I love heist stories in pretty much any form. The Italian Job, Six of Crows, The Thomas Crown Affair (I’m partial to the Pierce Brosnan version). I just love watching people plan and then pull off a caper.
Even though we don’t like to admit it, artists do pretty much the same thing. Take the case of Olivia Rodrigo, who has been accused of pilfering songs from Hole and Elvis Costello. People attack her on social media, yet Mr. Costello has a different tack. In a tweet, he wrote:
“It’s how rock and roll works. You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy. That’s what I did.”
He goes on to say his song borrowed from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is itself influenced by Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business.”
It’s all about digging back into the past to see what’s out there. What’s good. We’re a bit of art archeologists. Then you forge the bits and pieces into something fresh and new. That’s not stealing, that’s creating.
Art critic Dave Hickey goes one step farther, calling artists pirates:
“I am going to explain this to you very simply. All human creatures are divided into two groups. There are pirates, and there are farmers. Farmers build fences and control territory. Pirates tear down fences and cross borders. There are good pirates and bad pirates, good farmers and bad farmers, but there are only pirates and farmers.”
As artists, we pillage the seas of songs, plunder books and ravage films. All for the sake of that precious commodity: ideas.
So think of yourself as a crook. Not a shady guy with a Saturday Night Special holding up people for pocket change. Nope. You are Thomas Crown, Kaz Brekker, Charlie Croker. Your goal is nothing short of the great heist. You will steal not from one artist, but all artists. Every single one that comes across your path.
And you’ll get away with it. Because at the end of the day, when you put the pieces back together, what you create will have the indelible stamp of your personality upon it.