My Sweet Creep

We hate Life at 40.

No, we haven’t seen it. And really, we’re sure it makes a fine evening’s entertainment.

We just hate the idea of it.

Because we’re not 40. We’re 53.

There’s nothing wrong about being 53, mind you. We’re just getting into the groove of the whole Fifties Thing, just like we do around this time every decade. First there’s the novelty, and then the novelty wears off, and then you realize there’s no going back, and then you settle in. Just like clockwork. Or grief.

And it doesn’t hurt that we’re starting to drag Barack Obama and Jon Stewart along with us. Enjoy those AARP solicitations, gang!

No, we hate Life at 40 not because it’s pandering, but because it’s not pandering to us. Just like we hated thirtysomething when we were in our twenties. We fall in the Great American Demographic Crack: Too young for Boomer, too old for Gen X. Don’t cry for us. Most of the time, we’re amused by it.

But if you are just rounding forty, here’s some fun news: You’re now officially Out of Touch. There’s a whole generation of adults behind you, and they don’t give a shit about your precious pop-culture references. Your childhood Eighties? Didn’t exist for 1990-born Millennials. Might as well be the Eisenhower era.

We say all this by way of explaining why we had never heard of Radiohead’s “Creep” until that choral version was used in the trailer for The Social Network a couple years ago. Because, you know, it was only released in 1992. Right about the time we were putting the last REM album to bed. The last one we listened to, anyway.

So here’s a very popular song that’s now almost drinking age, and we’ve been away on Pop-Culture Mars while it was growing up, and while we’ve since listened to every live version ever recorded on YouTube, and a so very fucking special cover that rips our heart out like a Simon & Garfunkel anthem, and a brilliant observation by Patrice O’Neal that something about Jonny Greenwood jamming the strings drives White kids to ecstasy, still, we might as well be your goddamn grandfather inappropriately enjoying something that’s preciously yours. Shouldn’t we stick to something more age-appropriate, like, oh, we dunno, the Hollies?

Come to think of it, we don’t know that we’ve heard the Hollies since junior high.

At least until Saturday night.

We’re watching Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a black-comedy apocalyptic romance that almost works, when there’s a touching climactic montage edited to “The Air That I Breathe”, which is a really sweet Hollies song with some really sweet Sixties Pop hooks. (Okay, technically 1974, and technically originally recorded in 1972 by Albert Hammond, but everybody knows the Hollies version, and musically it’s a throwback.) Especially the moment in the verse when Allan Clarke kicks up an octave.

That hook immediately anchors itself in our mind. They don’t write ’em like that any more. But damn, something about it reminds us of something else we’ve enjoyed recently. Not sure what.

An hour passes. Millions of neurons fire back and forth. Until…

She’s running out the doooo-oooo-o-o-oooor…


Look, the song’s twenty years old. We can’t possibly be the first to have noticed. So we Google “creep air that i breathe”, and…

Seems the writers of The Air That I Breathe noticed, too. Like, the moment Creep hit the radio. Which is why, after a quick settlement, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood were officially credited, even though they wrote their part of the song two decades earlier.

It was, as we understand it, a Subliminal Theft — the My Sweet Lord of its time. But since Radiohead wasn’t George Harrison, the connection was quickly forgotten.

Only to be rediscovered. Again. And again. And again. You’ll find breathless YouTube comparisons out there, as if a Scandal! has just been uncovered, with extensive flame wars in the comments about how nobody could possibly hear a similarity.

Which is, in a way, true. We didn’t hear it Saturday night. We felt it, and couldn’t initially identify what we felt. Right up until the moment our head asploded.

And we’re, like, old. It’s not even our song.

As far as Radiohead is concerned, the issue was settled twenty years ago. But to Radiohead’s audience — an audience not likely to be shared by the Hollies — it will never be buried, because they’ll never know it was alive in the first place, until it shows up on their mental porch, demanding attention.

George Harrison got off lucky, in a perverse way. The scandal of “He’s So Fine” was so broadly publicized, you can’t think of My Sweet Lord without recalling it. That’s long since settled history. The flame is extinguished.

But here’s something you may not know. Harrison’s plagiarism case wasn’t settled until after 1993 — after Creep was released, which may help explain why Radiohead settled so quickly. And while the My Sweet Lord case is thoroughly messy, the resolution is almost transcendent.

George Harrison simply bought the original copyright.


9:05 am • Monday • December 10, 2012

@Nojo: than you for the coda, because really, there was nothing “subliminal” about “My Sweet Lord/She’s So Fine”. As for George’s solution, he was always the Clever Beatle. Lennon had to record an entire album of covers just to make up for “Come Together”.

