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Faking It: the quest for authenticity in popular music
April 20, 2007 7:58 AM   Subscribe

“We consider the 'primitive' music of blues singers such as Leadbelly to be more authentic than that of the Monkees. But all pop musicians are fakes . . . Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor . . . have turned out their personal record collections to produce a persuasive defence of inauthenticity as the defining characteristic of great popular music[.]” (via)
posted by jason's_planet (144 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some of my favorite lines from the article:
Our choice of malt liquor and callow disregard for suicide constituted what Barker and Taylor call an authenticity "trap" - the harder you try to "keep it real", the more artificial you become.

The strongest argument of Faking It is for the endless "miscegenation" of music. Great popular music is always a collage of cultures, while the quest for authenticity all too often functions as a means of policing racial boundaries.

Henry Ford, for instance, poured money into a campaign to promote square-dancing as a form of authentic (read: white and Protestant) Americanism.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:59 AM on April 20, 2007


"We consider the 'primitive' music of blues singers such as Leadbelly to be more authentic than that of the Monkees."

-pffft. That could be a quote from anybody, including the Monkees themselves.
posted by chillmost at 8:10 AM on April 20, 2007


Your favorite authentic artist sucks.
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:18 AM on April 20, 2007


all pop musicians are fakes.

authenticity is overrated and unimportant.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:24 AM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, some musicians such as Guthrie and Leadbelly were not "pop" singers but singersx and writers who were picked up by folklorists and then, later, became "pop" artists when the public turned to them. If we follow the implications of this post, then all art is nothing but "inauthentic." Ok. Let us now ignore theatre, painting, photography, music, writing. It is all "fake."
posted by Postroad at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2007


but isn't that what hipsterism really is? ... the utter refusal to believe in the authenticity of anything that isn't ironic?

truthfully, this says more about them and their lack of authenticity than any musician's lack of it
posted by pyramid termite at 8:27 AM on April 20, 2007 [6 favorites]


There's a pretty great interview with Yuval Taylor (the author of Faking It) on The Sound of Young America podcast, from a few weeks ago.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:29 AM on April 20, 2007


This is a good review, but not a new idea. This quote in particular:
Wright recognised Lomax's manipulation of Leadbelly (who later successfully sued Lomax), but he assumed there was a genuine Leadbelly behind the music, a real black expression minstrel-ised by the white man. In fact, many of Leadbelly's songs came from white folks, who'd learned them from black musicians, who'd composed them with African inflections as reinterpreted by white musicians eager to add "floating" rhythms to the marching beat of Scots-Irish reels. The strongest argument of Faking It is for the endless "miscegenation" of music. Great popular music is always a collage of cultures, while the quest for authenticity all too often functions as a means of policing racial boundaries.
...sums up a lot of thought in traditional music scholarship. The story of American music is the story of constant borrowing, sampling, covering, remixing, swapping, and stealing. Traditional musics evolve as musicians work with and in response to one another. The greatest American musical forms -- not just pop -- all arose through this process of musical traditions meeting each other and being blended and meshed together.

'Authenticity' is nothing but a musical fetish idea. It's not something that can be demonstrated or identified when it's seen. Sea chanties, for instance - a couple of the most commonly sung, most 'authentic' sea songs, collected by a few generations of collectors in actual use by hard-working real sailors aboard square-rigged ships, have been shown by recent scholarship to have originated in Britain's music hall stage shows - something unknown until recently. Does that make the songs inauthentic as sea songs? No, of course not - they were loved, memorized, and sung by people who adapted the popular song to their environment, so that it became an occupational song. Doesn't it still tell us a lot about the lives and interests and tastes of the sailors to note that these songs were the ones they chose, saved, and continued to develop in an authentic work setting?

I don't think Leadbelly or Son House or any of Lomax's informants would be surprised at the suggestion that they were 'inauthentic.' What musician wakes up in the morning and says 'I'll be authentic today! I sure am authentic!' Taking the role of a musician in any culture is a strong statement of exceptionality. Musicians know they are showpeople, in the business of capturing attention and changing atmosphere, and they derive a deep satisfaction from doing so. Even if it's to no audience but themselves.

