Many have mourned the displacement of rock by genres like Hip Hop and EDM. Led Zeppelin is one of the ghosts conjured up from the past to chastise the decadence of contemporary music. Such specters do not appear to be restricted to the comment sections of YouTube. There is a new band that is garnering both scorn and praise for its uncanny resemblance to the legendary group. The name of this band is Greta Van Fleet, and it is certainly eerie just how similar the band is to Led Zeppelin.
The voice of Josh Kiszka, the lead vocalist of Greta Van Fleet, is so similar to Robert Plant’s that I mistook it for Plant’s rather than Kiszka’s. The main riff of their single Highway Tune is also nearly identical to the riff of The Rover by Zeppelin. Such similarity prompted music reviewers like Anthony Fantano to claim that it crossed the line. Despite the controversy, the band is seeing great success as their song Highway Tune topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Active Rock charts in 2017. Robert Plant himself praised the band in an interview, as he described the lead vocalist as being “pretty good” and that “there’s a job for him somewhere.” Some may claim that their chart performance and praise from the man himself settles the deal. The problem with this argument is that it avoids the central criticism of Greta Van Fleet: that it is a copycat. In order to sufficiently answer this criticism, one must provide an argument that they are not a copycat or that copycatting does not diminish a work of art. Most defenders attempt to save the band from disgrace by arguing the former; I will make a case for the latter.
It is part of the paradigm of the contemporary world to regard copies as inferior versions of the original. An example of this can be seen from an incident in 2007, during which the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg closed their exhibition of terracotta warriors from China. It became known that these artefacts were copies, and the director of the museum believed it would tarnish the good reputation of the museum. Another such instance occurred in 1956, in which the Musée Cernuschi in Paris criticized the famous Chinese painter Chang Dai-chien for giving them replicas of masterpieces of Chinese art. The philosopher Han Byung Chul explains this phenomena by arguing that replicas in the Far East are not seen as inferior copies of the original.
The Far East subscribes to a different paradigm: that of continual reproduction. The West treats the original as relics; Han describes it as a “cult of the original.” In the West, an ancient work of art is praised for oldness, whereas the Far East is concerned with extending the traces of the real trace of the Old Masters. A striking example of such differences is manifested in the example of the Ise Grand Shrine. The shrine is the supreme Shinto sanctuary located on Honshu island, which is 1,300 years old for the millions of Japanese who travel there to pilgrimage every year. But, the temple is, in fact, rebuilt from scratch every 20 years. This religious practice prompted a heated debate amongst Western art historians, and UNESCO eventually removed the temple from the list of World Heritage sites.
Tomorrow we'll discuss how all of this is related to Greta Van Fleet and Led Zeppelin. In order to do that, I must further sketch out the theoretical frameworks of the Far East. An important aspect of my argument is that regarding the original as superior inhibits creativity.