observations and opinion
“I ask the sun and the moon, the stars that shine, what’s to become of it, this love of mine?“
You have probably not yet searched the internet for Jack Margosian. When you do, you will encounter various gentlemen of that name at scattered locations across the United States. But in all likelihood, you will not find the famous Jack Margosian. Because he isn’t famous. Never was. And if he is still alive, he’s at least 90 now and most likely not making a name for himself on Instagram or such places.
The famous Jack Margosian, according to the estimable experts of Wikipedia, is not at all famous because his claim to fame was stolen. That would be a song. One song, called “This Love of Mine.”
“This Love of Mine” emanates from 1940, during an era when romance was unabashed:
This love of mine goes on and on
Though life is empty since you have gone
You’re always on my mind though out of sight
It’s lonesome through the day, and oh, the night
I cry my heart out, it’s bound to break
Since nothing matters, let it break
I ask the sun and the moon, the stars that shine
What’s to become of it, this love of mine?
It is hard to imagine anyone writing that lyric today, except perhaps Taylor Swift. Even she would find a way to put the knife in the back of the guy who left her, and go get a manicure, before the song faded out. No, “This Love of Mine” is an artifact of its time, when America was suspended in that weird hammock of denial between the Great Depression and Pearl Harbour. When innocence still hung in the air.
If unfamiliar with this gem, I commend it to your attention. There are dozens of versions of it kicking around, but few if any match the perfection of Frank Sinatra’s 1955 version from his mournful album, “In the Wee Small Hours.” This album, arguably the best work Sinatra ever did, chronicles his dizzy heartsickness over Ava Gardner, his one true love. If you want to feel pain pour down upon you like a summer storm, drop the needle on “Wee Small Hours” , sit back and let it rain. Each song aches with loss.
But “This Love of Mine” was hardly new when Frank’s definitive recording emerged in the mid-50s. Indeed, the tune first launched like a missile into the American popular consciousness in the early 1940s, fueled by (and fueling) the fame and glory of a then new star, one Frank Sinatra. The story goes that the song came in as an entry in a contest, but somehow made its way to Frank and his bandleader, the then-even-more-famous Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey’s band recorded it, with Frank up front, and the song spent over 20 weeks on the Billboard charts in late 1940 and early 1941.
My brother once told me, as we leaned against the bar at Allen’s in Toronto, that the one sure ticket to immortality would be writing a memorable song. Let me admit that I would love to be credited with writing a song as good as “This Love of Mine“. I have written a few terrible ones, of equal sentimentality but far less economy of phrase and of course, little musicality. So yes, it would be great to hang the name David Law around “This Love of Mine“, even though nobody records it anymore and a relatively small number of people listen to it.
But the problem with that, is that I would not want to be credited for it unless I had actually written it. Isn’t it, um, stealing, to take credit for something you haven’t done? I claim no special moral high ground in expressing this view – it should certainly not be the high ground, but rather the common ground, that we do not rob a person of her credit. Yet this qualm apparently did not flutter inside Sinatra, who as you see on the original 78RPM recording label, is listed as lyricist beside the names of other people, none of them named “Margosian.”
Now the whole “Jack Margosian” story may be aprocryphal, another example of Wikipedia being taken at face value. The whole Jack Margosian story seems itself to be unsourced, unknown and under-reported. Maybe it is untrue. But one thing it is not, is unsurprising. There is nothing surprising at all about other people scooping up this lovely bowl of sweet whipped cream and calling it their own. And there, my friends, is the problem.
It is my considered view, and I am not alone in it, that people really ought to get credit for their work. Yes they may get thanked for it (unlike Jack Margosian). Yes they may do the work as part of some larger organization which legally owns it (unlike Jack Margosian, who apparently composed it alone) and yes, they may even sell their rights to it so others can enjoy its use (unlike Jack Margosian, from whom the rights were stolen). But if nothing else, surely to God they can still get credit for it (unlike Jack Margosian.) And the way we tend to credit people for their work in this culture, both because it is morally just and economically logical to give them incentives to create, is to pay them for it. Unlike Jack Margosian.
Yet we don’t give people credit for much anymore. The photo above, I lifted “for free” from Wikipedia. I don’t know where they lifted it. The Sinatra recording I took from Youtube (it is one of dozens of uploaded copies of the same recording – Frank has a lot of fans). Did the person who uploaded the song buy it first? I don’t know. All I know for certain is, that I did not. The lyrics I took from one of those ubiquitous lyric web sites, which always want to sell me a ringtone for 99 cents. I don’t know where they lifted it – ah, well, actually I do know where they lifted it: from whichever music publisher owns the rights to “This Love of Mine”, who got those rights from some previous publisher, who bought them from Sinatra et al, who took those rights from…you know who, our old friend Jack Margosian. And all five people who will ever read this, and who will click the link and hear the song and quickly click it off because, holy God that’s an old and syrupy song! Well, you haven’t paid anything for this experience either.
We have, in the past decade and a half, lurched over a cliff and are now in a free fall of taking. Those who are producing are, to quote Bob Dylan, “suffering under the law” which either ignores their claims or underpays for them. Technology has made taking so easy that it has become almost impossible not to give everything away – hell, who’ll pay for it when they can get it free tomorrow? I have friends who buy movies on DVD in Asia, I swear before the damned movies come out in the theatres.
In the case of poor old Jack Margosian, even a robust copyright system would have let his rights lapse at some reasonable point. He would have enjoyed a slightly more padded life than he did enjoy, whatever life at all that was. Today we would all be free to bang away on our pianos and yodel “I cry my heart out….” for free – after all, it’s been 73 years. Old Jack got robbed by the string of people who took credit for his work and milked it for those royalties. It is unfortunate for Jack. But the new kid named Jack Margosian, who’s out there strumming on his guitar this morning, picking out the notes of a tune and trying to stick words to them, that Jack Margosian isn’t going to get robbed by Frank Sinatra. He’s going to get robbed by you.
And me. Both of us. Not only are we part of a world of takers, we are surrounded by people who insist that taking is a virtue. To the extent that creative people and groups have tried to hoist the flag of intellectual property rights, we see takers of every stripe haul it back down, claiming some moral right to acquire without paying, to use without crediting, to reap without sewing. There is a word for taking the fruit of another’s labours at no price at all, and it is called slavery. Abraham Lincoln, of course, had a word or two on the subject:
It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
There is no doubt that our artists, composers, creators of all types, are not slaves. They are free to do what work they choose. They are free to lobby and petition and struggle for better rights. They are free to put any price on their work they want – and sell it once. Because after that, they aren’t free anymore. Only their work is free.
We are living through a crime wave, a kind of Intellectual Property Wild West, that is corroding the foundation under our economy and our civilization. That sounds like a rather apocalyptic diagnosis of free downloading, but what else can you call it when people cannot create something without having it taken from them for nothing?
What’s to become of it, this love of mine? Indeed. Just ask Jack Margosian.