My Thoughts on Tom Petty vs. Sam Smith

I’ve spent way too much time this morning thinking about this.  Up until yesterday, I had no idea who Sam Smith was, or what his song in question was.  Before you start jumping on my case that I live under a rock, don’t, I’m well aware.  I’m trying to not live under a rock.  But I’m really bad at listening to the radio, and I don’t really watch TV because I don’t have cable so I live online.  It’s really easy to be selective when you do that, because there’s SO MUCH SHIT.  I promise I’ll try harder from now on, because it’s just as important, as a music artist, to be aware of the contemporary popular pulse, as well as the lesser known murmur of the independent and “unknown” artists.

Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this.  I thought that if I listened to each song over and over again, and if I obnoxiously sang one song over the other, I would have gotten some sort of divine insight into the situation.  Not true at all.

I love Tom Petty.  Like, I’m pretty sure I’m absolutely in love with his music.  I want to marry his music and have its babies, etc.  But when I heard he was suing another artist over copyright infringement, I reacted, “Okay, let’s hear this other song.”

I’m not an idiot.  I can hear the same chord progressions with the chorus, just as I’m sure Smith and his people heard.  That, however, is not my issue.  I don’t hear Petty’s song in Smith’s.  One does not remind me of the other.  It’s not like the obvious, and also hilarious Vanilla Ice debacle with “Ice, Ice Baby.”  Smith was clearly not trying to imitate the sound of Petty’s song.  They emotionally sound different.  The only thing that’s the same, is that little fucking chord progression that is used to emphasize parts of their songs.

So my question, ultimately, is: what made them decide that this particular chord progression was Tom Petty’s?  Or, was there something else that made them decide that I just can’t see?

Every chord, and every progression has already been written.  Not only that, but basically every rock song ever uses the same three chords.

I’m not a copyright lawyer, but it fascinates me.  It also terrifies me because there is no clear law on the subject.  I think we’re getting closer to having clearer laws on it, but we’re not quite there.  Because of this, every lawsuit varies in the judgement.  There are plenty of “Sam Smiths” that win.

Several years ago, I released the copyright to a song of mine on an artist website (the owner of the site owns the copyright now).  I loved that song.  Everyone loved hearing it at shows.  You could say it was my “coffeehouse hit.”  But, after playing it for years, and nothing really happening with it, I decided to release it to the world.  Someone else can create with it.  They can do whatever they want with it.  Maybe they will make it weirder, or prettier.  I don’t know, but what I did know at the time, was that art is made to go into the world and inspire other art.

I don’t think artists should take advantage of other artists.  If you worked hard on something, someone shouldn’t be allowed to steal it from you.  I understand that.  I got super pissy when someone didn’t credit footage I shot that they used in their film in a film class I took.  However, I think the game of claims on music is a bit out of control.  I already think copyright is held way too long (it used to be 28 years, now it’s over 70!) and that inhibits the creative flow.

For the record, I think both songs are quite lovely.  And I honestly don’t know what the “right” answer is.  Perhaps there is none.

So basically, Tom Petty, I hope you know what you’re doing.

Until next time.


Sad Dreams and Bob Dylan

Last night (and this morning, I eventually went back to bed for an hour) I had the saddest dreams I’ve had in a long time.  They were so sad, that I actually feel sad thinking about them.  Maybe it’s the cold weather.  Maybe it’s the end of the year.  Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Bob Dylan lately.  Seriously, I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob.

And not just listening.  Last night I watched, for like, the 4-billionth time, Don’t Look Back, the Bob Dylan documentary by D.A. Pennebaker.  It’s my favorite movie of all time.  It was also my formal introduction to Dylan.  My parents never really listened to him (at least not while I have been alive) so I wasn’t really exposed to his music, except in a passing, superficial glance.  The documentary didn’t just make me go out and get more of his music so I could sit and listen to it for hours, it didn’t just spark creative energy in the films I was making at the time, it was my first, giant epiphany.

