Credit Where Credit's Due

Reads: 406  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
R J Dent's essay, Credit Where Credit’s Due, is a cautionary tale, based on a real event.

Submitted: April 20, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 20, 2016

A A A

A A A


Credit Where Credit’s Due

by R J Dent

 

 

Plagiarism may be a dirty word, but there’s always someone ready to steal it…

 

(Note: The names of the musicians, groups and albums in this article have been changed in order to avoid anyone being libeled.)

 

It’s every writer’s dream: the brilliant and famous singer of the world’s greatest group gets in touch with you and says: “We’re writing a new album, so can you help us with the lyrics?” You’ve started to make a bit of a name for yourself with your writing, so you graciously say yes, and within a year you are fully valued, recognized and rewarded (philosophically, spiritually, artistically, socially and financially) for your ability to write perfect and succinct lyrics on important subjects.

That’s a summary of a dream of many aspiring poets/lyricists.

That’s nothing like the version that happened to me.

First of all, it wasn’t anywhere grand, like backstage at the O2 Arena, Earl’s Court, or even the MAN for that matter. No, this was an introduction by a friend in a café.

A brilliant and famous singer? Well, not really, but it was Jimmy Spencer of The Hunters, a group with something of a track record, although that had been at least a decade ago. And of course, Jimmy Spencer wasn’t The Hunters’ original singer (that had been Mickey Parrot), but Jimmy was the official ‘new’ lead singer and guitarist of The Hunters.

As for asking for help with the lyrics; was it because Jimmy wanted help writing songs for the forthcoming Hunters album, Famished Soul ? No of course not. He had some ‘tunes’ and he wanted lyrics for a solo Jimmy Spencer project – an album of ‘original’ songs, due to come out ‘some time in the future’.

At the time, Jimmy was still under the influence of a Gary Moore album a friend of his had lent him, and he very much wanted to ‘do something’ in a similar ‘sort of’ vein. So he was just sort of wondering, in a sort of roundabout sort of way, if I could, well, if I could, sort of come up with ‘the right sort of words’, a request made because he was apparently ‘not too hot on always saying the right words’ himself, if I knew what he sort of meant.

I said I did know what he sort of meant. I also mentioned that I was reasonably hot when it came to finding the right words (well, sort of). I was invited (with my laptop) to the Jimmy Spencer home that evening.

*

I arrived at the Spencer residence on time and I was shown to a comfortable chair. I’d been sitting in it for about twenty-five seconds when, without preamble, Jimmy said: “Have a listen to this, mate.” He then played me a taped piece of instrumental music. It sounded like incidental guitar-synth music for a film. It was fairly ordinary stuff until it finally got to the melodic hook. Then it took off. Or rather, it lifted slightly from the ground. With the right words, the hook was something I could easily imagine being bellowed by Meatloaf. Or maybe Gary Moore.

So here it was. Here was the challenge. Here was the proof as to whether I could cut the literary mustard – or not. It was exhilarating. It was sublime. It was an incredibly intense moment. There was the full realization: Whatever I wrote, he would sing. Suddenly I had an immense responsibility. I thought it over. Slowly, carefully, fully, weighing the pros and cons, all the time aware of the possibilities. Whatever I wrote, he would sing. Therefore, as a lyricist, as a poet, as a writer, I had to choose my subjects, my meanings, my themes, my metaphors, my ‘message’, my… well, my words, very carefully and very accurately. And once I’d carefully and accurately chosen them, I’d need to hone them to perfection… because – whatever I wrote, he would sing.

So I asked how the songwriting credits would work regarding this particular arrangement.

“50/50, right down the middle,” Jimmy replied. “Lyrics you; music me. If I add to the lyrics, then they get split 50/50 too. Simple, isn’t it?”

I switched on my laptop and then asked if we needed a legally binding document, specifying this. Jimmy said that we most definitely did and suggested that once we’d started work and got a couple of completed songs of his music and my words, then he’d have his manager draw up the necessary document for us to sign.

“That’s what usually happens,” he said.

I bowed to his superior musical knowledge. After all, if that was what usually happened, then it sounded as though this was familiar territory for him. And for his manager.

“Okay,” I said, and in doing so, I had made a creative decision to write a handful of top-quality lyrics for him to put to music. I would write my best – and each lyric would be an angel, carved from gold and delicately dressed in filigree, in order to be raised to the stars and beyond…

“Sayings are good,” Jimmy said. Especially if you can give them a sort of twist,” I waited for a punch-line, but one failed to arrive. He had a very serious expression on his face. It caused my artistic dreams of a second before to evaporate abruptly. I saw an angel fall to the ground and slowly asphyxiate.

