Friday, September 12, 2008

Something fishy

One of the interesting sideshows to the McCain-Palin shebang is big-haired soft rock giants Heart's reaction to the appropriation of their song Barracuda. The Wilson sisters issued a cease and desist notice to the McCain camp, which they dutifully ignored, as unlike previous occasions, they were fully paid up and entirely entitled to play it.* Co-writer Roger Fisher has now decided to make the best of a bad situation and pledge his royalties from the Republicans' appropriation of his song to the Obama campaign, which is a neatly ironic resolution.

What this does highlight (apart from the double edged sword of copyright law) is an interesting question: how much a composer can really be said to own his work once he or she has put it out into the world, and whether (s)he should even be able to exert any influence.

It's perfectly natural for composers to wish to retain control over their creations, of course, just as a parent would like their children to grow up and act like they'd like them to. But with music as with offspring, once they're in the world they rarely end out how you imagined. Some children grow up to be junkies, and some songs grow up to be Republican soundtracks - just ask Bruce Springsteen. All you can do is hope that the gentle nudge you gave them as you sent them out will be enough to put them on the right path. It's difficult to let go, but music can't be preserved in aspic, nor should it be. Composing begins with following the example of those who've gone before you, and you have to accept that if you have any decent ideas, they in turn will be taken up by those who come after you.

Here's something for the weekend: a different take on the song in dispute, by the splendid Rasputina:

*McCain's habit of violating copyright is a bit unfortunate, given his zealous support of extension and protection of it. Hey, maybe if he hadn't supported all those term extensions there'd be more public domain music he could use for his campaign.

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