Neat topic, thanks for posting.
posted by Miko at 8:29 AM on April 20, 2007 [4 favorites]


... and when we heard the news, we laughed. Cobain, the gold standard of rock-star sincerity since his suicide, had long seemed to us like a joke, a poseur, a pretty-boy pop singer for the high-school teens who gathered in herds of earnest weeping within hours of the news.

He gives himself away as hipster asshole from way back, with no belief in the authenticity of anything, if you put stock in that term. Cobain was roughly my age (within a week or two) and we lived in the same city. I concede that Nirvana was not for everyone, but they clearly were seen as honest, authentic and the "real thing" by people a lot older than I and into a broad variety of musical forms. When he snuffed his own life, his loss was felt by a lot of people, of which earnest high school teens was a very small subset.

Can we fucking get over this post-ironic, detached bullshit already? I'm ready for a new era.
posted by psmealey at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2007 [12 favorites]


The definition of the word 'authentic' is really what's at issue here.

I'm going to compose a riff right now:

Am G F

Oh, wait... that's how 'All Along The Watchtower', 'Don't Fear The Reaper' and about 100 other songs go.

I guess it's those three chords themselves which are inauthentic...
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:37 AM on April 20, 2007


Fuck keeping it real. The only thing a musician needs to do is keep it awesome.
posted by grubi at 8:43 AM on April 20, 2007 [8 favorites]


I concede that Nirvana was not for everyone, but they clearly were seen as honest, authentic and the "real thing" by people a lot older than I and into a broad variety of musical forms.

psmealey - Didn't Kurdt himself once say that they were just ripping off Pixies?
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:49 AM on April 20, 2007


You're right, chuckdarwin. It's a useless concept because it really doesn't mean anything. This guy suggests that authenticity is nothing more than "the authoritative or the credible from a consumer viewpoint." That makes sense to me because it locates the property of authenticity in the viewer's beliefs rather than in the subject's performance.

This fascinating article Imported Authenticity (about a black American music and dance group that employs African performance techniques) talks more about what 'authenticity' is thought to be:
The tourist conceives authenticity as a quality that resides outside himself, in what he observes; the tourist's own feeling of "authenticity" comes, at best, from being in the presence of something which he or she understands to be authentic. .... The "authenticity" that is the object of touristic consciousness is a sense that one has encountered another's real life instead of a show put on for one's own benefit. What MacCannell called "staged authenticity" can, and usually does, take place within the tourism industry: the people being toured understand the tourists' desire to see real life, and obligingly manufacture false "back regions" to satisfy it.
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Taken wayy out of context, chuckdarwin. That quote is from a Spin Magazine article from 91 or 92 and refers specifically to the bass line in Smells Like Teen Spirit ... a song which early on he admitted was not his favorite, and distanced himself from it further as that was the tune the seemed to propel them to uneasy stardom.
posted by psmealey at 8:52 AM on April 20, 2007


This article is awesome. "Realness" eats itself.
posted by b1ff at 8:53 AM on April 20, 2007


authenticity: work presented is genuine and is your own achievement. (genuine: sincerely felt or expressed)

originality: the quality of being new and original.

Not the same thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:59 AM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


Laughing at somebody's death is really trashy. With respect to "authenticity," it's probably a suspect concept, given that all art has artifice. However, the thrust of the piece seems to be trashing good artists for shock value. The Monkees are fine, and they have some toe-tappers, but it's insulting to equate them with John Lennon. The author also asserts that the Blues are one "of the fakest musical genres ever presented to the public as revelations of the real." Authenticity may be a bum concept, but "fake" is a slur. The author may no longer care much for the concept of "authenticity," but he still sounds judgmental and of questionable taste.

also, the Cobain note read, "The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun." That is, the faking it referred to in the note and the "faking it" referred to in the title are two different things.
posted by factory123 at 9:00 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Few things are as tiresome to me as this kind of Holden Caulfield-ish contempt for the allegedly "fake" and "inauthentic". It's just another way for immature tools to puff themselves up and believe that they are better than the ill-educated and sheeplike consumerist hordes. So often, this type of posing boils down to the belief that an artist with a crummy voice, sloppy wardrobe, poor hygiene, and the trite message of "Impeach the President!" or "Down with corporations!" equals sheer musical genius and the Voice of the People. Because they have passion.