I’m still not entirely sure what exactly about this film that always gets to me.  Dylan himself is represented in a very strict, particular way.  And despite its documentary status, I take the authenticity of documentaries, in general, pretty lightly.  Editing is a powerful tool.

But the film, itself, is lovely.  Pennebaker makes choices based on feeling rather than image.  He uses a lot of footage that is underexposed, overly grainy, and not that great in order to capture these truly beautiful moments, like Joan Baez singing “Percy’s Song.”  It’s such a beautiful and intimate moment, and rather than focusing on how the film will turn out, he concentrates on the moment.

But this isn’t a film review, and I could go on and on for hours talking about that movie, so I’ll just shut up about it already.

Other than my seemingly depressing nightlife, my weekend was good.  We did very little, which made me happy.  We spent so much time running errands for two weeks straight that I was more than happy to be home-bound.  We played card games, watched movies and hung out with friends.  I made gluten-free Oreo truffles, and now I’ll be fat forever and ever and won’t care, because those things are amazing.

I’m definitely ready for some adventure though.  Until then, I have a lot to do to prepare for a lot of different things, and a little bit of writing to do.  The entirety of next year is going to be re-structured.

Until next time.


This is a Sad Post

I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to write about today.  What with everything going on in the Middle East, and Assange’s hearing on the Swedish rape case, there’s a lot on my mind.  And still, there’s something else that’s been bothering me and consuming my mind more than these huge events.

My friend, Jhade.

I don’t know what happened yesterday, but I just spiraled into sadness.  I’m still feeling the effects of it today, so I decided I might as well write everything out.  Normally, I would call Jhade up and make her hang out with me when I just felt overwhelmingly sad.  And I made her do the same when SHE was overwhelmingly sad.  At the end of our time together, we would be laughing and sharing all our favorite songs of the moment.

Unfortunately, Jhade isn’t here anymore.  She passed away a little over a year ago, from complications of an illness she mostly kept hidden from friends.  I was stunned and upset in so many ways.  Because I found out on Facebook.  Because I thought about calling her the night before but didn’t.  You know, the usual gut-wrenching guilt and anger that generally surrounds the death of a loved one.

Let’s rewind to oh, around 2008.  I got a voicemail from Jhade, stating she was in the hospital, she was fine, but she almost died, and had a serious condition.  Naturally, I made my way to the hospital as fast as I could, and with a half-crying, half-trying-to-be-lighthearted, I told her if anything EVER happened again I needed a call (I never got a call – but I think that has more to do with the fact Jhade hated when people worried about her).

Life was hard for Jhade after that.  She was this amazing singer, writer, painter, and artist of all sorts, but her limitations changed her, made her sad and hopeless a lot.  She was literally told by doctors she couldn’t sing anymore, because her heart couldn’t take it (how sad is that?).  She was a singer.  And you know what?  She probably had one of the most beautiful voices on this planet.  It’s a shame the world never got to hear it (though I feel lucky I did – and can still hear it in my mind!).  I tried to encourage her to do things she COULD do, and she did them.  But it wasn’t the same.  I understood that.

But Jhade, like she always was, took care of everyone else, no matter how bad off she was.  We went out to lunch one day and talked about music.  There was a Guitar Center right across the parking lot and she wanted me to go look at guitars.  So we walked over.  Even though she struggled with the short walk there, her face lit up and had 3 people working there tending to my every need.  I had no money in my bank account, so she told me to just put the guitar on my credit card.  Ha!  Oh, she forced me into the best bad decision I’ve ever made!  And I could never turn her down for anything when she used her “mother” voice at me…

I still miss her every day.  Some days, like today, it just hurts my heart how much I miss her.  Days like now, I wish I had called her more, I wish I had talked her into a few more “bad” decisions and I wish I had listened to her good advice.  Days like today, I would give anything for a letter from her, and I wish I could write her.  I don’t believe in heaven, but she did.  Either way, I know that her soul is still out there, doing things.  I dream about her all the time.  So much reminds me of her.

