In today’s “yep, this guy sucks” news, Rolling Stone suggests that Johnny Depp and his collaborator Jeff Beck may have stolen the lyrics to their song “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade” from Slim Wilson, an incarcerated man whose toasts were immortalized in the 1974 book Get Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like Me by folklorist Bruce Jackson.
“The only two lines I could find in the whole piece that [Depp and Beck] contributed are ‘Big time motherfucker’ and ‘Bust it down to my level,’” Jackson claims to the outlet. “Everything else is from Slim’s performance in my book. I’ve never encountered anything like this. I’ve been publishing stuff for 50 years, and this is the first time anybody has just ripped something off and put his own name on it.”
Depp and Beck are the only writers credited on the song, and there has apparently been no acknowledgment from the duo of the original toast (titled “Hobo Ben,” which Slim himself can be heard performing on the 1976 Get Your Ass In The Water…album). Jackson’s son Michael Lee Jackson, who happens to be a lawyer focused on music and intellectual property rights, tells the outlet the credits “do not reflect the actual authorship of those lyrics,” adding, “It’s just not plausible, in my opinion, that Johnny Depp or anybody else could have sat down and crafted those lyrics without almost wholly taking them from some version of my father’s recording and/or book where they appeared.”
Rolling Stone shares some fascinating context about the oral tradition of toasts and how it pertains to copyright law, all of which essentially boils down to the fact that “the issue here may be more ethical than legal.” Jackson may have a case as the author of the book in which “Hobo Ben” was published, but it’s a murky issue since he didn’t originate the words.
The folklorist himself has reportedly given much of the profit from his work back to his incarcerated subjects, or to an inmate trust fund. “I don’t know if this record is selling. I’ve seen some reviews that I’d be very embarrassed to have gotten had they been my album,” he says in a very deserved snipe. “But if it is selling, Johnny Depp is making a lot of money on it. Should it go to him, or should it go to some place that helps the people who produced this culture?”