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Comic Book Legends Revealed #232

Welcome to the two-hundred and thirty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and thirty-first.

Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Movie Legends Revealed, where we learn the secret motive behind Jamie Foxx’s name!

Speaking of Jamie Foxx (at least the singing part of his repertoire), this week is a special theme week! All comic legends involving MUSIC!!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Irving Berlin sued Mad Magazine for copyright infringement.

STATUS: True

Today, the idea that one would be disallowed to do a parody of a famous song is almost absurd. And yet, at one point in time there was no clear law on the subject of parodies when it comes to songs.

Such was the state in 1961 when Mad Magazine released The Worst of Mad #4, the latest in their collection of pieces from the popular satire magazine.

They had a series of song parodies.

For simplicities sake, let’s pick one song, a parody of Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” done by Mad as “Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady.”

Well, the songwriters of the world were fed up, so a group of famous songwriters got together, led by one of the most famous songwriters of all-time, Irving Berlin.

He was joined by two other legendary songwriters, Cole Porter…

and Richard Rodgers…

The case, Irving Berlin et al. v. E.C. Publications, Inc., went to District Court in New York.

Judge Irving Kaufman ruled that parody songs, especially those that only contained verbal parodies of the original song (as opposed to musical parodies, which would be a much dicier situation for years after this decision, all the way until the 1990s, really), were protected, provided that they were a limited borrowing of the original song (just enough to get the idea, really).

Of the 25 songs that were being contested (with the songwriters seeking about $1 million for each song – $1 per song per issue sold, for a total of $25 million), Kaufman ruled that 23 of them were fine, but he did hold that two of the song parodies (“Always,” a parody of Berlin’s “Always” and “There’s No Business Like No Business,” a parody of Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) WERE too close to the original/contained too much of the original material.

The case was appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court in New York where Judge Charles Metzner ruled that ALL of the songs were protected.

The songwriters then appealed to the Supreme Court, who denied hearing the case, thus ending the case with a victory for Mad Magazine and parody writers everywhere!!!

Thanks to the UCLA Law and Columbia Law copyright infringment web site for the above scan and thanks to reader SanctumSanctorumComix for recommending that I feature this one (way back in January of this year).

COMIC LEGEND: Ben Orr of the Cars was related to famed letterer Tom Orzechowski

STATUS: False

The Cars were a popular New Wave band of the late 1970s and early 1980s, with hits like “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Good Times Roll,” “Shake It Up,” “Since You’re Gone,” “You Might Think” and “Drive.”

The original lineup of the group was singer and guitarist Ric Ocasek, singer and bassist Benjamin Orr, guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson.

Orr sang lead on “Just What I Needed” and “Drive”.

Orr tragically passed away in 2000 from pancreatic cancer.

Orr’s original name was Benjamin Orzechowski, and was born in 1947.

Well, legendary comic book letterer Tom Orzechowski was born in 1953.

About three years ago, reader gorjus asked:

Are longtime Uncanny X-Men letterer Tom Orzechowski and the sadly deceased bassist/singer of the Cars, Ben Orr, related?

It sure took me a long time to resolve this one (so fear not, those who wonder if I am ignoring their suggestion, I check them all out, sometimes it just takes awhile to prove one way or the other!), but I contacted Tom the other day, and he was kind enough to send me a quick reply.

He said:

You’re only the second person to ask about this!… and the first since the Cars were a new band, 30 years ago.

No, the late Benjamin Orr was not a relative, at least not close enough that our families had any knowledge of each other.

I’m also not aware of any relationship to Bob Orzechowski, who did some penciling and lettering for Gray Morrow while he was doing the Buck Rogers (I think) syndicated strip, also 30 years ago.

Orzechowski is a relatively common name, apparently. Imagine that.

Imagine that, indeed!

Well, there ya go!

Thanks to gorjus for the question, and thanks so much to Tom for the helpful and prompt reply! Very cool of him. Oh, and thanks to Lee Hester (of Lee’s Comics) for the picture of Tom!

COMIC LEGEND: A musician had to change his stage name and his album cover because of DC Comics.

STATUS: True

In 2001, musician Bruce Gordon came out with a pop album called Hero and Villain in One Man.

Bruce Gordon, you say?

Say, isn’t that the secret identity for the comic book character Eclipso? The villain who good guy scientist Bruce Gordon transforms to whenever there is an eclipse?!?!

Why yes, it is, and Gordon realized this as well, so he titled his album Eclipso’s tagline (“Hero and Villain in One Man”).

