Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fruit a Short Distance from the Tree,  or I Pee, You Pee, We All Pee for IP, Dept.

Shuggie Otis, Freedom Flight

Johnny Otis, the Greek-American bandleader, singer, musician and silver-eared A&R man, the "godfather of R&B," who died two days before one of his greatest discoveries, Etta James, wrote "Willie and the Hand Jive," some good video of which is on YT here.  He was also the father of Shuggie Otis.  Who wrote, sang and played an orchestra of instruments on this his second album, best known for the later Brothers Johnson smash "Strawberry Letter 23."  Which he recorded when he was 17.  Justin Bieber would have to demonstrate an ability to understand human speech universally or outline a convincing unified field theory that succeeds where Einstein fell short, to even be allowed in the same room with him.  Shuggie Otis isn't as well known as he should be.  Nor, among most Americans, are his late father and the first-tier musicians his father promoted or employed and with whom Shuggie played hot blues guitar as an adolescent.

Go to MOG or Spotify or whichever service you frequent, and check out this album if you're unfamiliar with it.  The Johnny Otis talent tree stretches through his progeny to the many stars he first boosted.  Little Esther Phillips. Big Jay McNeely. The aforementioned Miss Etta James. Jackie Wilson. Hank Ballard. Little Willie John.  And it's all out there.

Oh, and you'll pry my Internet out of my cold, dead hands.  If SOPA and PIPA can even potentially threaten my ability to link to someone else's intellectual property in a way that honors and promotes the original work, then they and their lineal descendents in Congress must be attacked by wolverines with migraines.  The people whose work I enjoy on Tumblr, for example, thrive on access to other people's intellectual property, as well as work in the public domain, to create recontextualized worlds.  Worlds that use the words and works of other to express an individual sensibility, personal and private, serious or giddy.  It would take a narrow view indeed to view the survival of an outmoded business model as more important than the public's ability to freely display consumable copies--that horrible word--of cultural artifacts.  Not to profit from the act, but to share the work in a way that introduces others to one's passions and inspires them to learn more about a thinker or artist or relief worker or honest politician.  I can't count the number of bands, films, strips, books, poets I've been introduced to in the course of years on the Internet.  Many of whose work I've then obtained at my own expense.

How is this not considered valuable and real for an industry, compared to the imaginary billions claimed to be lost that never existed in the first place?  If you tell someone, here's a dump of a new album by band X, free, and that person says, sure whatever and listens to it or not, it's not at all the same as that person counting as a lost sale.  Were it not free, most people would not be filling their hard drives with five thousand songs they'll never hear.  It's the opportunity, not the desire.  Yes, some artists lose money because of their popularity.  That's unavoidable.  But the others cannot be counted as lost sales.  To legislate on the basis of those imaginary economics is disingenuous beyond the horizon line.

So, yes.  Fuck that noise.  Keep the Internet free.  Keep its users free to reshape the notion of "intellectual property" into as-yet-unknown formats that will honor creator and empower consumer at the same time.

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