Lame Adventure 187: While pondering litigation in front of a crackhouse-style doorway …

Not far from where I work in Tribeca is Staple Street, two short blocks west of Hudson Street sandwiched between Duane, Jay, and Harrison Streets.  Staple Street is one of those impossible to find places in this giant metropolis, but I’m familiar with it since I’m drawn to the impossible like metal to magnet.  I also knew that this was the ideal location for my sidekick, Greg, and I to shoot a video birthday card for our friend, Albee, provided we managed to avoid arrest for disturbing the peace. We did, but by our third take, every dog in Tribeca was barking and someone was too shy to scream:

Silent Screamer:  Shut the hell up!

That someone was compelled to hammer lead pipes with religious fervor instead.

Picturesque pedestrian bridge on Staple Street that does not appear in our video.

Although Albee was not expecting a gift from either of us, which was a sane expectation since Greg and I both work get-rich-slow jobs, Greg is a musician and I am just a spewing fountain of creativity.  Therefore, I felt we had to do something, but what?  Then, I had a brainstorm.  I would shoot a video of Greg on my obsolete first generation Flip video camcorder playing Happy Birthday on his saxophone in front of this graffiti-covered doorway on Staple Street.

This must be the place doorway on Staple Street.

When I initially ran this stroke of genius by Greg, he did not do the Toyota jump.  He stood paralyzed holding a tile label and looked rather expressionless.

Greg (mulling): I’ve never played Happy Birthday on my sax before.

Me:  Then play it on your sitar.

Greg:  No, I’m not going to bring my sitar into work.

Me:  Okay, play it on your harp, your xylophone, your castanets …

Greg is massively musical.  He thought more about it and decided that playing it on the sax was the way to go.  Then, he told me something interesting:

Greg:  You know, Happy Birthday’s not in the public domain.

I did not know that.  Greg is right, but luckily for us, we don’t make a dime off Lame Adventures, and we’re both inclined to live on the edge.

The origins of Happy Birthday is as follows, in 1893 two sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill published the melody, Good Morning to All, which scored a big hit with the children Patty taught in her kindergarten class in Kentucky.  Mildred was a pianist and composer.  The kids were so taken with that song they began to sing it at birthday parties where they changed the lyrics Patty wrote from:

Good morning to you,

Good morning to you,

Good morning, dear children,

Good morning to all.

To:

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear (insert name here)

Happy birthday to you.

Fast forward 118 years to today where the Time-Warner Corporation now owns the rights to this traditional song, especially the lyrics.  They’re like the mob; if you sing it in a restaurant and they find out, they’ll come around trying to extort a chunk of change.  In 2008, they collected $5,000 a day from the singing of this song, or $2 million per year.  Strike up the theme to The Sopranos.  Better not for that surely is not in the public domain.

Many legal minds that tower over mine intellectually, or just anyone that did better in math, think (not necessarily in these words) that this is a steaming pile of crap.  Many logical thinkers, including Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, believe that this song with it’s long history of problems over authorship (think about it, anonymous five-year-olds essentially revised the lyrics from Good Morning to All to Happy Birthday), and problems with the notice and renewal of copyright, makes it no longer under copyright.  That means it does belong in the public domain, and should not be a cash cow for a media conglomerate that charges sky-high for Internet and cable.

Yet, to play it safe, my inner weasel is compelled to declare here and now that what Greg actually played for Albee in front of that crackhouse-style doorway on Staple Street was a free jazz version of Good Morning to All – and that coincidentally happens to be in the public domain.

Give jazz-man Greg a listen:

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5 responses to “Lame Adventure 187: While pondering litigation in front of a crackhouse-style doorway …

  1. nicely done! my husband (sax player and former working musician) was sitting across from me as this played and asked who was the musician. i responded with, who do you think it is? he said that tone wise sort of sounds like sonny rollins! well done, greg! xoxo

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  2. Wow – quite a performance – I love it – kudos to the crew!!!!!!

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  3. Happy Birthday is not in the public domain!!! that’s insane!!!!!!!!!! nice job with the birthday gift!

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    • At first, I had no idea it wasn’t, either. If you think of it, Adria, try to return to my site in early July. Greg and I are planning to post another music video. Thanks for visiting LA.

      Lame Adventures Woman

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