Whenever someone in the public eye dies, people always post quotes attributed to them that they likely never said. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died yesterday (I find the automatic inclusion of his middle name so obnoxious for some reason), there were quotes and photos on every social media stream with his name attached. The best one that I saw was part of the very honest and human speech he gave to William Miller in one of my favorite movies of all -time, Almost Famous.
He said “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
I love that line. It’s so true, and makes me think of the group of male friends that I grew up with. I was such an uncool kid. So obvious, so transparent. I wanted to be liked so badly, and for some reason these boys tolerated my painfully awkward ramblings. We spent most of our time together laying outside or getting buzzed in scuzzy apartments, having really deep, philosophical conversations like ‘I see a blade of green grass, and you see a blade of green grass, but do we both see the exact same blade of green grass?’. Mind-blowing stuff. But we helped each other too, through regular teenage stuff, like breakups and parents, and the hard stuff like death and growing up and eventually, apart.
That line also got me thinking about how annoying I find it that those words will be attributed to Phillip Hoffman (yeah, I’m not doing it) forever, when in reality they’re not his words. He didn’t write them. The line was likely written by Cameron Crowe, and his role was inspired by the real-life Lester Bangs, who was an incredible music journalist (get your hands on a copy of ‘Let it Blurt, the Life and times of Lester Bangs, seriously) that had a pretty hilarious work ethic when it came to meeting and interviewing musicians. He’s been quoted as saying ‘I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars was just such a suck-up. It was grovelling obedience to people who weren’t that special, really. It’s just a guy, just another person, so what?’.
If someone performs a line or sings a song well, but didn’t write it, how much of it is theirs? I don’t want to take anything away from the Hoffman’s portrayal of the role with incredible vulnerability. But if Bangs inspired it, Crowe wrote it, and Hoffman delivered it, who really said it? Where does intellectual property begin and making something your own through performance or inspiration end? I used to think that songwriters had it the worst. They slave over a song, put their heart and soul into their work and they end up with their name in the liner notes. Maybe a thank you on stage if it wins some awards and the artist remembers it. While the singer-songwriter genre is my preferred one, there are some people out there in the world who can write, but not sing. There’s others who can sing but can’t write. There’s room for all of them in our diverse musical landscape, they all deserve to be heard. But there’s no denying that you likely don’t know the names of the people who wrote a lot of your favorite songs.
I’d like to introduce you to Mozella. She’s a songwriter from Detroit, and while you probably don’t know her name, you know her work. She’s written for so many popular musicians: Portishead, B.O.B, OneRepublic and recently wrote that Miley Cyrus song that everyone and their mother has covered ‘Wrecking Ball’. She has licensing deals with Mercedes, Verizon, Amazon Kindle, Nissan, JC Penney and many more. She’s released her own albums as well, but sadly none to the recognition of the songs she’s penned for others.
As a writer I’ve always grappled with the idea of intellectual property, of what you can truly own when it comes to your thoughts and words. I don’t think I’m the sort of person that can go through life letting someone else take even partial credit for their work. But last night I got to thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be a songwriter after all. You get to creatively flourish, have your words go out into the world for everyone to hear and you don’t have to deal with any of the celebrity fame and give up your life in order to make it happen. This weeks song is ‘Amazed’ written by and performed by Mozella. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it in a commercial years ago. When she sings ‘Your picture is on my wall, It helps me remember you and I recall, how I’m amazed I still love you the same‘ in her smoky, sandpaper-y voice I still get nostalgic for all the people still in my heart. I’d like to take this weeks Music Monday to thank those boys that let me be their weird little friend all those years ago. If Cameron Crowe, Phillip Hoffman and Lester Bangs were right and that what we share with others while we’re uncool is the only true currency in this world, then I’m glad I spent it all on you boys before I became the super-cool chick that I am today.
No matter where we all go in life, I still love you guys the same.