But nothing reminds me more of Jhade than music.  That’s where our souls totally linked.  And she did this really annoying thing all the time, and I do it too, when she really liked a song, she’d play it on repeat until it was burned in your brain forever.

One night we had a sleepover and watched 50 First Dates and she played IZ’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for like, 3 hours afterward.  I was annoyed by the song, until now.  Now, I can’t help but cry when I hear it.  It means a lot more to me now.

So here’s to you, Jhade:  I will always love you, you’re always on my mind.  And I promise to never again waste a moment of my life not doing what I love doing.  Life really is short, but it can be a great ride if you want it to be.

Until next time.

Tales from the Record Shop

This past weekend was weird, a bit serendipitous, and quite a blur.  We spent a lot of time at record shops and music stores.  We met people.  We connected with humanity.  Zach and I talked endlessly about soul mates and all our dreams.  It was a nice change from my mostly hermit life.  Truly, my brain feels relaxed, but I’m definitely ready to hide away for a little while so I can get work done.  I got very inspired this past weekend.  It was all just meant to be, I suppose.

It got really nostalgic though.  Sure, we listened to Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and all that stuff.  I was almost brought to tears by Odetta’s voice.

Ugh, I can’t believe I’m going to be saying this.  We all have to come out at some point or another though.  I listened to Hanson.  A lot.  This weekend.  I don’t think I’m done.  I’ll probably still listen to it a while longer.  There, I said it!

I’m kidding, of course.  I really think it’s silly when people are embarrassed of what music they like.  I know it’s not cool to like Hanson though.  But I never really understood why.  They are one of the best selling indie groups out there (still!).  Clearly, I’m not the only one to think they are talented.  Also, when has there ever been a time when I’ve given any shits about what people thought about me?  Not really my business anyway.

My musical roots actually really started with Hanson (sorry, this may be a disappointment, but I was actually not raised listening to Bob Dylan – I found him in college).  I was little when they exploded all over the place.  It really wasn’t a surprise I came to like them.  I loved talented kids.  I looked up to a girl a year older than I who was good at karate and I thought she was just the most insanely badass person ever.  I also loved to emulate people I admired.

I was already playing the violin at that time, but I picked up the piano shortly after.  I collected small instruments.  I learned how to sing.  I learned song structure.  If I could have forced my little brother to be in a band with me, I would have.  Because my god, I would make him sing harmonies with me.  I made my dad take me to music stores so I could play with (and dream about) all the shiny, wonderful instruments that I so desperately wanted.  I exposed myself to other music, other than what my older sister listened to (Prince, Madonna, etc).  And at the age of 11, I would play with my parents’ records for hours, mostly trying to figure out “Ben” by Michael Jackson and jam out to Bryan Adams.

To put it another way, I became obsessed with more than just Hanson.  They were just a spring board.

OK, sometimes I forget where my rants are going, so let me take a second to backtrack…

Oh yes, now I remember.

Sometimes, you just need to get back to your roots in order to know where you’re going.  When I left music, I really left everything, burned bridges and pushed it all out of my mind.  It’s hard to start from scratch.

But I’m kind of having fun doing it.

Until next time.


“Remember the Time”

I still remember what I was doing 5 years ago when Michael Jackson died.  I was in my room, playing on the computer and watching Netflix (boy, how times have changed, right?).  My friend Alex called and asked me if I knew that MJ had died.  I laughed, thinking he was just making a morbid joke.  When he finally convinced me that he was telling me the truth, I panicked, started to choke up and told him I needed to go.  I checked Twitter.  Yup.  It was trending.

I cried.  I called my mom at work, and I cried.

There have only been 2 celebrities I’ve cried over their deaths.  Princess Diana and Michael.

