Don’t Tell Me Noel Coward’s Secret Lies in London


Frank Portman
12 min readMay 28, 2021

Welcome friends, to another Dr Frank Weakly Reader — covering two weeks’ worth of stuff on account of having skipped it last week. This is how I keep track of the Dr Frank internet so I can consult it later if need be, as today’s social media information system lacks an index and is not reliably searchable. As usual, it is augmented, annotated, and illustrated. Feel free to read along if you like. And here’s wishing you the best of all possible Memorial Day weekends.

But first…


— Don’t Tell Me Noel Coward’s Secret Lies in London — a/k/a more YouTube copyright shenanigans.

I have written and released a few hundred songs. The market for such things, as of current year, has arranged itself in such a way as to render them virtually valueless. Nonetheless, I don’t like it when hostile entities construct robots to try to claim ownership of them. Call me sentimental. I realize it’s how we live now and I should probably just accept and ignore it. For all practical purposes, there is no difference between ignoring it and not ignoring it. There’s too much stuff floating in the virtual ether: it couldn’t all be properly attributed and remunerated even if we wanted it to be. And if I didn’t want Warner Chappell to creep in and try to to claim my songs, I probably shouldn’t have written them in the first place. Etc. etc. But for some reason, I am compelled to document said shenanigans and skullduggery. Feel free to skip if it’s not a subject that interests you.

These things tend to come in waves, or spasms. There was a big flurry of such a couple years back that I documented in an essay called “YouTube and Its Disconents”, among other posts, at the time. Big labels like Warner Brothers, Sony, Universal, and their various publishing arms were filing bulk claims against music on YouTube on a massive scale, often based on nothing more than similar titles, sometimes based on nothing at all.

My channel, which includes only material that I own or control, got hit repeatedly, several times a week, with frivolous, preposterous claims. It was more a nuisance than anything else because none of these robot-generated claims held up past the thirty day dispute period. And, as I say above, it wasn’t a matter of money, songs being essentially worthless in this benighted world of ours: if anyone was planning to put their kids through college with money stolen from my song publishing empire, they were in for a very rude awakening. (But there are many like me, and maybe that tiny amount of money times several million could well be worth logging in and putting on the black hat over. I guess they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t get something out of it.)

Mostly, I just didn’t like my stuff being claimed by others who had no right to it. And I hated seeing, say, the Warner Chappell license marker planted in my tender little songs like the flag of a hostile invading army. If anyone is going to collect trace elements of negligible, barely perceptible income off my songs, it should be me. Warner Chappell out of my uterus.

This frenetic activity eventually died down — or, at least, it appeared to, as there was a lengthy period there where the copyright claim notices ceased to identify any claimant and instead used the question-begging designation “the copyright owner.” One just had to assume and hope all was legit. For whatever reason, things were pretty quiet on the YouTube copyright troll front, with only occasional flare-ups. Till now. Now the attributions are back, after a fashion. And so are the trolls.

The new version is subtler. In the new version, I am first notified of a copyright claim by YouTube on behalf of my legitimate digital distributor and/or publisher immediately upon upload — this is fine, this is how it’s supposed to work, and is indeed the only way a songwriter who is not a YouTube “partner” (see below) can get any sort of money or credit at all from that platform. Indeed, the fact that hundreds of videos of my songs (my own posts as well as what must be thousands posted by others) are not so claimed does not speak well for the integrity and effectiveness of the system, if accurate and proper attribution of copyright genuinely is its goal.

Subsequent to this initial notification, however, the usual suspects, Warner Chappell, Sony, et al. somehow manage to sneak in through the back door and plant their various flags all over various songs, in addition to and alongside those of The Orchard and Itching Powder Music (BMI). There is no notification for these additional claims: they just creep in and show up on a license card displayed in the video’s description page. I didn’t notice any till this past week. And there’s no way to dispute the claims because they are not listed on the official “creator studio” dashboard and aren’t part of the dispute form. Were I to lodge a dispute, I would only be disputing the legitimate claim, which is, you know, me, so I’m not going to do that.

Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner Chappell snuck on to “… and I Will Be with You” and “You Alone,” as well as “I Fell for You” (along with Sony and some unspecified ASCAP affiliated publisher in that case.) There’s nothing I can do about this, except to take solace in the fact that the publishing money from these songs amounts to so little that it undoubtedly costs them far more to program and operate their robots than they could ever hope to steal from me. Winning.

But the crowning absurdity is the license card I just noticed attached to my song “London”:

Noel Coward… Noel Coward. Now that’s funny, and almost even kind of worth it. Much better than Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera, anyway. At minimum, at least, we’re sort of in the ballpark, strange as that may be.

Now, I love Noel Coward more than just about anyone. And if there is another songwriter from the general “pop punk” world who is as influenced by him as I am, I’d be very surprised. Also, he wrote many songs about London. However, he did not write this one.

It is fun, though, to imagine him singing my “London”. He would sing the first line in that signature warble (“you have to hate the world”); then he would switch to deadpan recitation for “it’s required, by your clothes.” The live audience would titter appreciatively at that line, as it would be much, much wittier coming from him. I can very much hear it in my head. Someone should do it that way some time.

One guy on twitter said that an AI paid me a big compliment there. But I suspect it’s simply that Warner Chappell and SONY own a bit of the Noel Coward estate’s publishing, and sent a bot around with instructions to lay claim to everything on the internet that contains the word “London,” with the idea that at least some of it would stick. I would guess all that London action adds up, especially if there’s no practical way to object when it’s wrong.

Anyway, here’s some more micro-revenue for Warner Chappell and SONY, I guess. Buy yourself something nice, guys.

— RAD-018: a/k/a Shards vol. iii. This is new release from Sounds Radical, the final volume in the Shards collection of “orphaned” songs, those with no place on any of the albums. These tracks are all from singles, mostly B sides but also some A sides that didn’t appear on the albums. (You can read the “behind the music” about the previous volumes here: vol. 1; vol 2.)

You can still call “dibs” to get on the list for the super limited 180 gram sea glass vinyl first pressing. There’s no obligation, you get on the special list, and it’s the only way to acquire one of those special copies. The scarcity is deliberate. You want to be one of those special people, don’t you? Don’t you?


— New vinyl going out: a pic from Purple Narwhal Music & Manga, re-twitted by me because I liked seeing The Mr T Experience… and the Women Who Love Them sitting next to Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife. (Prince and Foo Fighters, too, but, you know: Thin Lizzy.)

— When it’s “Sports Day” at work and you don’t own any sports stuff, you go with what you got. Jody and his MTX White Sox logo parody shirt, which we made only for this one show in Chicago.

— Concept art by Adrian Tomine for the “… And I Will Be With You” music video. 1997… somehow Joel wound up with this document and posted this rather fuzzy pic a couple years back. (Inset left.)

Fuzzy or not, Adrian Tomine gives good art. It’s very cool, and it remains quite surreal to see yourself as a cartoon character.

btw, if you can’t make out those annotations they are: “oval belt buckle” “eyes look over heart shaped glasses” “glasses behind ears” “four fingers only” “eyelids disappear for surprised or frightened expression”.

And, well, here’s some more all-but-imperceptible micro-revenue for SONY, I guess. Don’t spend it all in one place.

— ODIN: continuing with the songs from the test-pressing of the forthcoming MTX Shards vol. iii, we had the re-mastered “Somebody Wants to Love You”:

That pic is from our man Klode. Extensive “minor secrets” write-up is here. (And since Warner Chappell et al. has become a sort of theme of this document, as it’s a cover I don’t claim to own the publishing here, so it’s not my fight: the various sharks will have to battle it out, and may the best shark win. That said, were I to claim I’d written it, I’d have as much claim to it as Christina Aguilera had to “Thank You for Not Being One of Them.”)

But, back to ODIN: the following week, something suddenly came up, so instead of a new Song for Odin, we re-visited an old one, “Zero”, mostly because I’m amused at my guitar antics:

There were some good “minor secrets” here.

And the Songs for Odin playlist is here.

