We’ve all witnessed it: the cover band that butchers your favorite Beatles song. A painter who mimics Warhol, capturing the look but none of the icon’s spark and ingenuity. The writer who struggles through a Shakespearean sonnet, getting the meter down but falling short of creating any word magic. These are subtle, and sometimes painful, reminders that great artists are considered great for a reason.
But the other day, I stumbled upon something that made me rethink that notion: a cover of the iconic Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, recorded by Los Angeles-based band A House For Lions. This isn’t your typical phone-it-in cover song, and it’s not your typical band. Over the last two years, A House For Lions has quickly built a nationwide following from the ground up, playing gigs throughout L.A. and gaining a strong fan base the indie way — organically, by merit of music alone.
But let’s get back to the Tina Turner cover: In their version, A House For Lions swaps the song’s Motown vibe for a weathered, alt-country feel that has the song moving at a languid pace, driven by ethereal guitar lines rather than 80s synths. But the biggest difference is in the story: If you’ve heard the original, you know what makes it so powerful is Tina Turner’s fearless, direct delivery, which makes you feel as though she’s risking her pride and her heart to divulge all the details of why love has everything to do with it. In its take, A House For Lions delivers the classic lyrics with the type of soulful restraint that makes you want to pull back the smoke screen, grab the singer by the shoulders and ask, “Why?” The result is an entirely new, incredibly inspired way of interpreting a song story we all know and love (Well, at least I do).
When it comes to creativity, it’s easy to be intimidated by the greats who came before you. But that mindset has a sneaky way of limiting your own creativity and self-sabotaging your potential. The sooner you can draw ideas, techniques and themes from the world’s artists, the sooner you’ll be able to kick-start your own artistic growth. Without imitation inspiration, so many seminal works of fiction wouldn’t exist (that even includes work by the Bard himself: Romeo and Juliet is rumored to have been based off a poem popular in Shakespeare’s day). And wasn’t it Picasso who said all great artists steal?
Writer, here’s the challenge: Rather than be intimidated by the Goliaths of your creative world, engage in a little imitation inspiration. When you stand on the shoulders of the great artists, you’ll be surprised at how much more you discover. And who knows, maybe someday soon you’ll be the one being imitated.