Music is an artificial construct like virtually any other form of communication beside our reflexive hooting to each other that the lions are coming. As such, it will always be enveloped in webs of rules and traditions and styles that go through periods of evolution and stagnation. What you deem "authentic" now will probably be different in another 10 years. Of course, the one thing that is true is that music stopped being good shortly after the heyday of Gregorian chants. Or possibly after the demise of the Alan Parsons Project.

Or, as said more pithily above, your favorite artist sucks.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 9:01 AM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


authenticity: work presented is genuine and is your own achievement. (genuine: sincerely felt or expressed)

originality: the quality of being new and original.

Not the same thing.


just wanted to repeat that.
posted by destro at 9:02 AM on April 20, 2007


Miko, I am crazy-interested in what you said up there about sea shanties; do you have any links for further reading about that?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:04 AM on April 20, 2007


So I wanted to express astonishment at the new-to-me possibility that those overstyled hipster kids with just the right ill-fitting retro thrift store clothes and combed-over ultra-black hair really don't see themselves as striking a pose, putting forth a deliberately cultivated image . . . but then I thought I'd be coming across as trying to present myself as more authentic then they are . . . and then I started to doubt myself, to wonder if maybe I was (and am) intending to do precisely that. Oh dear, this rabbit hole goes deeper than I supposed . . .
posted by treepour at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2007


So, shorter Jeff Sharlet:
Robert Johnson = Milli Vanilli
posted by adamrice at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2007


I remember when my work sent me to a disturbing cult seminar called Landmark Forum, one of the main buzz words they used as mantra was "authenticity".
posted by Count at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2007


It's a useless concept because it really doesn't mean anything.

It does mean something, it just relies on analytic introspection and truthfullness on the part of the creator. Another job for functional MRI.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2007


The Monkees are fine, and they have some toe-tappers, but it's insulting to equate them with John Lennon.

because neil diamond (in the 60s), boyce and hart, and carole king are crap songwriters and producers and the musicians who really played on their records weren't equatable with any of the beatles as musicians

actually, as musicians, the l a wrecking crew were better, so that last part's right
posted by pyramid termite at 9:16 AM on April 20, 2007


authenticity: work presented is genuine and is your own achievement.

But, I sincerely meant those three chords just now. Does that mean it will still count as my own achievement even though it sounds just like the Dylan song?
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:17 AM on April 20, 2007


chuckdarwin, yes it does.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:18 AM on April 20, 2007


That observation mostly comes from lectures and discussions at work, Greg Nog, but Mudcat Cafe (discussion board of the Digital Tradition database of thousands of songs) is a pretty good place to track new sea music scholarship (along with other forms of traditional music). It's a discussion board and hence sometimes all over the place, but there are some very knowledgeable people there and it is a central clearinghouse for questions and information about blues, sea music, appalachian, and english/irish/scots music, in particular.

I was thinking specifically of the Mingulay Boat Song, discussed at mudcat here, and Jolly Roving Tar, discussed here< ?a>. The Bold Princess Royal and other storytelling songs are examples of broadside ballads, single sheets of song/poetry that were written by professionals, printed and sold on the streets in the 18th and 19th centuries.

authenticity: work presented is genuine and is your own achievement. (genuine: sincerely felt or expressed)

The problem with that definition, as regards blues or traditional music, is that sometimes the stuff labeled "authentic" is most prized for not being 'your own achievement'. Part of the folk mystique is to describe songs as emerging from the mists of time, authors unknown. In this way, 'authentic' artists are somehow seen as the true voice of an entire time or people.
posted by Miko at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


StickyCarpet beat me to it.
posted by psmealey at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2007


Or, as said more pithily above, your favorite artist sucks.

This discussion is less about that than it is "dancing about architecture". You can choose to love or hate whatever music you're listening to, but if it resembles something authentic, something vital, something moving to you, that's all that matters. The attempt to communicate that to someone else may make points with them, or it may not, but that doesn't necessarily affect your experience with it.

