Posts Tagged ‘The Who’

I may be late to this party, but a friend of mine just turned me on to The Johnny Cash Project.

It’s an amazing example of crowdsourcing, billed as “A unique communal work, a living portrait of The Man in Black.” Basically, artists get to draw an image of Johnny Cash to be integrated into an animated music video of Cash’s song, “Ain’t No Grave.” For me, one of the coolest aspects is that because people are constantly adding new content, the video is always changing. And you can choose to view the video by watching Highest Rated Frames, Director Curated Frames, Abstract Frames, Realistic Frames, and more.

I highly recommend checking it out. And thanks to my friend, surfer, homeopathic physician, and killer folk music artist Acoustic Apothecary, for sharing this with me. (Check out Acoustic Apothecary’s You Tube videos here.)

But of course, I’m not here simply to bring you the new and interesting (at which I’ve failed miserably given that this has been around awhile). I think there’s a much more important issue at stake here: who owns a creator’s work, and what rights does the creator have as to it’s reproduction and use.

I have written before about who actually owns a creator’s work (please read my posts about Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and The Who’s My Generation). In this instance, while “Ain’t No Grave” is Johnny Cash’s final studio recording, this video is posthumous.

Because it was created with the support of the Cash Estate, I’m sure all the legal bases have been covered. But what about the moral ones? (Including whether his estate is the right authority to make that decision, when its interest in continuing to make money on his creativity may be in conflict with its responsibility to protect the integrity of his legacy? For more on this, see my post, “I See Dead People…”.)

Specifically, would Mr. Cash approve of his fans collaborating with him on his last song? Is he the kind of artist who would have micro-managed every aspect of creative interpretation, as many do, or is he the kind that would willingly allow fans to play in his creative playground, as a growing number of transmedia creators are doing?

Companies and brands face this dilemma whenever they decide to allow their customers to create user-generated content. There have been disasters, like the Chevy Tahoe crowdsourced commercials, and successes, like the Doritos Super Bowl ads.

But what about artists? How do artists feel about covers? Some, like Prince, are against them, and even take their battles to court. Others, like Lady Gaga, who clearly understands the power of social media, are thrilled to death, and tweet about fan videos she finds and likes.

In other words, different creators make different choices about who can use their work, and how. And I believe it is their right to do so.

So, as much as I love The Johnny Cash Project, and as much as I am personally in favor of letting fans play in my own playground (which I am currently developing as part of my “Spirit In Realtime” science fiction series I’m writing), can someone please explain to me whether you think it’s okay to steal and use a dead man’s song for any purpose, even that of celebrating his life?

Fan Jeff:  I’m really mad at Pete Townsend for whoring out “My Generation” to Pepsi.

Marketer Jeff:  It’s a good commercial, and I think it works.

Creator Jeff:  A creator needs to be true to his inner voice. He doesn’t create for the fan, but if it’s good, people will respond to it.

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is The Who, the ultimate “stick it to the man, cause he’s gonna stick it to you” band. These are they guys who devoted a whole album to making fun of commercials and commercialism called “The Who Sell Out” way back in the 60’s.

Creator Jeff:  A creator owns his creativity, and he can do anything he wants with it. Pete needs to eat. Fan Jeff, you need to get over it and grow up. This is business.

Fan Jeff:  Rock and Roll isn’t about business. Not to a fan. It’s about meaning, and belonging, and understanding. And in The Who’s case, their songs are about seeing through the games society plays with the individual. You know, “Meet the new boss…Same as the old boss”  and “You tried to walk on the trail we were carving, now you know that we framed you.”

Marketing Jeff:  Well, clearly a fan’s relationship to a brand and its products doesn’t always work out the way a brand wants. Brands can influence the relationship, but they don’t control it.

Creator Jeff:  This isn’t the first time the Who has used a song to sell soda. And what about concert tour sponsorships?

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is “My Generation.” It’s not Michael Jackson. This was a battle cry. This mattered to people. How many of us do you think are going to run out and buy a Pepsi now because it’s cooler since they used this song? Did they think of that when they made the commercial? By using “My Generation” they proved they weren’t part of my generation.

Marketing Jeff:  So, Fan Jeff, you’re saying that if they were trying to appeal to fans, they’re actually disenfranchising them?

Creator Jeff:  This is rubbish. I’m not going to let a bunch of sycophantic, whiny babies who think they’re even part of the process dictate what I do.

Fan Jeff:  Fans aren’t part of the process? Look, when I was growing up, I had a few friends who were older and had been in Vietnam. When they found that out I thought Quadrophenia was the best album ever written, one of them, Terry, said to me, “To you it’s just music. To us, it was our life. It was our anthem.” Are those the whiny babies you’re talking about who aren’t part of the process, Creator Jeff?

Creator Jeff:  Creators sometimes make things that don’t resonate with fans. Dylan went electric, and fans hated it. Springsteen went acoustic, and fans hated it. Following your muse is dangerous, but it’s what you do.

Marketing Jeff:  Brands make mistakes too. They do line extensions that don’t fly. Remember McDonald’s Arch Deluxe? They change their product and sales plummet. Remember New Coke?

Fan Jeff:  Look, you’re both missing the point. I am pissed at Pete Townsend. I can’t hear “My Generation” again and have it mean what it used to mean because of what Pete has done. Just like when they licensed “Love Reign O’er Me” for a 7Up commercial back in the ’80s. It took something away from me.

Marketing Jeff:  Wait a second. You still love “Revolution,” even though Nike used it.

Fan Jeff:  Yeah, but John Lennon was dead already. And I think the label owned it, and I think the Beatles sued. But I was mad at Nike and didn’t wear their sneakers for a long, long time.

Creator Jeff:  Yeah, and later Yoko let them use “Instant Karma.” Once you die, man, everyone gets in line to pick at your corpse.

Marketing Jeff:  Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that this is highly-charged territory. I think one thing we all can agree with is that the relationship between brands and fans is influenced by lots of factors, and neither party controls it. So now it’s time for my question.

Fan Jeff:  What question?

Marketing Jeff:  You know, I always end every blog post with the question, “Can someone please explain…?”

Fan Jeff:  No man, not this time. Just leave it like The Who wrote it, “…Can’t explain, I think it’s love…”