Great Artists Steal

If you live around the Normal Heights area in San Diego, you may (on occasion) see me running around the neighborhood in a white t-shirt and short shorts, scaring all of the elderly folk around. Every once in a while, I’ll run up behind people who are also jogging or enjoying a nice stroll with their small child or dog, stay in lock-step with them for a bit, breathe heavily and sing the lyrics to whatever song I’m listening to as loud as my collapsing lungs will let me, be it Jay-Z or AC/DC.

Yesterday on my run, I found myself listening to Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and through the rhythmic pounding of my feet against the pavement and my near heart attack, I misheard the lyric about making a “mountain man leave his home”. What I thought I heard was “got what it takes to make a mound of sand out of stone”. So I paused for a second (although not literally because I really had to get home to pee) and I thought that was a cool retro-lyric. Very Hendrix-y a la “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” so I typed it into my phone and I’m hoping that it shows up somewhere in a new song soon.

Just earlier in the day, I ran across the ambiguously quoted quote, “good artists borrow, great artists steal” (T.S. Eliot or, possibly but improbably Pablo Picasso). And while I think I understand the undertone of sarcasm, there truly is an ounce of truth with that statement in regards to new music and I think coming to terms with that idea will allow me more freedom. I’ve always tried to create something new and string together chords that people don’t usually hear and while that may be a great pursuit, I also don’t want to be limited by it. Besides, after a thousand years (probably more) of tonal music, I’m sure someone somewhere has come up with stuff that sounds kinda like the little songs I’ve written. And as a musician that listens to a lot of music, it’s really easy for me to fall into the trap of judging people for sounding too similar to this song or that artist.

So, my new perspective is that everything is new because I created it. It’s something I believe in and something I will support. Obviously, there is the risk of sounding too similar to whatever you are inspired by but if you stay true to yourself, it would be really difficult to do so. So if I do sound like someone’s chord changes or lyrics or melodic idea, there’s nothing to be worried about because it’s simply paying homage to the past and putting it in my voice, which truly is new.