Recently it was döppeleganger week on Facebook: you replaced your profile picture (some very flattering photograph of yourself in a nice frock at someone’s wedding) with a picture of someone you’ve been told you look like. This could be anything from George Cloony to Alex Salmond depending on who told you and why. Most people went with the self-deprecating and it was all a good laugh.
The only person I’ve been told I really look like with any comedy value was one night in what was called a Rock Pub in 1990s Glasgow, when a tight-jeaned hair dryer jockey told me I was a ringer for Lars Ulrich – the drummer from Metallica. At the time I had no idea what Lars Ulrich looked like, me being more of an old school rock fan (Hendrix, Doors, Santana, etc). Even in the open armed one-world of “rawk” we had our cliques. When I told the guy he obliged by lifting his jumper (he was wearing a jumper) to reveal a t-shirt stuck to his torso displaying a fading pic of “The Tallica” and sure enough there was wee Lars sitting there ahent his drum kit. It was like looking in a mirror. We both had mullets and a nippy wee face. We both stared with eyes like colei canina. They had a good “I told you so” laugh when they saw the despairing recognition on my face. The hypocrisy passed them by as they laughed “Ha ha, you look like our hero.”
By sheer coincidence the day I changed my profile picture the Danish Destroyer (Ulrich) was on TV in Dr Alex Krotoski’s excellent BBC documentary series The Virtual Revolution, a brief history of how we have used the World Wide Web.
Ulrich was complaining about file sharing – the practice of sending music to and from one another illegally through the web. Many programmes like Limewire and Kazaa have allowed us to hook up with people all over the world and swap music. Let’s get the perspective, though: this is not a huge criminal organisation selling illegally recorded music off the back of a lorry. It is individuals sharing music with like minded people.
“It’s like taking money out of my pocket,” Ulrich explained in an interview by the pool of his Beverly Hills mansion. He had mounted a huge, high-profile campaign. “It’s like if you asked a mechanic to fix your car for free or a plumber to do a job in you house for free.”
OK, I see what he means but he’s got his analogies wrong. The arts are different. We create something and then it is copied and distributed. Ulrich’s analogy is flawed in that he wasn’t likening like with like. It would be as if a mechanic fixed your car then if your friend or a family member needed to borrow it they would have to send the mechanic a cheque. Or if a plumber had fitted your bathroom and then any time someone was caught short in your house they would have to put money in a box that the plumber would empty on a regular basis.
The equivalent in publishing would be if you were to photocopy this article and show it to someone. But that wouldn’t happen, would it? You would just show them the magazine itself. In fact, if you are reading this you have probably bought the magazine anyway. You might, if you can’t get to a news agent, look at it on the web. And that’s the point. A Metallica fan will buy the album. Anyone downloading it would probably not have bought it any way.
Of course I’m not suggesting we all race online and steal as much music as we can. Very often the quality of the file is low and is laden with all sorts of viruses. I’m also recognising that there are many young and new bands out there that genuinely need the money and for their records I suggest not iTunes but High Level or Clive’s, or Avalance – places where music fans hang out and discuss and recommend.
A friend of mine used the phrase “If you’re big enough to rip, you’re big enough to burn.” Now I know that has ambiguous connotations, like saying if you’re rich enough to have stuff you’re rich enough to steal from. But that’s not what he means. They used to say home taping is killing music. Well obviously it didn’t. The music industry is alive and well. Home taping begat CD burning begat file sharing. Who knows what that will begat?
As Lars Ulrich lounges by his pool preaching to the kids to do the right thing he should remember his own anti-establishment song, The Unforgiven: “New blood joins this earth /and quickly he’s subdued / through constant pain disgrace / the young boy learns their rules”.