And, oh, fuck Jeff Sharlet and that broken old down horse he rode in on.
posted by psmealey at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2007


What MacCannell called "staged authenticity" can, and usually does, take place within the tourism industry: the people being toured understand the tourists' desire to see real life, and obligingly manufacture false "back regions" to satisfy it.

In a way, Nation of Rebels, hinted at part of this too, in showing how there's a tendency for the "rebels" to take vacations that they somehow see as more authentic than just going to Wall Drug or the Dells. This can involve spending two months backpacking an exotic location think your trip is more authentic than others.

It seems that some try desperately try to avoid the tourist tag, even when it's blatantly what they are, because there is a certain stigma associated with being a tourist. (ie. it's inauthentic)
posted by drezdn at 9:27 AM on April 20, 2007


I think that "your own achievement" simply means you caused this particular thing with your own hands, not that it has no precedent, to whatever degree of exactness.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2007


Fuck keeping it real. The only thing a musician needs to do is keep it awesome.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:34 AM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Nation of Rebels is a very interesting book. [/plug]
posted by everichon at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2007


If you think about what you do, then it is inauthentic. If you just do it, then it is real.

An examined life is not worth living.
posted by ND¢ at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2007


Wow, I'm genuinely surprised that people believe in an idea of authenticity that lies in the content and not in the relationship between performer and listener.
posted by Miko at 9:38 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you decide to paint yet another canvas solid black, it can still be an adventure of self disvovery to actually do it. (Why should I do this? Will I be ridiculed? How do I stretch a canvas? Why does anyone do anything?)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2007


Miko, must I rely on a listener for my authenticity? Which listener? Does that terminal cynic out there undermine my qualities?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:42 AM on April 20, 2007


If you think about what you do, then it is inauthentic. If you just do it, then it is real.

Watch Land Where the Blues Began. These musicians are pretty real. But do they think about what they do? Absolutely! All musicians do. Playing music is a performance. No one just picks up an instrument and suddenly has the ability to channel sound and feeling straight from some pure well of being, untainted by..whatever is supposed to be tainting 'inauthentic' music. Part of Lomax's collection technique, in fact, was to ask people how they used their music - where they learned it, when they sang it, what role music plays in their lives, how they learned to achieve certain effects, why they add stylistic fillips.

Besides that, it's a pretty awesome movie.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2007


Miko, must I rely on a listener for my authenticity? Which listener? Does that terminal cynic out there undermine my qualities?

Yes, because I'm saying authenticity just does not exist outside of a relationship. It's a perceived value that a listener attaches to a performer. It's not intrinsic to the performer or the music.
posted by Miko at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2007


miko, do you always understand or like the relationship you have as a performer to your listeners? ... i'm sure we've both played gigs where people were really paying attention and where people were pretty much tuning it out ... i'm not sure i would want my authenticity or artistic worth dependent on that

it seems like the authenticity issue in folk music is quite a bit different than in pop or rock music, which is pretty much where i'm coming from, although i have a lot of familiarity with folk
posted by pyramid termite at 9:45 AM on April 20, 2007


I'm absolutely sure that George Harrison's song 'My Sweet Lord' was authentic by the above definition. Unfortunately, a court of law thought differently about its originality... that was more my point.

I've written things and really enjoyed doing so, only to find out later that my song was really similar to someone else's work.

Talk about a buzzkill. I mean, my song is still authentic, but it's no longer one I sing because people say 'that sounds just like...'
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2007


An examined life is not worth living.

You ripped that off from Aristotle, therefor I question your authenticity.
posted by drezdn at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2007


I hate it when people talk about art in this way. It makes no sense and shows how shallow their reading of art really is. This guy writes about seeing through the perception authenticity, as though that is the ruling force behind why people listen to anything. It's called projection, and he should really stop projecting his wierd needs onto everyone else.
posted by nola at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm saying authenticity is an unprovable quality that only I know that I truly possess. I can can fool most of the people some of the time, after all.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2007


Oh, is this the muso thread? Pleasedtameetcha

i'm sure we've both played gigs where people were really paying attention and where people were pretty much tuning it out ...