9:59 am • Monday • December 10, 2012

Too young for Gen X, too old for Millennial, but culturally I’m like a sponge. In high school I spent the better part of half an hour talking to a Baby Boomer about the music of his (and, thanks to the local oldies station, my) youth, and at one point he asked, quite seriously, whether I remembered The Association.

10:10 am • Monday • December 10, 2012

@mellbell: Around that same time I would charm my friends’ moms by gushing about old movies, especially anything starring Audrey Hepburn (even “My Fair Lady” — sorry, Benedick).

10:34 am • Monday • December 10, 2012

I’ve been aware of the “My Sweet Lord” case since law school. (Yes, we studied it. The “subliminal” theft ruling is regarded as bullshit.) But I’d never really heard the similarity until I listened to a YouTube mash-up a year or two ago.

I’ve listened to the Hollies song twice now and I feel like I’m missing what you’re hearing. I hear a bit of similarity on the beat, but nothing to hand over money for.

Now, Bruno Mars’ theft of the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” in his new single “Locked Out of Heaven”? That I heard. Instantly.

Long story short: I’m no good at this music thing.

Also, I’m 40 and I’m not going to see that movie either. I got enough problems; I don’t need Judd Apatow to make me neurotic about my age.

1:00 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Right at the start:

If I could make a wish, I think I’d pass…

She’s running out the doooo-oooo-o-o-oooor…

Just a handful of notes — I think the legal rule is five — but they map.

There’s also talk about chord-copping, but jazz has been riffing on the changes in “I’ve Got Rhythm” for generations.

1:11 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@Beggars Biscuit: The “subliminal” argument is that George wasn’t consciously aware he was doing He’s So Fine. I’ll take him at his word, but you’re free to laugh that out of court.

And the final disposition was transcendent, but messy: George bought the copyright from his former manager, who had bought the copyright (and, in effect, the lawsuit) to fleece him. The court finally ordered the ex-manager to sell George the copyright at cost.

Geek footnote: Apple Computer recently bought the Apple Corps trademark from the Beatles, ending a generation of spats over whether iTunes violated an earlier agreement not to use “Apple” for music.

6:23 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@mellbell: My maybe 20 year old spin teacher played a cover of “Haleluja” this morning in class. I told her it was a good cover but she should listen to the Leonard Cohen original. She said “Who?”

6:26 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@Dodgerblue: Leonard Cohen

[Obligatory cousin-of-my-philosophy-professor reference.]

6:42 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@nojo: Could your prof sing?

7:14 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@Dodgerblue: Absolutely not.

9:13 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

@nojo: @Dodgerblue: To be fair, neither can Leonard, really. More of a growl.
I never thought of “Hallelujah” as a song to be played during a workout (I generally reserve it for “death of a loved one or other grievous loss”). Cool down period?

11:34 pm • Monday • December 10, 2012

I’m part of that sub-generation (technically a Boomer, but a younger sibling). The Sixties culture was celebrated while our music and dress from the 1970s were denigrated and downplayed.

The Hollies and the Kinks were two acts who recorded in both decades, but their 70s songs aren’t part of the Clear Channel-fueled Oldies Radio playlists.

Bitter? A little. But our decade did have George Clinton.

12:37 am • Tuesday • December 11, 2012

@Mistress Cynica: Yep. She played the Jeff Buckley version.

6:37 am • Tuesday • December 11, 2012

I was listening, not through choice, to Ellington and Basie. I was hardly aware of Les Beatles.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: My fave musical ‘homage’ is Memories (which word does not of course fit the music and should be rendered as Mem’ries but whatever) from Cats (hi, noje! bonjour, comment ca va?) which is note for note Ravel’s Bolero with a different rhythm going. When we get together I’ll sing it for you if you don’t get it. Another I love, though for different reasons, is the Gounod Ave floated over a piece by Bach.

As for forgotten songs remembered and rewritten, it’s easy to do. A colleague once presented me with a tune he’d been up all night composing. I said It’s lovely, trouble is it’s Stormy Weather. Then he saw. And it famously happened to Jerry Herman with Hello Dolly for which he has not collected one dime of royalties. He was sued by the authors of Hello Sunshine .

And no Leonard Cohen can’t sing. But he’s not supposed to. He’s what used to be called a diseuse, as in “Life is very rough and tumble/For a humble diseuse.”

12:20 pm • Tuesday • December 11, 2012

@Benedick: “Diseur” pour un homme, n’est-ce pas? But yes, exactly.

@Dodgerblue: Lovely cover, far superior to Rufus Wainwright’s. I’ve nearly come to blows with gay friends over that.

12:49 pm • Tuesday • December 11, 2012

@Benedick: hi, noje! bonjour, comment ca va?


PLUS: Avez-vous vu Allegro Non Troppo?

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