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As defined by Webster’s:

Homage: noun, something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another

Rip-off: noun, 1 : an act or instance of stealing : THEFT; also : a financial exploitation
2 : a usually cheap exploitive imitation



First, I should tell you what inspired this piece. I was writing and the television was tuned to Bravo just a few feet away from me. All of a sudden my foot starts tapping. My conscience mind fixes onto the song being played on the television. Here’s the line of thought that transpired:

“Hey, that’s not a bad tune. How come I never heard of this guy before?”

A full five seconds pass.

“Wait a minute. Wait just a goddamn minute. That’s Jimi. That’s ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. What the fuck is this shit!”

Yes, it was Jimi Hendrix’s music, set to the same pace and rhythm of the original. Only in the place of Jimi’s unique and masterful guitar play was a mediocre pianist. And in the place of Jimi’s unmistakeable voice was this prissy British crooner, who I suppose could be easily be mistaken for any prissy British crooner; except for the fact that he was singing Jimi’s tune. Then the narrator chimes in with some bits about the ‘artist’ that is James Cullum. (Is that is name? Does it matter?) Apparently he’s currently the best selling musician in Britain, and is already one of the best selling British musicians of all-time, even though I’ve never heard of him until just this moment. No mention of Jimi. None. Not even a barely legible disclaimer identifying this as Jimi’s work.

Obviously, Mr. Cullum isn’t the first ‘artist’ to make his name from another’s work without giving the proper tip-of-the-hat, nor will he be the last. So why has this instance bothered me so much? When Limp Bizkit remixed George Micheal’s song ‘Faith’, I didn’t care: one hack ripping-off another. Plus, George probably didn’t write the lyrics himself anyway. When the Backstreet Boys ripped-off New Kids on the Block’s act, I didn’t care. When George Lucas ripped-off….well pretty much everybody, I didn’t care. Even when Hitchcock’s classic movie ‘Psycho’ was remade, and remade badly at that, I didn’t care. In fact, I’m not really against remakes, as quite a few remakes have been a marked improvement over the original.

But this is different. This is Jimi. DON’T. TOUCH. JIMI. Hands, off, Jimi!

[As a side note, something that has perhaps elevated my aggravation is that this blatant rip-off (more on that later) comes on the cusp of the recent Pepsi commercial starring a twelve year-old Jimi Hendrix, choosing Pepsi over Coke; inadvertently setting him on the musical path of rock-and-roll over polka. I’ve never cared much for Coke or Pepsi, but after watching that commercial Pepsi has joined diamonds, Nike and Disney on my list of boycotts. Yes, this commercial was tongue-in-cheek. Yes, everyone with any sense at all will know that Pepsi had no influence over Jimi’s work. But still, this commercial of a twelve year-old actor playing Jimi Hendrix, schilling Pepsi over Coke, is absolutely shameless.]

That said, being someone who has frequently used references and allusions to other writers’ works in his own writing, there is still a question of paramount importance that needs to be answered: What keeps this rendition by James Cullum from simply being an homage to the late, great Jimi Hendrix?

Rip-off - 1: an act or instance of stealing. Clearly, 90% of the people who hear Cullum’s version will still recognise it as Jimi’s work –as I did- so the recognition is implied. And it must be assumed that Jimi Hendrix’s estate will be receiving royalty payments, even if Jimi himself isn’t there to collect. Mr. Cullum hasn’t broken any laws; so technically this can’t be defined as theft. 2: a usually cheap exploitive imitation. A financial exploitation. Ah, there it is.

Homage: something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another. Considering that Hendrix is now deceased, and this song was brilliant and in no way needed to be changed, I would say that this rendition was most contrary to being respectful. Unlike the above reference I used [Don’t touch Jimi]. Again, I assume 90% of the people reading this will get the Seinfeld reference, so recognition is implied. But unlike Cullum, I stand to make no financial gain from using that reference in this piece (even if I were to sell this opinion piece to someone—which I doubt—it could not be attributed to that one line); whereas Hendrix’s original piece has now become Cullum’s flagship song for his new album. It is the song that appears in his commercial; it is the first single released off his album; it is the soundtrack of his first music video. This version of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ made Cullum’s career; and it is safe to assume that shortly after this version loses its marketing cache, Cullum will recede back into the dystopian underworld of afterthought hacks.

But only after a bunch of people have made a lot of money.


------
"Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman - a rope over an abyss." ~Nietzsche
Augmented Reality



Comments

The following comments are for "Homage or Blatant Rip-off?"
by eleutheromaniac

Homage or Rip-Off
I love this subject. As I think about the question it occurs to me that the only way a cover of a classic song has ANY credibility is if another Icon does the covering. That is homage. Neil Young covering Bob Dylan. Stevie Ray Vaughn(RIP) covering Eric Clapton. I maybe way off but I feel that if money is not the goal for the "coverer" than it can be homage but when a new artist covers a safe, tried and true hit, it is a Rip-off.(Radio Disney is all about new youngsters covering 80's hits..I have daughters. You should listen sometime. It is heinous!)