Taking it one step further, Gordon decided to TAKE the name Eclipso and even put Eclipso on the cover of the album (using art from an old issue of House of Secrets – anyone know what issue in particular?)!!

(While I’m asking, anyone have a better copy of the album cover? This one is kinda tiny).

Well, SHOCKINGLY DC didn’t like this idea so much, so they sent him a cease and desist letter (it’s debatable if DC would have won any sort of lawsuit, but naturally, if you’re Gordon, why would you want to even push the issue?) and he quickly changed the cover of the album AND his “alter-ego,” now going by Mr. Encrypto, instead.

The comic book references continued with his latest album, Secret Identity Crisis (where he does a bunch of cover songs – clever).

Feel free to check out Bruce’s site here, where you can listen to tracks from each album. His cover of Ray Davies’ “Dreams” is good!

Thanks to Jim Kosmicki for recommending this one back in January!!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!

Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you next week!

59 Comments

Some really interesting ones this week!

Like the name-linking one, particularly…

I didn’t realise, until we were playing “Google Yourself” in the office that there are at least three of me on the internet! Which explains some of the Facebook requests I get thinking I’m American or Australian.

I thought “Tim Meakins” would be relatively rare, but, no!

:-)

(I also thought that Warren Ellis had collaborated with Nick Cave, until I saw a picture of the Bad Seeds version and realised otherwise)

Y’know, that third bit, about Bruce Gordon changing his name because of DC Comics reminds me of certain blogger who had to change the title of the weekly blog because of whatisname? Karl Urban? ;-)

The parodies thing was very interesting. Great work Brian.

Peace.

Y’know, that third bit, about Bruce Gordon changing his name because of DC Comics reminds me of certain blogger who had to change the title of the weekly blog because of whatisname? Karl Urban? ;-)

Ha!

That’s right. I think it was Keith Urban, that jerk!

He transformed whenever their was an eclipse? That sounds like a really rare occurance; I would think it would be hard to do a series about something like that. Even if partial eclipses count.

so he put the name of a character, the tagline of a character and a piece of artwork of the character on his album and didn’t bother to ask for permission, sounds like it should be in Guinness under dumbest pop star ever.

I hope he covered “Southern Man” or something on that album…Neil Young deserves more than just an album cover reference.

LouReedRichards

November 6, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Yeah seems pretty blatantly spitting in the face of DC comics to try and get away with the whole Eclipso thing.
Seems like he should have at least asked about it.

Thanks for the link to the music. You’re right, that is a nice Kinks cover.
Wow, first a Velvet Underground discussion last week and now a Kinks reference, you guys are too good to me.

Honestly, I don’t really see how it could be debatable if DC could have won a lawsuit against Bruce Gordon; Gordon was very obviously (and intentionally) infringing on DC’s trademarks. What kind of defense could he possibly have used…?

I think that’s a fairly common occurrence when it comes to bands. I vaguely remember a (Ottawa-based I think) band called Boy Wonder that received a similar c&d letter, and had to pulp all of their CDs.

just remembered a story i never quite found out was true or not that there was a band called Captain America tha had to change their name when Marvel complained before they became famous under another name.

Honestly, I don’t really see how it could be debatable if DC could have won a lawsuit against Bruce Gordon; Gordon was very obviously (and intentionally) infringing on DC’s trademarks. What kind of defense could he possibly have used…?

Certainly the album cover is an infringement.

I’m just doubtful about DC’s ability to prove trademark infringement for a singer/band called Eclipso.

Superhero universe eclipses don’t generally follow the usual rules. See the TV show Heroes, for an example. In any case Eclipso’s powers have been increased since then.

Tom Fitzpatrick

November 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

There’s too many K. Urbans in this world.
It’s easy to get them all mixed (nixed) up!

Obviously artists and writers (or writers and artists) get the lion’s share of credit when a comic book is successful and/or memorable, but to me, Tom Orzechowski is one of the reasons a lot of books popped to life. Cheers to Mr. O.

Also, when I first got into comics, I was also fascinated by MAD Magazine, which was available at more stores that comics were. Funny to think of how popular it once was.

The Crazed Spruce

November 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm

While we’re talking about comics and music, I think I remember reading somewhere (possibly an old issue of Wizard or Heroes Illustrated) that noted modern Western artist Tim Truman (who also happens to be a talented musician) also wrote the theme song for the original Melrose Place. I could easily be remembering it wrong, though.

“Today, the idea that one would be disallowed to do a parody of a famous song is almost absurd”

No, it’s not. Weird Al Yankovic has been turned down by several artists whose songs he wanted to parody, including Michael Jackson.