— Someone’s vinyl mail day, seen on FB:

Our Bodies Our Selves is very hard to come by these days so nice going.


— My First Band: I was interviewed on the My First Band podcast and you can hear it here:

— Twitching with Punk Rock Raduno: I went on a live stream on twitch with my old friends Franz Barcella and Andrea of the Manges. I love those guys, and it was a good time. First time I ever twitched. Maybe one day I’ll twitch again, you never know.

It was mostly just talking about records and songwriting and such, but I did play a couple of songs, impromptu: “I Don’t Need You Now” and “I Believe in You”.

Here it is on YouTube if you missed it:

— Fan Art: in lieu of a Weakly Reader post last week, I re-upped this essay on Fan Art. Which reminds me, I’d promised a part 2 and never got around to it. Maybe soon.

— To Frank, sincerely yours, Groucho: surprisingly, perhaps, I still have this autographed pic of Groucho Marx, sent in response to a mail request when I was just a lad.

— And then there was the time I played “…Hitler…” at the Chris Gethard Show (wearing glasses because of the Curse of Halford):

— Dr Frank Approximately: Once again I begged people to subscribe to my poor little YouTube channel, using this as bait:

Once again, it kind of worked, so thanks. Now all we need is to get to 4,000 hours of “watch time” in a twelve-month period to get back into the partner program. (YouTube kicked all the small channels off during the Adpocalypse of 2017.) When you’re in the program you get to monetize your videos with ads; when you’re not in it, other people (including, now, YouTube itself) can monetize your content and keep all the money. Anyway, it’s basically impossible to get to 4,000 — we’re at about 650 for the year, last I checked. Unless you guys want to watch 80,000 songs any time soon. Give it a shot though?

Anyway, that bedroom video was a Song for Odin a couple years back, and the “minor secrets” are here.

— Like a tree with a microphone stuck to it: Me and my old Les Paul Jr.

I did a little write-up when it got fixed up four years ago. As it turns out, though, it still needs a little work.


— Roman calendar: Isidore the Laborer, Cuzco school; Saint Brendan’s Island in the Western Ocean on a sort of map; Saint Restituta on the rack; they martyrdom of Ventantius of Camerino (painting by Scarsellino); Saint Dunstan and the Devil, illuminated; Saint Bernardino of Siena; the wild and wonderful world of Godric of Finchale, pirate, hermit, songwriter, and saint; Saint Rita of Cascia; Pentecost, illuminated (from the Black Hours); feasting, illuminated, for Whit Monday; the Venerable Bede, in stained glass; Mariana de Jesús de Paredes; Augustine of Canterbury preaching to King Ethelbert, in stained glass; and, finally, in honor of Saint Bernard of Menthon, Sir Edwin Landseer’s Alpine Dogs Re-Animating a Distressed Traveler

— See the sights: a young lady at the piano, 1920s; Atomic experiments for boys — what could go wrong?; Benjamin Matthew Victor’s Awakening Dawn; “Hmph! I could swallow my arm to my elbow and he wouldn’t kiss me!; Mary Howard, Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, and Una Merkel as nurses; Anne Boleyn, weeping; not Jungle Pam, I don’t think, but still a Champion (below); Ursula Andress frolicking on the beach; Art workers won’t kiss ass, said the Art Workers Coalition in 1969; brought together by Sanyo; outstanding in her field (inset left); Léopold Burthe’s newly re-discovered Angelique, who looks rather like Andromeda; in honor of the Appearance Day of Lord Nrsimhadeva, a gorgeous ca. 16th century painting; London, 1959 — a striking photograph by Nico Jesse; Heidi Becker with rose, Playboy, 1961; Hanna Schygulla in: Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun), Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979…


—“The Age of Kayfabe,” from Freddie deBoer:

— RIP, Charles Grodin: one of the greats. I posted the customary commemorative photo by way of eulogy, with this scene from The Heartbreak Kid:


And that’ll about wrap it up for this here double edition of the Dr Frank Weakly Reader. But for those who’ve made it this far down the page, here’s Bettie Page:

See you next time.