Theft Or Genius?

The Arts

It’s late and I’ve worked fourteen hours straight so I’m losing complicated thoughts, but I was pondering on copies and versions of creative works this evening, in the light of the lovely Pogo mixes posted elsewhere here, which sample tracks from films.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that, if you write a new version of an old story you’ll be accused of plagiarism, whereas if you reimagine an old song, everyone heralds you as a genius.

There’s a short story by another writer that I’d love to rework, because the original was of its time (the sixties) and dated now, and could be translated into something for this generation. But I daren’t do it, because it would be regarded as stealing. It’s a shame, because unlikely songs which often passed unnoticed at the time of their first appearance are frequently rediscovered and transformed.

Here are a couple of versions of ‘Willow’s Song’,,,

9 comments on “Theft Or Genius?”

  1. What about Will Self’s cover version of Dorian Grey?

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    Understood entirely, but the two are not the same – the one does not relate in this way to the other. Music covers are not new, folk reels go back a long way and rebel songs might update but the tunes and themes are often constant. People still sit in pubs and jam. People learn to play the guitar by learning a given song. When drunk we may sing together, often and much to the chagrin of our more stiffly-buttoned chums. Mozart is not only played by Mozart. This is not the case with the written word, and where are the oral story tellers now*? Even if there are literary jams then it is commonly what one has composed rather than reading aloud the words of another. Also for commercial music covers isn’t the writer benefitting also?

    Respectfully, I doubt you’d be entirely happier with this new best-seller that’s being hailed as a work of original genius – ‘Benson & Hedges’. A pair of elderly detectives that bicker over cases such as the Seventy-Six Clocks and the Water Closet. The plots are almost the same as yours, but the solutions remove all that mystic-genre-London stuff, they have twenty-four hours to save Helen Mirren, and it rains a lot. I know it’s a sore nerve since you went to court over it but lost because Bryant & May weren’t proper literary fiction so didn’t count. Really now, you shouldn’t have been so mean about Kate Mosse.

    Joke, of course.

    *There are, they’re called role-players.

  3. Clare says:

    I have to disagree with Alan above me, I think people do still tell stories, anecdotes frequently become so far from what happened as to be a work of fiction!

    Neither do I think that it is entirely true that ‘cover versions’ of books don’t exist. They are more in the manner of film ‘covers’ – jumping on the bandwagon of a suddenly popular genre or specific work purely for profit seems to be big business.

    I can think of many books that would deserve a reworking for modern audiences, perhaps it’s not common purely because it’s far more time consuming to rework a novel than a 3 minute song.

  4. porl says:

    my favourite Willow’s Song cover is the Sneaker Pimps’ “How Do”

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Perhaps the problem is trying to rework stories that were created only a short while ago. The ’60s are within easy memory – go for the twenties or the 1860’s, although “It was the best of times”, etc. is probably not on. All writers are story tellers.
    There is a story telling festival in Victoria this weekend with special sessions for kids and evening ones for adults.

  6. I.A.M. says:

    [wonders to himself if pointing out that while “(t)he ’60s are within easy memory” they were nearly a half-century or more ago, or if discretion is the wise course of action?]

    I learned from that second video that “Willow’s Song” was written originally for the film and wasn’t a folk tune at all! Fancy that!

  7. Helen Martin says:

    The sixties are within easy memory of mature adults and their offspring who were raised in the echo of that decade. I was born in ’42 and my childhood was spent to the tune of the music and stories of the twenties and thirties. Hmm, perhaps you should try for the 1800’s for things to update, Chris.

  8. Anne Fernie says:

    That Doves version is a nice one to listen to on this lovely Equinox eve’ – might have to forego the bonfire on the mean streets of Manchester but feel the love one and all………..

  9. Mike Carrington says:

    When Stephen King apologises to Guy de Montpassent, you should worry about reworking ideas! If I were the author of the story you mention I would be pleased to see it reworked and would take it as a compliment that someone wanted to. Surely best just to rework it and credit the source?

    Excellent versions of Willow’s Song!

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