Actually Eclipso changed whenever Gordon saw ANYTHING that resembled an eclipse, even a *TV picture* of one! But yeah, the transformations still came across as very forced. They should simply had him change at night. Oh, and ANY bright light (except apparently daylight!) changed him back to Gordon. Talk about silly: Eclipso, the villain who can be beaten with a camera flash! :P

(They have since then reinvented him in a far more sinister form, however.)

Aaron,

Weird Al asks for permission from the artists, but he actually doesn’t have to, legally. He does it as a courtesy. That’s why when artists (or their management) suddenly complain and revoke their permission after Weird Al’s parody version is released, the song remains available. It actually works out nicely when that happens because then he gets publicity.

@Aaron Poehler:

Actually, I believe the situation is that Yankovic has decided not to do parodies unless the artist gives him permission. However, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t get away with doing them if he wanted to.

@Adam

Michael Jackson reportedly liked Weird Al’s parodies, and saw the imitation as flattery. Since Weird Al did both “Eat It” (“Beat It” parody) and “Fat” (“Bad” parody) with Michael’s permission (and even was allowed to use the same set for “Fat”), I don’t agree with your comment that Michael turned him down….

To Rolly– Weird Al got permission for ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat’, but was denied permission to base a song on ‘Black And White’. Jackson thought that song had too important a message to be spoofed, whereas the other songs were more frivolous, so he didn’t mind.
Paul McCartney has said that he has no objection to Weird Al using his songs, but he refused to let “Live And Let Die’ become ‘Chicken Pot Pie’, because it promoted meat. So for some composers, it has more to do with the subjects of the songs than a blanket refusal to allow parodies in general.

I have no idea if this is true, but someone once told me that the Butthole Surfers originally called themselves the Silver Surfers.

“just remembered a story i never quite found out was true or not that there was a band called Captain America tha had to change their name when Marvel complained before they became famous under another name”

The band Eugenius (featuring a member of the Vaselines) was originally called Captain America, but they were never famous, aside from numerous namedrops by Kurt Cobain.

@Mary Warner

Per the Rolling Stone article, Al says Michael “wasn’t so into it” (the parody of “Black or White”) for the reason you mentioned. Does that qualify as denying permission? I think if Al had chosen to pursue it and came up with something funny, Michael may have given him the go ahead. Instead, it seems that Al, sensing Michael’s hesitation, and being the class comedy act that he is, chose not to pursue that song and opted to do “Smells Like Nirvana” instead…. At least that’s the way I read the RS article.

@KevinJ

Captain America was Eugene Kelly’s band after The Vaselines (probably only known today because of their influence on Kurt Kobain). Kelly got a C&D from Marvel, so the band is now known as Eugenius.

Showing my age but the only Bruce Gordon I connected this with played Frank Nitti in the old TV show of “The Untouchables”

@Iron Maiden -

“Showing my age but the only Bruce Gordon I connected this with played Frank Nitti in the old TV show of “The Untouchables”

Great show. Unfortunately my local independent station stopped airing last year when they shifted away from black-and-white programming [except for The Twilight Zone] and replaced it with Party of Five. No comic book legend here, I’m just sayin’…

Speaking of comic-named bands/band members, there’s Jamie Madrox from Twiztid, who sometimes refers to himself as the Multiple Man and makes plenty of comic references in songs, I wonder if he ever heard from Marvel’s lawyers. Or if he will now that Disney is involved, they’re a lawsuit-happy bunch.

I don’t know if the Butthole surfers ever went by the name “Silver Surfers”, they used lots of names before kind of accidentally settling on their infamous name, so it’s possible.

They did use the name “Abe Lincoln’s Bush”, which is one of the most awesome names any band could ever hope to have.

The infamous booklet of MAD’s song parody lyrics was called “Sing Along With MAD” and was included as a bonus insert in the 4th Annual Edition of MORE TRASH FROM MAD, not THE WORST FROM MAD whose cover is shown above and whose bonus insert was the gag Sunday comic section. The cover of MORE TRASH 4 showed Neuman with a goatee and extending his arms in a spoof on Mitch Miller, host of NBC-TV’s “Sing Along With Mitch.”

Actually, There was a difference between real and artificial “eclipses” – with a real eclipse, I believe Gordon transformed into Eclipso; with an artificial eclipse, Gordon was split into two distinct physical entities, Gordon and Eclipso. This allowed Gordon to be the “hero” of the piece, as he could take explicit action against Eclipso. And, as it was generally easier to expose him to a fake eclipse than a real one….