“Such as?” I asked politely.

“Like ‘Too many rivers to cross’. You know?”

“Pissing in the wind?” I suggested, acerbically. For some reason, I felt as though I was being beaten up.

“Yeah,” was the hearty response. “Something like that, but with a sort of twist.”

I nodded sagely, girded my loins, shifted vernacular, and then led him straight to the heart of his own word-horde and method.

“You mean like me changing ‘Pissing in the Wind’ to something like ‘Screaming in a Storm’, don’t you?” I paused, then added: “Sort of.”

The reaction was immediate. It was almost as though I’d cattle-prodded him. He leapt up.

“Yeah, that’s it. You’ve got it. ‘Screaming in a Storm’. That’s a good one, that is.” He said the title a few more times, clearly liking the sound of it – and then he paced for a while. After a few seconds, he looked at me pointedly, waiting.

I should have made my excuses and left right then. But I didn’t. Why? Because of an absolute belief in myself and in my words, that’s why. Because pride in my own ability to write good lyrics in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds kept me there, that’s why. My lyrics were very good. My lyrics could make a wounded cat sound brilliant. I had the talent. I had the skill. I had the gift.

“Okay,” I continued. “So it’s obviously a song about futil- er, pointlessness, there being no point screaming in a storm, as no one will notice, especially not the person you’re crying over, eh?”

Another nod.

Can you sing in a voice that will resonate with a fusion of melancholy, disillusion, anguish and ultimate despair? I wanted to ask.

“Can you do a sad singing voice?” I asked.

Another nod. Then Jimmy told me not to worry about the singing. “I’ll take care of that,” he said, before asking to hear some more of ‘Screaming in a Storm’.”

I continued outlining and synopsizing my now-tarnished, now-verdigrised, former gold-and-filigree angel-like lyric.I wrote down a few possible lines. I waxed lyrical.

Properly harnessed, his enthusiastic nods could have kept a small African village supplied with electricity for years. Within half an hour, I’d written the first draft of the lyrics to ‘Screaming in a Storm’. And he hadn’t even offered to make me a cup of tea.

If that wasn’t enough of a clue…

*

Over the next few weeks I wrote many lyrics, some so-so, some good, some I was (and still am) proud of, in particular, Waves of Time, Night Maiden, Why Does Lust Hurt So Much? and Soldier of Misfortune.

And I took them to Jimmy’s studio and listened as he did a passable job of converting some of them into something I could hear. Jimmy moved words around. He asked me to shorten some of them. ‘Screaming’ became ‘Scream’. Out of laziness or lack of range, I never found out. Probably a bit of both. He asked me to alter perfect words into ones he could sing.

I listened as each angel in turn had its wings stapled together. I told myself it wasn’t really me who was doing the stapling, but I knew it was. I looked at the worksheets with their multiple cross-outs and pen blots and was still able to convince myself that somehow, my words would be heard. My carefully chosen words would penetrate straight to the heart of popular culture consciousness, they would become a rallying cry in the mouths of rebellious youth world-wide… ‘Scream in a Storm’ would be my ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

Nothing happened.

Jimmy Spencer went off on tour with The Hunters. I wrote other things. The Hunters continued touring. I tried to contact Jimmy after six months or so, but he’d changed his telephone number. I went round to his studio once too, but he wasn’t in… Not unduly worried, I simply assumed he was giving his energies to The Hunters, the group being his prime commitment. With that in mind, I waited for him to let me listen to the final takes for his solo album. 

Several months passed. Still no word. By now I’d obviously given up on there ever being a Jimmy Spencer solo album, with or without lyrics by me. Years went by. I forgot about Jimmy Spencer. I filed the lyric sheets away. I wrote. I published. I promoted. I wrote more.

*

One day, I was internet surfing and I decided to see what up-to-date news there was on Jimmy Spencer. On the Hunters' official website there was a link to Jimmy Spencer’s website. I had a look. In the ‘Music’ section, two solo Jimmy Spencer CDs were being advertised. One was a country and western thing called Lust Remains. The other album was called Waves of Time, ‘featuring ten original songs from Hunters’ lead singer Jimmy Spencer’. My heart pounded. ‘Waves of Time’ sounded suspiciously like the title of one of my lyrics. There was a track listing. With a terrible wrench I recognized ‘Scream in a Storm’, ‘Waves of Time’, and ‘Why Does Lust Hurt So Much’.