( Posted by: arc [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

Radio Disney!!!!!!
What is the world coming too!!!

I have never heard Mr. Cullum and I live 'ere mate!!!

I agree though, I do get fed up with listening to appalling covers of old classics.

Alex

( Posted by: londongrey [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

cover versions
I've never heard of this guy either - if he really is the best selling artist in the UK, it's completely passed me by. But after searching around a bit, it looks like he's done cover versions of a lot of different people for his album; not just Hendrix.

I have no problem with cover versions, per se. I think it's perfectly valid to try to put your own interpretation on someone else's music (and sometimes it even comes out better than the original). You're right, though - there are a lot of really bad covers out there, and these days it seems like everyone's doing them. (and I truly hope I never have to listen to Radio Disney! Gah - what a thought!)

( Posted by: Spudley [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

Homage
Arc: I don't know if you have to be an icon, but you should at least be established in your own right before you cover someone else's song. I agree with your assessment of homage and rip-off.

It'd be different if this was Cullum's tenth song on the album, that he just threw in for kicks. That would an homage. But for it to be his first single (that I know of) is a rip-off.

Quote:
Radio Disney is all about new youngsters covering 80's hits


So P.Diddy's changed his nickname again? R. Disney.

Alex: Hey, I'm just paraphrasing the commercial, I really have no idea how big this guy is in Britain. I'm always amazed at some of these music commercials: 'He's sold more records than Elvis!' Really? Then how come I've never heard of him?


And Sorry about the typos (an extra 'be' and an 'is' that should be 'his'). The writing forums have ruined me: I'm so used to being able to edit after I post.

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

guitar gods
Hendrix is undoubtedly a master of music, and it is no surprise that people imitate him. Stevie Ray Vaughan did a wonderful take on a couple of Hendrix songs, right down to playing behind his back, and picking the strings with his teeth. He used to do this in his live routine in Austin with his band, "Double Trouble."
As for this wannabe that you are talking of, well, greatness always gets watered down by mediocrity. It is just the way of the world. The music and TV people go to long lengths to determine what we hear, and who is going to be successful. That is one reason I seldom try new music, because so much of it is a product, and not an artistic effort.
Meanwhile, in another where and when, someone is in a tavern banging out the melody of "Hey Jude." (Taken from THE GUNSLINGER by Steven King) I think Hendrix's contribution to music will endure in some form for hundreds of years, provided we survive.

( Posted by: brickhouse [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

Music and mediocrity
Spudley, I guess we posted at the same time.

I didn't really bother to do any research on this guy, he doesn't deserve the effort as far as I'm concerned. I just wanted to use him (and the Pepsi commercial) as an example for what is taking place: commercialism is taking over.

I agree with you to an extent about covers. Some songs could (and maybe should) be redone, but there are certain musicians/songs that are untouchables in my mind. I don't mind an homage to a legend (as apparently is the case with Vaughn, though I've never heard of him) But it's something like a hockey player wearing 99 or 66, or a footballer wearing number 9: you better live up to it.

Brickhouse: I think we both share the same opinion on the mediocrity of the latest musical trend. I think, for whatever reason, nobody in the entertainment industry is willing to take a risk anymore. As for greatness being watered down, I'd love to say you're wrong, but you're not. Water finds its own level, and the majority of people are not interested in artistry, they are interested solely in entertainment. A sad state of affairs, but one that I think can be changed.

What about the rip-off/homage question in general (not just music)? Where should the line be drawn? I'd love to hear some views on that.

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

homage or rip-off??
To me a homage is when a cover is done as close to the original as possible, either performed live at a specific concert or even a new song dedicated to a former artist.

I think it becomes a rip-off when the soul of the original is lost to make it more commercial for today, otherwise why bother cos it isn't going to make any more money!

I watched a dedication concert in which the lead singer of the Stereophonics sang the John Lennon song 'Imagine'. I can't for the life of me remember his name but he has an amazing vocal talent. That too me was a homage, despite the fact if he had released it I am sure he would have made a bomb. Perhaps profit decides?

Alex :-)

( Posted by: londongrey [Member] On: August 22, 2004 )

Nice Writing
Nicely done, Eleuthero. It's tightly written, informative, and it moves with a professional flow. In closing, I enjoyed reading it.

Pythagoras

( Posted by: Pythagoras [Member] On: August 23, 2004 )

Homage
London: I think it is profit which is the deciding factor in a lot of cases. To me at least, an homage should be a selfless act, showing your admiration for another artist.

Pyth: Thanks for the compliments. Always nice to hear a critique on the writing itself.