NOTE: I may have this backwards – Wikipedia didn’t mention it.

So, with all these artists having to make name changes to satisfy comics-company law-things, why is DJ Green Lantern allowed to go on and on, year after year?

Tornado Ninja Fan

November 7, 2009 at 4:34 am

The Eclipso art is from House of Secrets No. 80. It was the last appearance of Eclipso in the magazine.

Honestly, I don’t really see how it could be debatable if DC could have won a lawsuit against Bruce Gordon; Gordon was very obviously (and intentionally) infringing on DC’s trademarks. What kind of defense could he possibly have used…?

That’s on tangent with something I’ve been wondering for a while.

Does the television talent show X-Factor infringe on Marvel’s X-Factor trademark? Do the producers of the show have an agreement with Marvel to use the name “X-Factor.” Do they need an agreement with Marvel? And if they don’t, while Marvel may have been a small fry in the entertainment world, might Disney’s propensity to sue come to the rescue of the name “X-Factor”?

X-Factor as a phrase was in common usage before Marvel used it for a comic title. I don’t think they’d have grounds to win a case for infringement. I also don’t think you can copyright the title of something, only the work.

Personally, I’m waiting for DC to get ahold of this one :

http://www.greenlanterndc.com/

Here’s another music related question. I’m not sure if it counts as an urban legend but it is something that puzzles me whenever the name comes up. There’s a musician who is getting a lot of buzz lately. His name is Kurt Vile. Now, any hardcore Alan Moore fans ears should perk up at that name since Moore used “Curt Vile” as a pseudonym early in his career. I’ve found several online sites stating that is the musician’s real name. However, Vile also has a band with him and is billed as “Kurt Vile and The Violators.” Now the fact that Moore wrote a Violator and a Violator vs. Badrock miniseries makes me almost certain that it can’t be a coincidence and the guy must be a Moore fan.

Bill-
That was just WRONG! I’m surprised DC hasn’t sued over that. Although it may explain Sinestro’s “mustache”!

dr kopp e. wright

November 7, 2009 at 10:38 am

IRVING BERLIN, COLE PORTER and RICHARD ROGERS must be really MAD !!!

Gapalanaky-

Actually, even if DC ever found out about that club, I doubt they’d sue. They’d likely win if they did, but who wants the horrible publicity that would come with suing a gay club over their name?

Interesting stuff, JC, I’ll see what I can find out!

X-Factor might be too generic to really defend but Marvel’s use (comic books) is different than the TV show’s use (reality TV show), so there’s that. If the TV show ever has a comic book spin-off, there would probably be a problem.

It seems far more likely that Kurt Vile took his name from Kurt Weill (pronounced Vile) – which Moore himself no doubt did. Kurt Weill, after all, is far better known than Moore in general, let alone a pseudonym he used decades ago.

And ‘Vile and the Violators’ is a pretty obvious band name, so, I don’t think it seems that terribly likely that Vile is a Moore fan, or, at least that his stage and band names came about as a result of Moore fandom.

Kamino Neko is right, Moore took the pseudonym from Weill. He also used Jill de Ray which he snagged from Gilles de Rais.

Well I’d love for a “Bruce Gordon” to someday sue a comic company for suing their name claiming defamation…

*gets handed a note*

O my bad, a hockey player did it to Todd McFarlane already…..

Sometimes copyright issues get to be a bit much….

whoops…suing should be using there…my bad again folks…

RD is right, fake eclipses split Bruce Gordon into two.
I prefer the idea of an artificial eclipse (loosely as they defined it) worked better than changing at night, since it meant Bruce couldn’t anticipate the changes (the way Jack Russell could lock himself up under the full moon).

If we’re discussing music/comic books, there’s always McCartney and Wings’ “Magneto and the Titanium Man.”

“Instead, it seems that Al, sensing Michael’s hesitation, and being the class comedy act that he is, chose not to pursue that song”

The thing is, he did do ‘Snack All Night’ in concert. And he did ‘Chicken Pot Pie’ in concert. He doesn’t release them on his albums.

I read an interview where he explained that the artists would be entitled to 50% of the money from his parody songs [presumably not all of the money, but whatever chunk is allocated to the songwriter], but he gets them to agree to a lesser fee (something like 10 or 20%). That’s part of his courtesy (and part of why Coolio got mad; if I remember right, Coolio is getting 50% after he complained). So, yeah, he’s a classy guy, but he also doesn’t want to have to pay reluctant artists 50% of the proceeds from a song, even though he’s legally entitled to record the song.

