Igor Got Game: A Musical and Legal Comparison of The Beastie Boys and Igor Stravinsky

Igor Got Game:  A Musical and Legal Comparison of the Beastie Boys and Igor Stravinsky

Today I am beginning my trip to New York.  It was going to begin with a stop at the Natick Mall for the only reason I go to any mall – an Apple store.  My iMac won’t play DVD’s and my 13 inch MacBook Pro won’t even turn on.  The laptop died about 30 minutes after I made the appointment at the Genius Bar for the iMac.  It was as if it too wanted attention and injured itself so they could visit the Genius Bar together.  But I canceled this as I now won’t be gone for 4-5 days as I had planned due to Frankenstorm.  I’ll bring the computers to an Apple store closer to Gloucester at some other time.

I’ll be in New York to speak at the 2012 IBS/CUNY Kingsborough Community College Media Conference.  One of the best things about this conference is its location on Oriental Blvd on the Atlantic Ocean.  My best and most expensive app, Navigon, indicates that the location of 2001 Oriental Blvd. is 3 ft. from Oriental Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  Smile smile!!!  It is so nice to speak with a view of the ocean.  I’ll be in the building on the left in this photo.  And the water will really be that blue.  :  )

On Monday, I would have  spoken to a Corporate Social Responsibility class at 10 AM, and then to a Writing for Radio & TV class at 2 PM, both at William Paterson University.  I had prepared some really fun stuff – there really are enough examples of corporate social irresponsibility in the music and entertainment industry – but that will have to happen at a later time.

But Frankenstorm has changed that.

And now…something completely different.

This was the title of a presentation I gave at several conferences one century ago.  I loved what I was finding when analyzing the Beastie Boys new album at that time (1999) – Hello Nasty.  For one, they had sampled the music of Igor Stravinsky and Stephen Sondheim and found ways of connecting both Stravinsky & Sondheim.

I’ll return to this subject in the near future and possibly post this paper in installments.

Here is the abstract to that presentation:

“Igor Got Game:  A Musical and Legal Comparison of

The Beastie Boys and Igor Stravinsky”

E. Michael Harrington



Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” (1918) drew heavily upon music composed by Giovanni Pergolesi and others in the early 18th century.  The Beastie Boys, an extremely popular rap/hip hop music group since the mid-1980’s, in their best-selling CD, Hello Nasty (1999) drew upon the music of Stravinsky by means of the digital sampling of Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”  Both of these “borrowings” share important similarities and differences.  Furthermore, these borrowings shed light on several seemingly unrelated disciplines and fields of study.  These include music composition and the nature of creativity and originality, the intellectual property law of different times and societies created to protect authors from appropriations of their original works, the means by which borrowed music may be used and transmitted (sampling, digital streaming, MP3, etc.), and the business (financial, licensing, retail, broadcast, etc.) considerations involved in such borrowings.  Although neither Stravinsky or the Beastie Boys were alone in using preexisting music in their compositions, the manner in which they have borrowed in these specific instances is historically significant.  In addition, these borrowings, taken as a related whole, constitute an important educational paradigm by which we can better understand the definitions of creativity, and originality, and how these definitions have changed and remained the same in light of today’s legal, cultural, economic and technological developments.

Using the Beastie Boys’  Hello Nasty, and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and “Pulcinella,” this presentation will demonstrate the advantages of a more multidisciplinary – creative, technological, legal and business – approach to the understanding and teaching of  music in the 21st century.  Classes which can be positively enhanced by such an approach include music appreciation, music theory, music composition, business, intellectual property law and technology.

Does Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” Infringe Angie Aparo’s “Seed?”

Tiger in Cage

In a very good post yesterday, Kate M Singleton stated that she thinks we should be able to copy short excerpts of others’ expression.  She also brought up a potential borrowing or copyright infringement example.  She posed the question – did a song by Five For Fighting infringe a song by Angie Aparo.

I decided that her thoughtful answer to my question deserved its own post.  Here are links to both songs:

Angie Aparo – “Seed”

Five for Fighting – Superman (It’s not Easy)”

I’d like for almost all of my posts to have visual interest – you know, a photograph.  So, here’s the photo I’ve selected – a tiger behind bars.  The tiger is beautiful but possibly angry at being locked up.  Perhaps the tiger’s song has been infringed and he wants to – get ready for a rhyme – get the HELL out of the CELL.

Tiger in Cage

OK – now on to my response to her post.

I agree with Kate – I think we should be able to take expression from others and use it.  Or re-use it, as a defendant-type or one of those RE-MIX people – those COPY-LEFT’ers – might say or write.  And we should be able to take things – expression – without asking permission.

We teach our children to STEAL other peoples’ thoughts without asking permission.  (I’m referring to what some teachers and professors do – make their students write “papers” that consist of their own thoughts mixed with the (better, older and more respected) thoughts of others.  We FORCE THEM TO STEAL.   All we ask is that our students have to correctly indicate (cite) their exact source(s).  We would not allow them to even ask for permission.  (Imagine writing to Houghton Mifflin to ask for their permission to copy a short paragraph?  They’d never get back to the student in a timely manner, if at all, and then the student’s paper would be late.  Despite the student’s honorable intention and actions, the student would flunk even though all the student was trying to do was abide by the U. S. Copyright Act.  Asking permission to use copyrighted material in this instance would be harmful to one’s education!)

Kate stated her opinion well.  I’m simply agreeing with her – that one should be able to use preexisting creative expression without asking for permission.

NEXT—-  was Angie Aparo’s “Seed” infringed – ripped off, stolen, etc – by Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy).”

I like Kate’s description of her metamorphosis on the subject – how she used to get angry when hearing the two songs, but has transitioned to thinking that maybe FFF  (the group, not a type of battery) did not steal from AA (the artist, not the type of battery).

(I happen to have a better, for our comparative purposes, studio recording of Angie Aparo’s song and listened carefully to both Aparo versions and the one FFF version.)

It is easy to hear the VERY STRONG similarity between the songs in the sections she describes.  They are very similar with respect to melody, and the “shared” melody is virtually identical.  (“Virtually” is one loaded word.  I’ll get into “loaded words” – I never wrote “loaded words” before just now – in a later blog post.)

This post is long enough. I think I’ll post my answer tomorrow.  For anyone reading, please post your answers today.

Does that seem like a good idea – to listen to both songs and decide whether Five For Fighting’s song infringes Angie Aparo’s song?  Want to play?  You should.  It’s only play, and if you’re an adult reading this, you likely don’t play enough.