He quit blinking. He says ‘that’s when they get you.’

August 23, 2010

Movie poster for "Metal Man."

I really would like to know how many folks will accidentally rent this. It's almost cruel, really. Did they steal the tagline too?

Imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s also an equally effective form of marketing. It’s been biologically observed that older animals–particularly humans—lose their sense of curiosity and adventurousness as they age. Even in nature, young animals are more apt to try new foods and explore new places than their older relatives. Just as we can foster our sense of adventure and curiosity we can also erode it, and nothing quite encourages intellectual stagnancy like…marketing.

I was chatting with someone about my musico-hetero-crush on Paul Simon, which eventually led to some casual browsing of Wikipedia for information about his past non-me romantic pursuits. This, in turn, led to my investigating the work of Harper Simon, “the child of [his] first marriage” (Paul Simon, “Graceland”). I wouldn’t say H. Simon is imitating P. Simon as much as he’s influenced by him—very strongly. Naming Bridge Over Troubled Water as one of his major influences, Harper Simon’s hit “Wishes and Stars” drinks so heavily of Simon and Garfunkel that it leaves me wondering whether I’m sold on Harper or subscribed to Paul.

Tip: Buy a new album and resist the “Track 1 trap.” Play it only on shuffle and if you’re really feeling adventurous, remove the hit single from your playlist.

A year or so ago I shared my casual admiration for the work of Sara Bareilles, whose style resonated with my affinity for quirky singer-songstressess. A first listen of her new single “King of Anything” hooked me in, just as “Love Song” had initially piqued my curiosity. A second listen, however, revealed it was essentially a carbon-copy of “Love Song”—and neither of which represents her strongest work. From the rhythm of the hook, to the form, to the subject matter (“I don’t need you! You’re such a downer! I’m independent!”), it’s all been sold before.

Tip: Want a real gauge of artistry? Search YouTube videos for live performances, where the hand of the producer may not be as heavy. Heck, I even enjoyed Lady Gaga.

I have nothing against Bareilles or Simon (either one) for their work. One shouldn’t be appalled by consistency, influence, or similarity, but we should be wary of forces that reinforce it. We’re already fighting biological and psychological battles against predictability; must we fight a sociological one too?

I leave you with an excerpt from the NPR interview (link above):

Mr. MILLER: I’m no neuroscientist, but I think that as time goes on, you know, something that people tell us about that music is that you know, when I hear those songs, I can see what I saw and hear what I heard and feel what I felt when I first heard them.

KRULWICH: So they become a kind of form of time travel that tells you there is something firm, something permanent, in a constantly changing world, and that feels good. The familiar makes an older person stronger, even if they’re calling your favorite song an oldie.

You know what that means, too, don’t you?

Professor SAPOLSKY: Yup. Dipped in bronze and put up on the mantel place.

KRULWICH: So this is a double-edged thing.

Professor SAPOLSKY: It’s not pleasing.

KRULWICH: No, because in the end, Sapolsky says, while continuity may make us comfortable, it’s when you dare to do that new thing – that’s when you grow.

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