Angry and hurt, I went to my filing cabinet, yanked out my Lyrics (for J. Spencer) file and leafed through it. There they all were: ‘Waves of Time’, ‘Scream in a Storm’, ‘Why Does Lust Hurt So Much’, ‘Night Maiden’; etc, etc. All the typed sheets, worksheets, first, second and third drafts, hand-written drafts, final copies, everything, including the worksheets Jimmy and I had written on. All filed away neatly in my filing cabinet. Sometimes I’m glad I’m a bit anally retentive.

I immediately sent off for the CD. It cost me ten pounds. An inner voice said I was contributing to my own future royalties, such as they were. Surely I was entitled to a free copy? When Waves of Time arrived, I examined it carefully. There were, as claimed, ten songs on it. I quickly looked at the credits. ‘Scream in a Storm’ was credited solely to J. Spencer. So was ‘Waves of Time’. The cheeky bastard had even had the audacity to name his fucking album after my lyric, my title, MY WORDS.

I put the CD on and skipped forward to ‘Scream in a Storm’. I checked the recorded words against my lyric sheet. No discrepancy. It was word-perfect, but I was listening to a song in which my words sounded as though they were being sung by a chirpily-prozacked, bad Fleetwood Mac imitator accompanied by an out-of-phase guitar synthesizer. I also briefly wondered what had happened to a voice that resonated with a fusion of melancholy, disillusion, anguish and ultimate depair. Or even a sad singing voice. That would have done.

I listened to ‘Waves of Time’. The word order was slightly different, but again, it was my lyric, just re-arranged. I hunted (no pun intended) through the liner notes for any mention of my contribution. Nothing. Jimmy Spencer was actually passing off my lyrics as his own. I listened to the whole album. Very, very carefully.

‘Why Does Lust Hurt So Much’ was credited to J. Spencer/J. Mitchell, but the chorus (and therefore the title too) had been written by me. Word for word. I checked to see whether J. Mitchell was an anagram of my name, but it wasn’t. Jimmy had also been a bit crafty. One of my lyrics, ‘Night Maiden’ was the last track on the album. Credited solely to J. Spencer, he had added a couple of words and changed the title to ‘What Does Love Cost?’ The song sounded like Jimmy (all double-tracked, ring-modulated and echoed) trying to sound like Meatloaf. Or maybe even Gary Moore.

*

When I’d finished listening to the CD, three full song lyrics and one chorus lyric on it belonged to me. I told a musician friend (real musician, real friend) what had happened and he assessed my evidence. On the strength of it, he advised me to go through the proper (Musician’s Union) legal channels. Justice will prevail, I told myself.

The Musician’s Union (MU) examined the evidence, and then told me it wasn’t substantial enough to accuse Jimmy Spencer of copyright theft or plagiarism. I decided that the best approach would be to get a solicitor to write to him, informing him that I was making an accusation of copyright theft – and that I had documentary evidence to substantiate this claim. I thought that would do the trick. I also felt that if I approached him as a lone individual, he would, fearing a trap, simply deny everything. Of course, he might do that anyway, but a solicitor’s letter might make him admit his crime.

So I went to a solicitor. He told me the same as the Musician’s Union had told me: there wasn’t enough substantial evidence to prove my involvement in the songwriting process. It would be virtually impossible to prove that Jimmy Spencer had stolen from me. The solicitor said he wouldn’t write a letter on my behalf…

The moral of this story is this: if you get asked to write lyrics for songs, get a legally binding agreement in writing and keep it. Get it before you start any work. And keep it. If you move house, keep it. If there’s an earthquake, keep it. If you die, keep it. It’s your work, your talent, your creativity, so keep it safe and fight for it whenever you have to.

It’s the only way to stop angels being killed.

 

*

 

Credit Where Credit’s Due

Copyright © R J Dent (2010 & 2016)

 

Follow R J Dent’s work on:

 

Website: http://www.rjdent.com/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/R.-J.-Dent/e/B0034Q3RD4?

Blog: https://rjdent.wordpress.com/?

twitter: https://twitter.com/RJDent

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rjdentwriter

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/rjdent69

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 R J Dent. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Editorial and Opinion Essays