Artistic Partnerships

I had intended for my next post to be about America's socio-economic economy, but I'll save that for a little bit later. I was just reading through my normal load of publications and I ran across a brief article that bothered me so much upon reading it that I just had to write something about it.

NME reports this morning that John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page got tired of waiting for Robert Plant to make up his mind about doing a new tour with Led Zeppelin and they're just going on without him. Considering how late to the game I am to one of the best bands ever, I cannot feel right in saying whether or not this must stand, but I know this certainly bothers me.

Maybe it's a matter of perspective, but at what is the art still pure from its source when the authors are missing? Is Led Zeppelin still Led Zeppelin if Bonzo's son is playing the drums and some other dude is doing all the singing? When it was 75% original band and things were kept in the family for the other 25%, the claim was still there. The one-off concert they did recently in London still rocked hard from what I heard. But when you're only running with two original members, is the art still pure?

I ask this from time to time with other musicians. If Nine Inch Nails is really just Trent Reznor doing everything himself in the studio, when he goes on tour, is the band really Nine Inch Nails or NIN with friends? The original artisan is present, but are these added components adding to the work or corrupting it? If this new product is good (which it is), is it a result of the other musicians or the structure Reznor initially presented? Is it still essentially the same work?

Guns N' Roses is finally going to release the long awaited album, Chinese Democracy (and while I don't listen to Guns N' Roses, I will be looking for my free can of Dr. Pepper). The thing is, since Slash and Buckethead are not included, is this really a work of Guns N' Roses or just the new work of Axl Rose? Can Axl definitively say that he alone is the entire band that people have known for years?

Let me get a little less mainstream and a little more esoteric (but something that's a little stronger to my suits). In 1973, Herbie Hancock put together a band and recorded the classic album, Head Hunters. The band was known by that name and recorded a few albums together (1974's Thrust and the Japanese import live album Flood). But from 1975 to 1998, Herbie Hancock was no longer with the Head Hunters. The band stayed in the same style as its founding, but it was lacking with the loss of Hancock (especially in comparison to Hancock's various creative directions over the many years). Could they still be the Head Hunters with the loss of their founder?

In the 1960s, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder, and Wayne Henderson formed the Jazz Crusaders (and later the name was shortened to The Crusaders). The group had considerable fame in its time and especially after 1979's Street Life. Yet the group started to dismantle in 1975 when Henderson left the group. Over the years members left until the group was considered disbanded. When Sample and Felder got together in 1991 for Healing the Wounds, was this really a Crusaders album? When Henderson made a new band of the same name, was this really The Crusaders? When Sample, Felder, and Hooper got together in 2003 for Rural Renewal without Henderson, was this really a Crusaders album?

When creating art in a group, the integrity of the group and the work must be taken into account. It's why when Esbjörn Svensson passed this past June, E.S.T. was no more. It's why TLC hasn't been able to properly get back together after Left Eye died. It's why Roger Avery isn't wowing people with his own personal work but when he worked with Quentin Tarantino for everything they did from Pulp Fiction and back, film lovers took notice.

Artistic partnerships are beautiful, symbiotic relationships. They can be closer than marriages. But if a breakup happens, one cannot just look at the art the same way. To do so would discredit the basis of the relationship and the quality of the work. It lacks objectivity. It lacks respect. Analyzing each artist's contribution to a work is crucial, especially in a partnership.

And this is why I'm saying 50% of Zeppelin may just not do.

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