What the Proud Boys did on Jauary 6, 2020, sounds more like seditious conspiracy than Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” sounds like Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
As well as being a cartoonist with sloppy art skills, I’m also a musician with sloppy guitar skills. I have been drawing cartoons long enough that when I see two cartoons that are very similar, I can usually tell if it’s a coincidence or plagiarism. Nine times out of ten, it’s a coincidence. Most political cartoonists are drawing on the same subjects and many use the very first idea that comes to them. Usually the first idea that comes to a cartoonists is the first that comes to other cartoonists as well.
Last week, while reading the headline of Jerry Springer’s death, I got an idea before I was even done reading it. That idea was of a fight breaking out at his funeral complete with flying chairs. I didn’t do it because I didn’t really care that much about Jerry Springer and since it was my first idea, I knew someone else would draw it. It took a few days but someone else drew that same idea. If I had drawn it, even before the other guy, I couldn’t have claimed it was stolen.
But there are thieves out there and I see them from time to time. But it’s really hard to prove. A cartoonist has to almost trace another cartoonist’s work for it to be proven most of the time, or develop a track record of “coinkydinks.” Or, there has to be compounding evidence.
A few weeks ago, a cartoonist was tagged in a gallery of cartoons on Instagram. He was tagged because he had a cartoon in that gallery. The very next day, that cartoonist drew a cartoon that was a duplicate of another cartoonist’s cartoon in that gallery. Hey, maybe he never got the notification of the tag, right? Right.
A couple years ago, that very same cartoonist congratulated me on getting a reprint in a national publication. The very next day, he drew the same cartoon. He has a track record of shit like that. So another way to tell if a cartoonist has plagiarized is if that particular cartoonist’s name is on the cartoon.
And just like cartoonists can tell with cartoons, musicians call usually tell when a song ripped off another. Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” is a direct ripoff of Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug.” But sometimes it’s not intentional as we’ve all had earworms. It was ruled that George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was an accidental ripff of Ronnie Mack’s “He’s so Fine.” And then there are “questionable” songs like The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” compared to Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” For his part, Tom Petty said, “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike.” Tom Petty was a nice guy but the Peppers ripped him off. Both songs even had the same producer, Rick Rubin.
Petty was right and a lot of rock & roll songs sound the same. The intro for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is “Am, G, D, Am” and “Dani California’s is “Am, G, Dm, Am.” It’s not exactly the same but it’s very similar, especially to your ears.
Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” is less similar to Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The chords are not the same but there’s more to a song than just chords. There’s rythm, melody, heart, structure, etc. There are only 12 musical notes in western music for all musicians to use and share. Most songs aren’t more than six chords and the most memorable only use three. If you have a song stuck in your head right now, it probably only has three chords. Ed Sheeran is also known for using only four chords which is way more advanced than a band like Everclear where all their songs start in the key of G, or Nickelback where every single one of their songs starts the same.
There has never been a songwriter who hasn’t written something that doesn’t sound like someone else’s song. The real trick in songwriting isn’t to keep from ripping off other artists, but to prevent you from copying yourself.
What’s all this got to do with the Proud Boys? Nothing at all. I know you were looking for a way for me to tie it all together with a pretty bow here but I can’t find it. I can’t find it other than Ed Sheeran won his case as the jury didn’t believe he ripped off Marvin Gaye, but a jury in a criminal case found four Proud Boys guilty of sedition and one other guilty on other felony charges.
The one big thought I get from the Proud Boys verdict is that hopefully, we’re getting closer to sedition charges for Donald Trump…and hopefully a guilty verdict.
Music note: I listened to the Screaming Trees.
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