Two years ago Don Henley threatened to sue Frank Ocean for performing “American Wedding,” the altered version of “Hotel California” that Ocean included on his star-making Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape. Sounds like Henley is still angry at Ocean. Henley had this to say to The Daily Telegraph:
I heard it. I was not impressed. He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works.
Mr. Ocean doesn’t seem to understand US copyright law. Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it. You just can’t do that. You can call it a tribute or whatever you want to call it, but it’s against the law. That’s a problem with some of the younger generation, they don’t understand the concept of intellectual property and copyright.
(Mr. Ocean) was quite arrogant about it. We tried to approach him calmly to talk reason to him via his managers and his attorneys and he wouldn.t listen. So finally we threatened to bring legal action against him. He was clearly in the wrong. I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that. What kind of ego is that? I don’t understand it.
Ocean didn’t comment for the story, but his Tumblr post from the initial controversy still stands: “Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”
The Telegraph also mentions a second case of Henley hunting down those who’d dare reinterpret his work. Apparently he forbade Okkervil River from releasing a cover of his “The End Of The Innocence” for free online. Okkervil’s Will Sheff called Henley an “old-fashioned guy who doesn’t understand…it’s not like I was making money, I figure that’s all he f—ing cares about. It’s not like I was making money off it, but he still made me take it down.”
Henley also had a lot to say about the Okkervil cover:
They don’t understand the law either. You can’t re-write the lyrics to somebody else’s songs and record it and put it on the internet. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t an improvement. We were not impressed. So we simply had our legal team tell them to take it down and they got all huffy about it.
It’s a different mindset. I don’t know how they’d react if I took one of their songs and re-wrote the lyrics and recorded it, I don’t know if they’d like that. Maybe they wouldn’t care but I care. We work really really hard on our material. We spend months writing it and years recording it. You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.
You can record anyone’s song you like. It’s called a compulsory licence. That’s not what Mr. Ocean nor Okkervil River did. They took the song and they changed it. they put their own stuff on it. Michael Buble did a totally legal cover, that’s standard procedure.
So much for peaceful easy feelings, amirite?
[Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.]
UPDATE: Okkervil River’s Will Sheff has penned an essay for Rolling Stone in reponse to Henley’s comments. Sheff details how he fell in love with “The End Of The Innocence” when he heard it on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown as a kid: “I was 12 or 13, but the song made me feel like I was 56. And the way the verse and chorus interacted with each other musically was gorgeous.” And he explains that he ultimately fell in love with music from the folk tradition, which involves passing ideas around: “I realized that this is what artists are supposed to do – communicate back and forth with each other over the generations, take old ideas and make them new (since it’s impossible to really ’imitate’ somebody without adding anything of your own), create a rich, shared cultural language that was available to everybody.” Read Sheff’s full argument at Rolling Stone.