I’m not a huge celebrity watcher.  At least, not by choice.  But MJ was different.  He inspired me when I was little, and not in ways you might think.  Sure, I learned all his dance moves.  I loved his music.  I thought his writing was fantastic.  But he introduced me to a lot of things that I still carry with me now.

I actually became interested in filmmaking through MJ.  His videos were unlike others (he called them films, not music videos) – he worked with some of the best directors.  Thriller made me fall in love with costume makeup, to the point I would check out books on how to create body parts and change your face from the library.  And boy did I love thrift shopping after that – stores filled with things from which to create!  He helped me take my imagination out of my head and bring it into reality.  He was special that way.  Probably because he lived so much in an imagined world that he created, because the rest of the world was hard to deal with.

But the most important thing I got from Michael was the idea that one should always fight for others.  I wanted to be a champion for those that couldn’t fight for themselves.  Not a lot of people remember him as an activist, but oh he was.  The Earth Song stabbed my heart like a dagger and made me care.  I remember I got a C on a class assignment because we were supposed to do a project on something America did that was a great impact on its people, and I did mine on how America policing the world (my example was Croatia) created a ripple effect back to the States.  I was 13, my teachers were pissed and I ended up have to do extra credit.

But to be serious – Michael was tortured.  We all know that.  He had so many demons.  I’m sad for him, but I’m mostly sad for his kids.  He was one of those people who created a lot and gave to the world, but have a hard time connecting to all of it.

So here’s to all those inspired by Michael Jackson: create, love the world, make it better and inspire others.

The Sign of Auto Harp

So, this is my first post about music!  It certainly won’t be my last.

If you’ve read my “About” section, you know that I used to perform and record music, but turned away from it (for multiple different reasons).  After all these years, I’m finally (genuinely) ready to start it over again.  Like, start from a clean slate.

At first, I was completely terrified.  I had all those awful thoughts: I’m too old to start over, too old to learn new instruments, too old to do everything… blah blah blah!  Eventually, I came to my senses and realized I was being ridiculous.  You’re never too old to do what you want to do.  Sure, I’m still a little nervous.  I’m rusty.  My fingers don’t work the same.  Mainly, it’s because I don’t have the blind courage I had when I was younger, when I really thought I could do it anything in the world.

There are some benefits to being older and “wiser” though.

For instance, I’m much more meticulous.  I take time to really dive into everything, trying to learn as much as I can.  I don’t get tunnel vision anymore.  I am able to see a bigger picture, and really see how I can incorporate it into my life and all the other stuff in it.

I’m not afraid of failure.  I know it’s not a big deal if I fall flat on my face.  I’m a lot more likely to laugh it off and try again.  When I was younger, failure kept me paralyzed.  In fact, it completely contributed to my never succeeding.  In ANYTHING.  I also don’t have any pressure.  Now, I just want to play.  Even if my dogs are my only audience, I’m happy.

I’m not sure what is about this year, but I feel like I can actually do things.  It’s quite liberating.

Last September, I inherited an Auto harp from my husband’s grandfather.  It was this really weird moment, because a couple years before then, I had a professor tell me to learn to play.  We were talking about my screen writing, and how it reminds of him of old folk music.  It was actually an amazing compliment to me.  He said he thought I would like an Auto harp.  And I told him I’d get one and learn to play – and he said to let him know if I ever decided to perform.  I always kept this conversation in the back of my mind.  So when grandpa John offered it up to me, my mind kind of blew up.  John told me he expected me to be playing it for him next time he saw me.  He saw some sort of spark in me, even before I felt the spark.

Unfortunately, John passed away before he could see me play, but I’m still going to play it.  Because if there were ever anything such as signs, that old Auto harp is one.  Two people who didn’t know each other, that barely knew me, brought up the same instrument.

Life is weird sometimes.  I’ve always known I’d get back to music.  Nothing completes me more than music.  But I think that’s true of the best people.