Play it again, Sam

Writers have it rough. We always have to come up with fresh material, day after day, year after year. As soon as I finish writing a book, everyone’s first question is, “What are you going to do next?” Couldn’t we all read this current one first?

Singers have it easy. If any singer has a hit, he or she can perform that song over and over again to the delight of audiences everywhere. In fact, that’s what they want to hear, the old favourites, not some new dud tune. Meatloaf has made a life’s career singing Bat Out of Hell night after night. If that’s too boring, a singer can choose to be Diana Kroll and do covers, singing other peoples’ songs with no protests. People swoon at her Sinatra. Writers can’t do the same. If I began a post by saying, here’s a little something by Dave Barry, I’d at best be laughed at, at worst get whacked with charges of plagiarism.

Broadway has the same capacity to repeat previous success. On stage they’re called “revivals” and you go and see South Pacific all over again, just as your father before you. It’s a different woman washing a different man out of her hair but the same icky sentiment prevails and the same Bali Hai rises in the background. And don’t get me started on symphonies. All those stuffed shirts playing Baroque movements by Bach that have been around since the eighteenth century and maybe played better by their foremothers, too.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Hah! Try that as a writer. I might begin a paean about Toronto with the words, “It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town ….” But sooner or later someone would cry out, “He plagiarized Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal where Swift urged the Irish to overcome hunger by eating their young.” And where would that leave me but on the buffet table, too.

Rap artists are particularly egregious about freeloading on others. They even have a name for it, sampling, where they simply run a melody written by someone else right through their work. Usually, such theft forms the best part of an otherwise unlistenable song, but there are no repercussions. In fact, sampling is celebrated. What gives? Why are the rules so different among the various creative forms?

Well, I’m about to change all that. From this day forth, there will be no original work in this blog. Just the republished work of others. Readers who can name the source will get a one-year free subscription. And if you fall for that, you don’t know what day it is.

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