#531: Paul Dailing’s “City on the Make”

September 18th, 2015

The song of summer 2015 was the theme from “The Munsters.”

I mean, not literally of course. It was actually Chicago-area band Fall Out Boy’s hit “Uma Thurman,” which has been following me around in stores, over radios, online, in the Logan Square arcade where a friend and I played video games as retro and backward-looking as the pop track itself.

Thirteen seconds of Pete Wentz yelling and then, there you go, the theme to “The Munsters”

The 1960s monster sitcom’s inclusion in this 2015 pop song is called sampling. That’s when musicians include pieces of other people’s works in their works, or as I once wrote, “Call me Ishmael.”

I know I work in a different medium than musicians, where covers and remakes and remixes are the mainstay of the industry. As long as the original artist is cool with and paid for all that went down (or too dead or public domain-ey to care), I like all those.

(Also, while I think “Blurred Lines” was a pretty clear rip-off of Marvin Gaye, the way that lawsuit went down creates some pretty scary precedents.)

But when the only difference between creativity and plagiarism is the cutting of the proper checks, when Billboard calls Fall Out Boy “one of the few rock bands these days bold enough to use samples prominently” for cribbing chords from CBS’ version of “The Addams Family,” it makes me think.

I want to be bold too.

But I don’t make music. I write about Chicago.

You see, you can live your whole life out somewhere between Goose Island and Bronzeville without once feeling that, the week after you move, the neighbors are going to miss your place. For it isn’t so much a city as it is a vasty way station where three and a half million bipeds swarm with the single cry, “One side or a leg off, I’m gettin’ mine!” It’s every man for himself in this hired air.

Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.

Granted, those last two paragraphs were lifted entirely from Nelson Algren’s 1951 “Chicago: City on the Make,” just with the addition of “you know.” So therefore the sample was transformative.

I’m not saying the Fall Out Boy song isn’t fun, but they tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

OK, so that track was sampled from Carl Sandburg’s 1914 poem “Chicago.”

Either way, I mostly mock the song because it’s annoying and because the story of my discovery of a hidden underground road in the Loop isn’t ready for the site yet (but it’s going to be awesome).

But I wish creativity meant creation, not clever reuse. I wish the goal were to make something new, not to swish around the old to see what nuggets we can pan out of the muck. (And, yes, I realize what this site is, but beyond the fact I’m going to stop at 1K1, how much does this really look like what Hecht did?)

I don’t like the song because it’s giving up on innovation, even whatever passes for innovation in a summertime pop ditty. The millionaires aren’t trying, while millions of struggling artists sit up at night with scribbled sheets of rhymes, chords or keys.

I’m going to end this with someone else’s words, but I’m done with the sampling gag. You can find this quote in Ecclesiastes 1:9.

“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”

If you’re religious, that’s cool. I just like the sound of the track.

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More thoughts on reuse culture (plus, I tell you what pig’s blood tastes like)

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