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Thieves of Rock and Roll

January 24, 2009

The other day I stumbled upon this quote by Jim Jarmusch.

Nothing is original.

Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.

Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.

Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.

The quote not only blew my mind, but it reinforced my view on modern rock music. Nothing is original.

Elvis stole from black music. The Beatles stole from Chuck Berry. Led Zeppelin stole from Willie Dixion. Nirvana stole from the Pixies, Radiohead stole from Jeff Buckley, Coldplay stole from Radiohead, the Strokes stole from Tom Petty. Everyone steals from everyone else.

I realized that fact a long time ago and it bummed me out for a while. Especially when time magnifies the 60’s+70’s into being the pinnacle of innovation in popular music. How could I create anything original? But I didn’t realize the last part of the Jarmusch/Godard quote is the most important part.

It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to. Authenticity is created when you know where you’re coming from and know where you’re going, even if all you know is you want to make new music.

Take Control of Your Music,


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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2009 4:52 am

    Radiohead stole from Jeff Buckley? Did they even know who he was?

  2. January 25, 2009 3:39 pm

    From what I’ve heard Radiohead were recording the Bends in London and the sessions were not going well. The producer suggest the get re-inspired and check out Jeff Buckley. They did and the rest was history.

  3. January 25, 2009 5:46 pm

    Yeah, I’ve heard the Radiohead – Buckley story before. They went to see him then went straight back to the studio and recorded Fake Plastic Trees.

    I absolutely agree about the lack of originality, but it’s important not to make generalisations. Saying Elvis stole black people’s music isn’t accurate – there had been a crossover between “black” blues and “white” country for decades before Elvis. Clear distinctions are often a marketing gimmick rather than a reality.

    Also, despite their influence, the 60’s and 70’s were no pinnacle of creativity. Hip-hop, sampling, Heavy Metal, all of these things came into their own afterwards and were original.

    It’s just that orginality can never be tied to one person – any single song or album is part of a musical heritage, but over time, new things happen.

    Erm… does that make sense?

  4. January 25, 2009 7:02 pm

    Indeed Tom. Indeed.

  5. January 28, 2009 4:21 am

    Hmmm…I never heard that one before. Seems a bit of a stretch but you never know I guess.

    I played a show with Buckley in San Diego before he released Grace and was still relatively unknown. The two guitarists in my band borrowed his tuner because they forget theirs and then proceeded to misplace it. I was getting Mexican food with the one and the other comes up all frantic looking and says, “Dude, that Buckley dude is about to go on and I can’t find his tuner…he’s getting PISSED.”

    I had read an article about Tim Buckley a few weeks before that piqued my interest -he supposedly had a great voice- and it wasn’t until the end of Buckley’s set I was walking by the venue (a cafe) and heard this crazy wail and I thought…”Wait a minute…I wonder if there’s any relation…”

    Oh well. It was good Mexican food anyway.

  6. January 28, 2009 4:37 am

    Keith, you show off. I fookin love it. More please!

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