Burt Bacharach in Vegas (great) and on IP (not so much)
A couple days ago Burt Bacharach told the BBC a panel of music experts should be used to decide on copyright issues. He says there were "bad decisions made" and said the current situation was "messy."
The next night Bacharach wasn't sitting home collecting royalties, he performed at The Smith Center in Las Vegas and the show was anything but messy, except when the 89 year old tried to sing. Listening to a singer cough is never comfortable. Bacharach apologized for the buildup of phlegm in the back of his throat, caused by “the lack of humidity, or humidity, you have both here.”
As Andy Gill wrote for The Independent in 2013, “His own vocal efforts are similarly confined to a few songs chosen to fit his weary croak, most effectively a moving "Alfie"; instead, a trio of singers (Josie James, Donna Taylor and John Padano) front them, in the way that Crosby and Sinatra once fronted the Whiteman and Dorsey bands - and just as skillfully.”
Of course the show was a series of hit after hit, with 1962 represented prominently. “Mexican Divorce” that didn’t chart for the Drifters “because radio stations in the south wouldn’t play songs about divorce,”plus a handful of other songs from that year that did chart: Padano’s amazing renditions of “Any Day Now,” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance.” “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” “Make it Easy on Yourself,” “Only Love Can Break a Heart.”And Josie James’ looks and voice on “Don’t Make Me Over,” were eerily reminiscent of Dionne Warwick and reminded us of the extraordinary string of Bacharach/Wallis/Warwick hits.
Bacharach and Wallis's Brill Building productivity was astounding in the year 1962...and again the next year, and the next, and the next.
Bacharach told the crowd that it was great being back in Las Vegas and said the Smith Center is one of the finest places he’s ever played. He reminisced about his work with Vic Damone and Marlene Dietrich. “I saw the world, but the [German] music sucked.”
Wearing jeans and a blue sport coat, Bacharach looked all of 89, with a severe shoulder issue that makes playing the piano (and simple things like drinking from a bottle of water) awkward. “Bacharach himself doesn't "do" much, but he's the calm centre of a cool tornado of activity,” wrote Gill. “A silver-haired elfin genius hunched over the piano, he restricts himself to just a few abbreviated hints and accents, rising frequently to cue his seven-piece band through myriad changes.”
"It's one octave you've got to play with,” Bacharach told the BBC about plagiarism. “Some songs sound like others. Things are messy enough in the world of pop music and records and downloads, free music and things like that."
Bacharach said there were samples on "top records" - including those that used some of his original work.
"There's a version of Close to You by Frank Ocean that's almost literally - well, it's the same title, you can't copyright a title - musically, it's almost note for note with [the original] Close to You,” says Bacharach of the Carpenter’s hit that he and Hal David wrote.
It's "a delicate matter," he told the BBC's Colin Paterson. "It's not a perfect science."
"I think what needs to be done is there has to be maybe three, four outstanding experts, musicologists, who can be trusted, who can differentiate and say 'that's derivative, that's not derivative'."
On Facebook recently, Stephan Kinsella posted some correspondence from Mark Twain to Helen Keller that tackles the problem.
"Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.
"When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that."
“You probably wonder why I do this,” Bacharach queried the audience. “If I can give you one of two minutes of happiness, it’s worth it to me.”
We received much more than that.