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
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")