(as opposed to the attorneys for The Beatles, who successfully sued Neil Innes for co-songwriting credits on all of the songs from ‘The Rutles’.)

Did the Beatles lawyers really sue Neil Innes? He was a friend of theirs! (Of course, the Beatles also sued each other, so I guess a friend means nothing in comparison.)
But not all of the Rutles’s songs were modelled after specific Beatles songs. Some were just a sort of Beatles-esque style (eg Cheese And Onions or Living In Hope).

No one’s mentioned the Wu-Tang Clans Marvel references. Maethod Man for a while called himself Johnny Blaze. Ghostface Killa uses the alternate names Tony Stark & Iron Man. He’s never had any trouble & even got a cameo in the Iron Man movie. (It was cut from the film.)

More curious, however is MF DOOM. He took his name from Dr Doom & performs in a metal masks. He’s used Dr Doom images on his album art. He’s used tons of samples from Fantastic Four & Spider-Man cartoons. As far as I know, he’s never had any trouble.

Does Marvel maybe letter hip hop artist get away with this because they figure it’s good marketing to an audience that generally doesn’t buy their products?

Hey, you guys have the wrong MAD cover up there. That’s THE WORST OF MAD #4. The songbook which got them sued by Irving Berlin, et al, was in MORE TRASH FROM MAD #4. The cover has Alfred looking like Mitch Miller from the old SING ALONG WITH MITCH TV show.

“Did the Beatles lawyers really sue Neil Innes? He was a friend of theirs!”

The songs on the LP version of The Rutles are officially credited now to Lennon/McCartney/Innes. Lennon had warned Innes that he thought some of the songs were actionable, which is why “Get Up And Go” doesn’t appear on the original LP.

The Beatles all had different reactions to The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. Harrison, of course, approved wholeheartedly (and it was Harrison that encouraged Innes to pursue a “reunion” that skewered Anthology to some extent). Ringo liked it, except that he felt the ending hit too close to home. Lennon loved it, and didn’t return the videotape he was given. McCartney did not like it, and Linda McCartney had to tell him that he was being too uptight and serious about it, and he ultimately approved.

Innes has recently released what he calls “the last Rutles song,” entitled “Imitation Song.”

I would love to see the Rutles songs be made available as DLC for The Beatles Rock Band. That might be a little too meta, much as The Fab Four (a Beatles tribute band) releasing a few Rutles covers as they did a few years ago. Still, it would be cool.

Oh, gosh! Brian, a friend just sent me this link. I normally swallow great gulps of Legends at one time and don’t have it in my feed. But your amazing answer to the my Orr question just made my day.

Thanks as always for a great column!

The different reactions to the Rutles are interesting!

Also, “Cheese and Onions” used the melody of “Green Onion”, didn’t it?

‘Cheese And Onions’ did NOT use the melody of ‘Green Onions’, which was not a Beatles song anyway. (It was Booker T & the MGs.) You may be thinking of ‘Glass Onion’ from the White Album, but ‘Cheese And Onions’ didn’t resemble that, either. “Cheese And Onions’ really sounds more like a Lennon solo song to me, maybe something from Imagine or Mind Games, but still, it doesn’t seem to be based on any particular song as far as I can tell. (Although it’s been a very long time since I listened to Lennon’s solo albums.)

“Since Weird Al did both “Eat It” (“Beat It” parody) and “Fat” (“Bad” parody) with Michael’s permission (and even was allowed to use the same set for “Fat”)”

The “Bad” video wasn’t filmed on a set, it was filmed in an actual subway station in Brooklyn.

Iggy Pop's Brother Steve Pop

November 14, 2009 at 10:21 am

“the Supreme Court, who denied hearing the case”

I think you mean “who declined to hear the case” or “denied the case a hearing.” (I suppose that later on, someone could have asserted that they had heard it, and they then denied hearing it. But I doubt that was what you meant to say.)

‘Cheese and Onions’ was based on ‘A Day In The Life’ – it has the orchestral climax and a nod to the ‘note that lasts forever’.

jccalhoun – they are both named in homage to German songwriter Kurt Weill [pronounced 'vile]. He of ‘Mack The Knife’ and ‘Alabama Song’, in conjunction with Bertolt Brecht as lyricist. Alan Moore has recounted a version of his song ‘Pirate Jenny’ in one of the Extraordinary Gentlemen comic (as well as lines featuring in Watchmen) so he would have to be aware of the guy :)

Apologies if it was already posted, I’m on a wee tiny screen here.

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