting an artist's ownership of a sequence of chords to such an extreme degree makes any sense unless you are coming from the paradigm that views creative work as legally and ethically the same as physical private property.

I think it's interesting to think about the relationship between the two bands, and how such musical influence works. But I hope this examination doesn't happen in a court room or involve lawyers.

It's a repeat
of a story told
It's a repeat
and it's getting old

(RHCP, "Throw Away Your Television")

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