Good Company

 

I've told the story about how I wrote a song "My Brain Is Too Small", my self-deprecating look at my own mental shortcomings. I sent the song in to Doctor Demento, back when he had an internationally syndicated two-hour weekly radio show consisting of comedy / novelty music. It was here that the career of Weird Al Yankovic really got started.

It might have been the same for me, because the good Doctor actually played my song. He cut two verses, I suppose because otherwise the song would have been too long. I didn't care. Having my song played on such a high profile show what the highlight of my musical life. I knew that the old adage "strike while the iron is hot" must surely apply here. I needed a follow-up song.

 

The whole story is already on this site, and if you click the "My Song" button on this page. Spoiler alert - The bottom line was that my follow-up was to be a parody of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." I'd already written and recorded it, "The Big 3-0" for a good friend's 30th birthday party. I needed but to change three or four words to make it generic.

The problem was that when I contacted Bob Dylan's people to ask permission, they flatly turned me down. No negotiation, just a flat no. I was so discouraged I never did a follow-up and thus ended my career as a parody artist.

The story took a couple of minor twists, people contacting me about my Brain song, and eventually learning that Dr. D actually played the song twice. But even though not directly related. the story has taken another turn. It seems I am not alone in being snubbed by Bob Dylan.

 

It turns out that no less than Stephen Colbert shares the honor of having been ready with a parody of a Dylan song, only to have it shot down by Dylan's lawyers. I found this out last night while watching his Late Night show. It was a re-run first broadcast in (I think) April of this year. Conan O'Brien was his main guests, but during the show it came up that he was ready with a parody of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" but that Dylan's lawyers threatened to sue him for everything he was worth if he used it.

Shin the Musician

Last update: September 1, 2020

The John Shinnick Web Site

Fellow song parody writer - same result.

Wow. Am I in good company or what! Of course, Colbert made a funny bit out of it, pretending to broadcast the words only to have them bleeped out, with a pic of Dylan covering his mouth so lip-readers wouldn't know what he had done.

I, of course, had no such venue with which to show my frustration. I find it interesting that so many artists love their work being parodied. Madonna actually approached Weird Al asking for one, and the result was "Like A Surgeon." (He was less well received by Coolio, when he came out with "Amish Paradise".)

 

Fair use copyright laws say that parody is legal. I didn't know this when Dylan's people turned me down, and it would have been quite a dilemma if I had. I admired Dylan, but I wanted to be a star! As for Colbert, I'm sure he was well aware of his rights, and was simply showing respect. Me? I guess I did the right thing out of ignorance!

The recording, lyrics, and back story to "My Brain Is Too Small", a song I wrote and recorded in 1990.