Exit Muses: the Decline of Inspiration In Music

Who is Auguste Maquet?

If you were playing Jeopardy, the clue might read something like: He wrote maquetlarge portions of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Christo, and a number of other novels for which Alexendre Dumas receives sole credit.

While Dumas was wasting his inordinate wealth on booze and his mistresses, Maquet struggled not for the rapidly diminishing royalities, but a mere byline in Dumas’ novels; something that would indicate, “I helped write this.” Dumas eventually agreed to a pay-out, but not to the byline. Maquet is relegated to obscurity.

Dumas keeps excellent company: Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, George Harrison, John Fogerty, Radiohead, Nirvana, Shakira, Meghan Trainor, composer John Williams. Each of them was accused of plagiarism.  Some of them are even multiple offenders and most of those mentioned have been sued—and lost. As English actor and comedian, Stephen Fry, says: “An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” If you want to hone your sense of irony, look up originality quotes on BrainyQuote (or a similar site) and see how many times “There are no original thoughts” gets recycled through the ages.

Marvin Gaye’s estate just recently won a judgment against Robin Thick and Pharell Williiams for the song “Blurred Lines,” which was proved to sound remarkably close to Gaye’s “Got to Give It up.”

taylor-swift-shake-it-off-reviewTaylor Swift, also quite recently, was accused of copying her own songs—an accusation levied against the Canadian rock band, Nickelback. In January of this year, English songster Sam Smith was forced to give song-writing credit to Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for his Emmy-winning song, “Stay With Me.” Weeks before, a YouTube video went viral showcasing how six—SIX—current country hits were virtually identical both musically and lyrically. Furthermore, after scouring the Internet, it seems improbable, but only a few have noticed that Pink’s hit, “Try,” is remarkably similar–in both song and video–to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

Are the Muses dead? Why are we content with–nay, revel in–the uninspired?  Is there an explanation or is this symptomatic of a culture in decline?

The philosophy of art is best left to the scholars, but what we can say with certainty is that a good portion of what Americans listen to on the radio is  bland and evidently often recycled, whether it be “homage” or outright thievery. Are there theories as to why modern music finds itself in the proverbial rut?

beethoven4altImagine a broad spectrum.  The profound music happens somewhere to the center-left of the middle–somewhere that serves to not only elicit emotional response, but also to cajole the listener into active engagement with the song; a so-called “Axis of Thought.”  While there are excellent artists and songs that fall outside of the halo, this might be where the most influential and meaningful music occurs.  Perhaps that the reason so many artists sound redundant is because music which engages the mind has, more or less, been shunned in the past 20 years or more.  Has the advent of the iPod/mp3 player/smartphone made music disposable?  If one wishes not to be intellectually engaged, one merely hits the “next” button on the iPod. Buying music is also a much less personal experience as we do not line up at music stores to buy our favorite artist, then take that album home to devour the album’s artwork, its lyrics, and to replay the album over-and-over-and-over for weeks–or even months–on end.  muse-drones-portadaThe ease by which we access information regarding our favorite artists has even simplified to the point where the artists retain very little anonymity, let alone an aura of mystery.

If the music is disposable and the artists are revealed, astonishingly, to be mere mortals–what is left to inspire?




Robin Thicke/Pharell: http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/back-to-rockville/article13682603.html

Taylor Swift: http://www.avclub.com/article/least-2-taylor-swifts-songs-are-exactly-same-215951

Nickelback: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4258547

Sam Smith: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/26/sam-smith-tom-petty-royalties_n_6546892.html

Country Music: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4258547


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