Tap tap tap. Is this thing on? Ahem….attention everyone. I have an announcement to make: Owl City can suck it.
Not only did Adam Young manage to steal a complete, iconic sound and claim it for his own (see The Postal Service video below), but he’s also stepped back into a whole other era and ripped off a hook from one of the greatest songs of the 1980s-acid-washed-MTV generation.
The first time I heard Owl City’s “Fireflies” on the radio two summers ago, I was working on a film in Birmingham, Alabama. My friend Anthony was along for the ride, acting as my biyatch…I mean, production assistant. We spent a lot of time in the car and our only music option was the radio (no iPod hookup in the vehicle). Since we’re huge music fans (Anthony is in a band called Local Orbit) and we both like the same music styles, this was a pretty big bummer.
I remember it vividly. We were on the way back from a trip to the Dollar Tree where we bought props for one of the scenes. Just as we were sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to change, this song came on the radio. I asked Anthony if Death Cab for Cutie had come out with a new album. I mean, it sounded a lot like The Postal Service (Ben Gibbard’s side project), but I haven’t heard anything from PS in years. So it must be new Death Cab.
How could I miss a DCFC release? Was I falling behind on my music knowledge? Perhaps hitting 30 really does play heavily on your musical vocabulary. The horror! “OMG, I’m old! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. Where’s my Hoveround?” etc.
Anthony assured me that there was no new Death Cab release. This was a one-man-band called Owl City, but boy howdy did he sound just like DCFC. I mean, just…like. And lucky for us, “Fireflies” was one of those catchy summer of (fill in the year here) songs so it was on heavy rotation. I swear we heard it like, every 15 minutes. The more I listened, though, the more I realized that not only did Owl City sound like another band, but he’d also ripped off, or “sampled” — however you choose to put it — a song that I grew up listening to. A song that was stuck in my brain, no matter how hard I tried. The problem was, all I could do was hum the chorus. I couldn’t seem to think of the artist, the song, or even more than just a few bars.
I sang it in my head over and over, trying to make sense of this mystery. I must have a photographic ear or whatever, because bits of songs get routed into my brain and they rarely ever make it back out again. I must have a Yottabyte of auditory information swirling around in my head, waiting to be activated like the Manchurian Candidate at the hint of a few simple notes.
Finally, a few days later, it came to me. I had run into Publix to get a some things. As I absentmindedly hummed along to the muzak being piped into the grocery store, I realized that they were playing “Africa” by Toto. That was it! That was the song! That skeezer ripped off the chorus from one of the most awesome 80s songs ever! Like, totally. Like Total Recall totally. Ahhhhnold would be pissed. Hell, I was pissed! I’m sure the guys from Toto were none too happy themselves. Royalties? Permissions? Anyone remember Men at Work’s sampling scandal in 2010?
Anyway, that really got my goat. I mean, it’s one thing to be inspired by something. Inspiration is one of the beauties of art. That’s what it’s all about. Reaching out and effecting someone on an emotional level. Imitation (although it’s the greatest form of flatter or whatever) is really just taking someone’s idea and copying it. To me, that’s the ultimate creative cop-out. Especially if you’re in the music world…imitation is hard to miss.
So, let it be known henceforth that I do not like Owl City. I will not like them on the can, I will not like them with some Spam. I will not listen in my house, I will not listen with a mouse. I will call him out in a public square, ’cause that’s cheating. It’s just not fair!
Did I just rip off Dr. Seuss? That’s considered public domain, though, right? Please…nobody sue me.
Around the 00:46 mark, you’ll hear the offending piece from Owl City. Sound familiar?
To listen to Toto’s “Africa” go to this previous post from my blog: “Toto’s Africa” by Ernest Hemingway”.
And the final insult, The Postal Service.