Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Getting Meta: The Definitive Version

Okay so I just got done reviewing a cover album and the first thing I did was write a disclaimer saying that I kind of like good covers.

Then I stopped to think about it. Why do I have to put up that disclaimer? For some reason we have this notion of a definitive version of a piece of media, a version that is somehow more valid than any other. I strongly disagree with that notion. At some point in this article I'll get around to arguing why, but for now I want to examine why that notion exists.

Before the existence of recoding technology people had mostly accessed media through well covers. You were some lucky sod if you actually got to hear Mozart, Liszt or Puccini in action. Nobody even today, is idiot enough believe they are listening to the original when they hear a CD of Beethoven . Nope. You're listening to somebody's interpretation, a cover. Same goes for anybody watching Shakespeare.

But that's because you have to. There is no definitive audio version of Beethoven's 5th.

But for today's music and movies. Nope. So and so already recoded it and therefore it's the definitive version.

The classic example is "Johnny B. Goode". Because it's one of the first songs guitar players learn, everybody and their uncle records a cover of it. But nobody is stupid enough to say anyone of them is better than Chucky B.'s (I am. I say Phish's sounds the best.)

Then of course there are those rare upsets when cover becomes more iconic than the original like Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watch Tower", and before I get a bunch of hate comments Bob Dylan even admitted that he preferred Jimi's version to his own.

So far I've of course only talked about music. It sort of makes sense. If a song is good an artist should expect some kid goofing around to try to play it, and those kids never stop even when they are artists. But what the heck about movies.

Every time a remake is about to be made a million tiny voices scream in terror and then ... continue screaming in terror.

But then again movies are different. They take a huge amount of resources. Now days almost anybody can record a song, but making a movie takes millions of dollars, heck sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. If a there is a failed song big whoop. A failed movie makes you think of all the other stuff that didn't get made.

But here is the problem. A remake doesn't necessarily mean a failed movie. Scarface, Little Shop of Horrors, Lord of the Rings, Fistful of Dollars, these are movies that the world would be a little darker for not having.

But again that's not the point of this post. Where does the modern idea that there can only be one true version of a song or story comes from?

Now days people have a sense of ownership over art. I'm not going to point back to the days of yore and say that wasn't the case. Copyright has existed for a while, and serves several purposes. But in some ways a piece of media belongs to a person more than to society. Ultimately the reason why people go with Jimi's version of "All Along the Watch Tower" is because Dylan gave the okay. In the old days someone would print up a song and then everyone else would perform it the best they could.

The same went for plays the analogue for well movies though I know my theatre friends will want to shoot me at that. A script would be printed up and people would perform it. Heck they still do. How many colleges and high schools perform Rent?

It just seems to me like this idea of there being one definitive version is new and weird.

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