No Honor in Cheating Musicians

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy
Reading several news sites every day, I can usually find at least one interesting music-related story. Although most of the music headlines are taken up by the latest pop star sighting, marriage, divorce or arrest, I sometimes get lucky in the downright bizarre category; like the story a couple of months ago about the guy who walked out of a Lewiston, Maine music store with a Fender Stratocaster guitar stuffed down his pants. There was also the October 22nd Associated Press entry about a man arrested after he broke into a Bridgeport, Connecticut church and started playing the drums. But the wackiest story that I’ve been following has to be the tale of 27 year-old Kevin Cogill, also known as "Skwerl," and his considerable troubles with the law.
 
 If you’re not familiar with Kevin Cogill, he’s the blogger who made available for public download 9 songs off the unreleased CD Chinese Democracy by the group Guns N’ Roses on his website in June. Mr. Cogill was busted and sent off to the pokey for violating federal copyright laws of this great land, but managed to squirm out of jail on $10,000 bond according to a August 27th Associated Press story. The latest update to the story is about a deal said to be in the works between the feds and Mr. Cogill’s legal team, where prosecutors would reduce the charges against Mr. Cogill to a misdemeanor. So, instead of facing a 5 year sentence, Mr. Cogill would be facing a year in jail, although as a first time offender it would be more likely that he would be offered probation.

Now, I don’t know what would possess Mr. Cogill, or anyone for that matter, to go up against the type of legal team that’s usually fed on raw meat like the teams that represent Guns N’ Roses and Geffen Records (who is set release Chinese Democracy on November 23rd). Maybe poor Mr. Cogill is nuts or just plain foolhardy. Perhaps he saw it as his big chance at fame that made him do it, but I can’t imagine that he didn’t see his legal woes on the horizon. This is a Guns N’ Roses CD and. while this latest CD of theirs has been derided for simply taking too long to finish, this is still a major release. We also all know how protective labels and bands can get. In truth, Mr. Cogill’s actions were a bit like walking into any biker bar south of the Mason-Dixon Line and announcing that you won’t stand listening to one more Lynyrd Skynyrd song. You are just asking for trouble.

What bothers me about this story is the notion that fans think the music belongs to them. With the ability to make music and videos for sites like YouTube.com and MySpace.com being fairly commonplace, fans have gotten into their heads the idea that making music, especially good music, is easy and free for the taking. One could make the argument that the music industry’s greedy ways of making loads of loot off each and every release, even dated back catalog releases, is the reason for fan backlash. It would be equally reasonable to point a finger to the stories detailing the insanely outrageously expensive, often idiotic, antics of musicians revealed in entertainment publications around the world as a cause for fan anger. But is that cause enough for outright theft?

The music we love, the music we fall in love to and the music we use to get over love gone wrong comes at a price. Often that price is someone else’s experiences, someone else’s pain. If it’s so easy to dash off a hit song then everyone would be able to do it. Somewhere along the line we got the idea that art was free. It’s not. Music remains the one art, the one mode of expression that permeates our lives; it puts our babies to sleep, wakes us up in the morning, soothes us, enrages us and puts our lives in social and historical context. To assume that any truly good piece of music is interchangeable with its dismal counterpart cooked up by a part-time computer hacker and Piggly Wiggly bagger in a dingy apartment would be a mistake. It would also be a mistake to force a talented musician to work for Piggly Wiggly wages because fans won’t pay for music.

One should consider that there’s a whole host of people one often never gives a moment’s thought to who play a part in the making of music. Studio musicians, A&R staff, publicity folks, accountants and the like are all part of music’s magic. In the end, there is something honorable by perpetuating the art and business of music by coughing up a little cash instead of being just another disgruntled spoiler, just another Kevin Cogill.

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