When reading both Erik Davis’s “When the Mountain crumbles to the Sea” and Daphne Brook’s “Write to Rock,” I was greatly interested in what both authors referred to as “the mythologies of rock” and how it has largely pushed black and female artists to the sidelines. As I read the articles, I was shocked as both authors quickly crumbled my images of two of rock’s greatest legends, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.
I, like a majority of people with minimal knowledge of rock history, believed the narrative that these bands were great innovators of their time. I was aware that they had roots in the blues but I assumed they borrowed riffs and lyrics from “collective well of folk memory” (Davis, 157). In my mind, they were welcome to it. The image of Led Zeppelin was shattered when I found out such classic songs like “When the Levees Break” and “Whole Lotta Love” were very much appropriations of other people’s songs. It is so strange that I never heard of names like Willie Dixon and Memphis Minnie even though they had written these songs. They are remembered only in the bylines of history and are largely ignored in the shadow of Led Zeppelin.
In a similar vein, Brooks mentions how Bob Dylan is mythologized for his work when he is borrowing from black artists and we pass it off as taking from American canon. In the traditional view, we praise Dylan’s work and ignore the roots and sources of his inspiration. We just shunt it aside and group it in some overarching collective term like “African American blues rock.” The traditional view never even mentions the names of the artists whom Dylan was took from and largely just ignores their individual impact on rock history.
The individual impact of black and female artists has certainly made me think about how I view the “classics.” More than that, the articles raises the issue about the rights of the artist to gain from their work versus this sharing culture we live in where artists often borrow snippets of other’s work to put in their own. I feel we, as a society, will ultimately have to decide whether it is homage or is it theft. More importantly we will decide whether it is in the best interest of the music world and the people who make it up.