Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Jabroni Marconi and the Nobel Prize for Douche-bag-itude

I am in Nashville. I have been here for a couple days. I filmed the final scene (well the final scene involving me anyway) for the video for "I'm Through" , ate some BBQ and then I headed out to Amanda Williams and Todd Senf's house to do some writing. Amanda and I wrote a weird but very cool song entitled "Last Night's Wine".

As always, when I hang or write with Amanda I have a great time. But another inevitability involved in writing with Amanda is discussing "the business" . I cherish these talks and look forward to them almost as much as the creation process. Amanda is a highly highly knowledgable young woman, her main area of expertise is music (although she is definitely not limited to only music), AND to top it all off, she typically thinks similarly to me.

We tend to LEAN toward music topics, but it isn't strange for us to touch on Hindu Vedas, what seasons are best for growing which crops, Star Wars, home schooling, website design, and virtually ANYTHING else.

During our talks today we grazed a familiar topic for us.....Copyrights.

At first my mind focuses, as it usually does when thinking of this subject, to illegal downloads. I think of the song writer and performers who dump insane amounts of time and money into the production (or have money dumped into these productions by a third party which is rightfully expecting to get reimbursed with interest). These artists are finding it harder and harder to continue producing high quality music simply because society is refusing to pay them for their craft. The public loves the music but has devalued it. This devaluation is negatively impacting the ability to create the same quality albums as used to be made. But since we have covered this topic umpteen million times my mind quickly wanders.

My mind wanders to specific copyrights and the infringement upon them. Then it takes the next step; pondering the all time worst sonic copyright infringements.

I thought of the classic cases: Vanilla Ice snatching "Under Pressure" by Queen,  George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" being derived from "He's So Fine", Huey Lewis' "I Wanna New Drug" ripping Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters", Offspring's "Why Don't You Get a Job?" being "Obla Di Obla Da" by the Beatles, the list goes on and on and on

Then my mind leapt to an entire different level. There was a sonic victim that had been stolen from so much more severely than anyone on my list. The man I was thinking of was really a meta-victim. He had been stolen from on the level of sonic transmission.

The meta-victim was Nicolai Tesla. In addition to being ripped off and under appreciated on a myriad of other situations, Tesla basically had the credit for radio broadcasting taken from him.

I can imagine the pain of John Lennon's corpse must have felt when it was rolling over in such a confined space as the airwaves of 1998-1999 were filled with these horribly bastardized version of "Ob la di, Ob la da". I'm guessing Lennon's remains were thankful for the 6 feet of Earth and the coffin lid that at least somewhat muffled the screeching vocals and horrid lyrics of the uncredited remake.

But as horrible a feeling as that must have been, I have to think it was a warm comfy bath when compared to having one steal the entire idea of radio transmission itself, as Tesla did.

Think about that. Tesla thought up the concept of broadcast. And gets little credit.

Oh I forgot to mention that Tesla also developed A/C current. This is relevant to music because even if you some how think music could eventually have been passed hand to hand via some other method than broadcast, Tesla's ideas would still be needed to provide electricity to whatever device that's reproducing the music to be heard (excluding player pianos, music boxes, and sheet music, but I'm thinking few people would want to exchange their iPod for a music box for each song they would like to hear or a folder of sheet music and an ensemble to perform said sheet music. Without Tesla it gets cumbersome to say the least).

At first Tesla wasn't at war with Marconi (the man credited with the first radio broadcast across the Atlantic Ocean, and given the moniker "Father of Radio"), as a matter of fact when Marconi was getting accolades for creating this new thing called "radio", Tesla cleverly said, "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents."
This light hearted feeling toward the Marconi praise changed once Marconi was given the Nobel Prize in 1911 (for basically "creating" what Tesla had already devised). 

Tesla attempted to sue Marconi but Tesla was broke, Marconi and his constituents weren't broke. I therefore shouldn't need to tell you how that one ended.

Months after Tesla's death the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla's patents (NOTE: the U.S. Supreme Court did this only to get back at Marconi for other lawsuits involving Marconi's patents which the U.S. had used in WWI. Tesla only gets love when it's convenient for other people, and even then it is posthumously).

So the next time I turn on the radio to a John Mayer song that musically sounds exactly like "Sexual Healing" I will still be angry on behalf of Marvin. But from here forward I will think of this broadcasting device (and any other broadcasting device) and think of its shady beginnings. I will still be angry on behalf of Marvin (and cowriter David Ritz) of course, but I will have an extra chip on my shoulder for Tesla.

He didn't have his song stole. He had the ability to play every song ever stolen. 

Nicolai Tesla, the meta-victim of sonic infringement.

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