People Like Copies. Copies of things can be incredibly useful. People like to have more than one of the same thing, as in general we are gatherers and collectors and also severely lazy. By god, we even are compelled to copy ourselves. MissSix is pretty much a copy of me, except that for now she has escaped myopia and nerdism, which is an example of the Enhanced Copy: the same, but somehow better. It’s kind of like with modern copy machines – sometimes the copy can look sharper than the original. If you are somewhere between the ages of 115 and 30, you will remember the Poor Copy that came from a ditto or mimeograph machine, the bane of schoolchildren everywhere. You might get a ditto sheet for the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” in Mrs. Meinz’s music class, but the faded lavender ink might be mushy to one side:

“Oh say can ynn sww,
By the dawn’s errrlmmm lhnnm”

Not that anyone could sing it properly anyway.

I got to thinking about copies and songwriting. Do all musicians, regardless of talent, opportunity, or desire eventually repeat themselves? Is there a limit to all songwriters’ abilities to come up with novelty? And how much of copying yourself is intentional in the creative process? Keep in mind: People Like Copies. They do, until they don’t, and then they call you a hack. This is the way of all things, om.

You start off as a musician copying others; that is how you learn. Even Sporb, the first caveman musician, was copying the sounds and rhythms of nature around him. Guhh copied Sporb, Nerg copied Guhh, until we get to Saliere and Lady Gaga and such. But the individualist does arise anew, and we hear something fresh to the ears, and then someone comes along and wants to profit from it and says, HEY! WRITE SOMETHING JUST LIKE THAT AGAIN! PEOPLE LIKE IT! The songwriter, wanting to keep communication going and to eat food regularly and pay rent, may do this. He may not, and people might go HEY! I LIKE THAT NEW SHIT! Or HEY! WTF IS THAT NEW CRAP, PLAY THE OLD CRAP!

Let us examine some top pop songwriters. For this paragraph’s sake, let us deconstruct The Traveling Wilburys. Bob Dylan couldn’t go on forever being a Woody Guthrie clone; he’s simply too stubborn. He turned on the electric, got booed, carried on, and became himself as a musician instead of what people wanted or expected. He’s putting out an album of Christmas songs this season; you have to appreciate the absurdity and balls of that, really. Tom Petty, essentially kept re-writing the same AOR-rock anthemic songs, and people loved it, but he has not made a hit in awhile now. Jeff Lynne makes everything he does sound like Jeff Lynne; he’s kind of the Model T assembly line of songwriter/producers – reliable, perfectly functional, and dull. George Harrison, Beatle, could not or would not change his guitar sound (the “slide bees”) since 1969, nor really write out of his post-Beatles style at all. Roy Orbison had a nicely-varied style – ballads, pop, country, all tailored to his remarkable voice – but died too soon. My guess is that his career would have evolved similarly to Johnny Cash’s, taking on more styles and things out of his comfort zone.

Rivers Cuomo of Weezer is a compulsive songwriter who analyzes the tiniest components to hit songs and tries to incorporate those into his work. Creepy or smart? Dedicated or crass? Pro or technician? Doesn’t matter, really. Songwriters that are in the game for awhile have to find ways to keep on writing. Ray Davies has done a lot of different things to keep writing – re-writing, re-referencing older works, writing for “characters,” writing operas/musicals, writing for “The Kinks,” writing for the people he wants to bring in, writing for himself. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club put out their great album “Baby 81,” then apparently as a stop-gap released, “The Effects Of 333.” This collection sounds like the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” combined with a jet engine. Uhhh, I said, ummm. Yeah.

I guess musicians just do what they do in the end – sometimes be brilliant and sometimes be the purple smudged smelly ditto machine copy. Oh, say can ynn swwwww!