The American Caliban (substitute) wrote,
The American Caliban

Karaoke Nation

While driving to work, I heard on the radio a band that was obviously trying to be Radiohead. I'm not sure who they were, but they had all the signs of an imitator band: a similar sound, similar chord progressions, me-too vocal technique. It started me off thinking about something that has been bugging the back of my brain a lot about art, and influence.

Some great artists are bad influences. By this I mean that their work is original and very good, and should be celebrated, but the other artists who take them as an influence end up as imitators or have their style irreparably damaged. Some examples in a variety of arts are:

  • The aforementioned Radiohead
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Monet
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Tom Robbins
  • U2
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Salvador Dalí
  • James Joyce

There's another list, of artists that people can lift things from or even imitate, and it doesn't look so bad. In fact, noting the comparison can be a compliment:

  • The Rolling Stones
  • George Orwell
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Bob Dylan
  • Proust
  • James Brown
  • Sister Corita
  • The Beatles
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Raymond Carver
  • Agatha Christie

If your band sounds "stonesy" or "dylanesque" or your fiction is said to recall Borges, you're stylin'. People like you. You echo the Greats.

So what's the difference? The "don't imitate" list people certainly all have definite styles. Easily parodied, even. Like an actor with a big nose, the artists in the first list excel but also are known for quirks. The imitators end up with the quirks and not the genius. Perhaps the quirks and the real quality that made them famous are more intertwined.

What do you think?
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