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 23, 2004 )

Jason......
*puts hand up at back of class*

I'm sorry, yes it is very well written, otherwise you wouldn't inspire so much debate! Sorry Sir!

Alex :-)

( Posted by: londongrey [Member] On: August 23, 2004 )

No need
to apologise, Alex. I just like getting criticism for my writing as well as debating (doesn't everybody?). And thanks to you and Pythagoras for taking the time to do so.

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 23, 2004 )

Jimi
As a life-long Hendrix fan, this really touches a nerve for me. You have done the master a great service here. Your indignation and indeed outrage is right on the money and well expressed. If you wanted to tighten this up a bit, I'm sure you could sell this as a personal essay.

( Posted by: Odysseus [Member] On: August 23, 2004 )

Jimi
Thanks for the comments Odysseus. Glad to see a fellow Jimi fan appreciates the effort.

I'll definately consider tightening it up and reworking it a bit.

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 24, 2004 )

'scuze me while I kiss this guy
I have no trouble with cover versions of songs, but I do find myself getting uncomfortable when someone uses a cover song to propel them to stardom. I may actually be against releasing cover songs as radio singles altogether, but I'm not quite sure on that. I do admit that Gary Jules has gotten his fame off of his cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World," but I love his enough that I can't seem to hold it against him. Also, he takes every opportunity to give credit where credit is due and attributes the writing credits on all his TV spots and, I've heard, at his live shows. So... I dunno. However, in the instances you speak of, I can't help but agree. Jimi is untouchable, dammit. Do a cover to spice up your live show, go ahead. But don't use his songs on CD unless you can do something really interesting with them (as Jimi himself did with Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower")... Oh, my vote for worst cover EVER goes to Limp Bizkit's freakin' cover of The Who's brilliant "Behind Blue Eyes." It was perfect in the first place, leave it alone!
I love the angry and somewhat sarcastic voice you wrote this in, pulling in the dictionary definitions was a brilliant move.

( Posted by: Spider [Member] On: August 26, 2004 )

Homage/Spider
Thanks for the comments on the way it was written and I agree with you about covers, especially since 'All Along the Watchtower' is easily, in my opinion, one of Jimi's top five songs. There is definately a place for covers and remixes, but there are certain unwritten rules that need to be respected.

Also, I've learned the pianist's..ha..name is actually Jamie Cullum, not James Cullum. And I've decided 'signature song' is better than 'flagship song'. I'll make those and a few other changes when I rewrite it. (Initially, I just wanted to get something off my chest, but after some of these comments, I think I may be able to get something more out of this.)

Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Jason

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: August 29, 2004 )

adding a rant
There is no ugly devious vile depth that the music business will not dwelve. There is no rules where money making is concerned. Eric Clampton ripped off Bob Marly for 'I Shot The Sheriff', by accident 'tis said.( 11 million was the payoff-I hear.) Guns and Roses wrote not one song- they bought all the songs for $4000 from starving writers(Two I know) and put Axels name on them. The Colonel bought all Elvis's songs for a 100 dollars a song.(Starving writers again...a tradition in Nashville)
The web is tearing apart the old fortresses because any writer/singer can get themselves heard. The problem lies in how a person makes a living as a song writer. Before I hear the 'Music is Free' nonsense I would offer this- How much do you imagine it takes, in money and time, to write, record and market a song? Never mind how much the average performing band has paid for their equipment.
Eleutheromaniac makes a good point,however...did Jimi's estate get paid from the British Bar Entertainer? If he did then he got permission to redo the song badly and it's then up to us to be outraged enough not to buy it because it's bad or buy it for whoever now runs Jimi's estate.
It took twenty -five years for Little Richard and Carl perkins to get what was deserved by the King's Estate. The the first album by the kings of punk, The Ramones, was actually played by the Beach Boys and Glen Cambell because the Ramones couldn't play.(If you research this you will find that the official line is they helped.) Good performers and good writers can join and create good and ethically sound music and do.I believe we have a better chance of hearing good work now than we ever had.
I don't have an answer.
I signed with a major label in the early 70's and was so outraged at the ethics and nonsense I got out. I have been performing and writing for 35 years.The old ways are fading away to a new manner of buying and selling music. We will see if the 'dollar a song download' will replace the old guards way of ripping off their charges or perhaps forcing them to play Jimi's 'The Wind Cries Mary' on the piano because it was his best piece when he played at the Ramada. He probably did play it well there but by the time the producers got through with it..well!
Trust me I'm not bitter...I still love music and what I do,and I am just about to release my newest Indie CD. I write all my material good or bad.

( Posted by: jonpenny [Member] On: September 3, 2004 )

Homage
Hey Jon,

Thanks for your comments regarding the piece and your insights about the music industry. Interesting to hear from someone on the inside.

Regards,
Jason

( Posted by: eleutheromaniac [Member] On: September 5, 2004 )





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