A fan asked the musician on his Red Hand Files site about the difficulty of obtaining originality in music.
“I recently read that the band Rising Signs believed ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ plagiarized their 2005 song, ‘Grey Man’,” they said, but noted that the song sounded more like The Laughing Clowns’ ‘Theme From Mad Flies, Mad Flies’ to them.
Cave responded, calling the question “lovely” and said Warren Ellis had written the chords and backing vocal line to Grinderman‘s ‘Palaces Of Montezuma’. “I just listened to Rising Signs‘ ‘Grey Man’ and it does sound pretty fucking similar,” Cave acknowledged, saying he then called Ellis up and asked him if he had stolen it from the band. “Fuck, no!” he says, “I stole it from The Laughing Clowns.”
The Bad Seeds frontman continued to explain that, in his view, taking ideas from other songs isn’t a bad thing. “The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation — everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time,” he wrote. “It’s a feeding frenzy of borrowed ideas that goes toward the advancement of rock music — the great artistic experiment of our era.
“Plagiarism is an ugly word for what, in rock and roll, is a natural and necessary — even admirable — tendency, and that is to steal. Theft is the engine of progress, and should be encouraged, even celebrated, provided the stolen idea has been advanced in some way. To advance an idea is to steal something from someone and make it so cool and covetable that someone then steals it from you. In this way, modern music progresses, collecting ideas, and mutating and transforming as it goes.”
He warned that demeaning or diminishing a stolen idea was committing “a dire crime”, before listing Bad Seeds songs and their inspirations: “‘Deanna’ is based on ‘Oh Happy Day’, and the solo in the middle of ‘Red Right Hand’ may well have been stolen from ‘Bedazzled’ and ‘Tupelo’ leans heavily on John Lee Hooker’s song by the same name.”
Cave added: “Even though the influences may seem obvious, each of these songs, I think, has its own ingenuity, its own value and its own meaning. We musicians all stand on the shoulders of each other, our pirate pockets rattling with booty, our heads exploding with repurposed ideas.”
Last week (April 24), the Bad Seeds launched a new broadcast stream called Bad Seed TeeVee, which airs rare and unseen footage from the band’s archive 24 hours a day. The channel will show footage that includes promo videos, interviews, live footage, outtakes and other exclusive unseen footage from the band’s archives that will be played on a continuous random shuffle.