An audience can veer between those two states rather quickly, especially in a pub. Presenting your own - hopefully authentic - work is hard going sometimes, especially when you know people would rather hear covers. Not that I eschew covers completely.

Is this where we all exchange myspace links?
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:50 AM on April 20, 2007


drezdn - shhh - we're not allowed to confuse authenticity with originality. Authenticity is based on sincerity... even if you end up with the same idea as someone else.
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:53 AM on April 20, 2007


You ripped that off from Aristotle, therefor I question your authenticity.

Originality versus authenticity. See upthread.

I wasn't thinking when I typed that. I was just saying stuff. That makes what I said authentic. Even if I said "To be or not to be" it would still be authentic if I wasn't thinking about it, even if it wasn't original.

When Paris Hilton was asked in a trial about something that she said in an e-mail and she replied "That doesn't mean anything. Those are just words that I type." she was being as real as anyone has ever been.
posted by ND¢ at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2007


pyramid termite sez: it seems like the authenticity issue in folk music is quite a bit different than in pop or rock music

No doubt. I've had people tell me (with a straight face) that you can never really be a folkie if you can read music. As if that knowledge will somehow rob you of all emotion.

*sigh*

I hate this argument almost as much as I hate the 'I need my pistol to protect me from the gubmint' thing.
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2007


No, you don't have to understand or do anything about the relationship. It absollutely doesn't matter whether people think they see authenticity in you or not. It changes nothing about the performance. Or does it? Are you trying to be seen as 'authentic' somehow?

I guess people have never thought to doubt whether 'authentic' means anything before. It's a philosophical question about the nature of reality and what qualities reside in things as opposed to relationships.

There's an assumption in calling something 'authentic' that I'm suggesting is an assumption in the listener, not in the performer. It can't be shown. It can't be pinpointed. It's not like sincerity.

Think about authenticity. It's one of those concepts that, the more you examine it, the more it breaks down. Who's a musician you think it authentic? What shows the authenticity? If you're saying that when you make music, you feel it's authentic, then I'd say you feel sincere or genuine about your music. But 'authentic' is a judgement that other people make about your music, not you.

For instance, there's a group of people in Bequia who hunt whales on a subsistence basis. They sing some really interesting rowing songs and chanteys while they hunt the whales. A guy I used to work with happened to hear the songs and got very excited about these traditional Caribbean chanties. After recording and analyzing them, it became clear that the songs were basically Yankee sea chanteys (like 'Blow Ye Winds') hat had been re-arranged and re-harmonized. They weren't Caribbean in origin, but they dated from the days when Yankee whaleships visited the Caribbean and some of the residents signed aboard, returning home with the songs. Their sound has changed a lot. Are they authentic Caribbean songs? Are the singers of them authentic? Who decides that, and why? And more to the point, does it matter? How?
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2007


I've had people tell me (with a straight face) that you can never really be a folkie if you can read music

That's ignorance repackaged as elitism. Snobbery in all its forms is the biggest threat to so-called authenticity.
posted by psmealey at 9:58 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


ND¢ - So, if I just stop thinking and put myself in some kind of cultural vacuum, every song I write from now on will be more authentic than the stuff I wrote yesterday (when my head was still full of Beatles riffs)?

COOL.
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:59 AM on April 20, 2007


pyramid termite sez: it seems like the authenticity issue in folk music is quite a bit different than in pop or rock music

No, I think it's actually the same, except that there;s one understanding of what it means in the popular press and another when you get into conversations with musicologists. But both are talking about some ineffable 'realness' that just breaks right down, and when you take the other pieces away (originality, delivery, sincerity, feeling, compelling-ness, genuineness) there is nothing really left to be called 'authentic'.
posted by Miko at 10:00 AM on April 20, 2007


You can't write a song that's never been sung.
posted by everichon at 10:01 AM on April 20, 2007


How does not thinking equal a cultural vacuum? You can play Beatles covers and be authentic about it if you want. You just have to be authentically covering the Beatles.
posted by ND¢ at 10:02 AM on April 20, 2007


How does not thinking equal a cultural vacuum?

It depends on what I'm not supposed to think about. Music?
posted by chuckdarwin at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2007


See Appetite for Replication.
posted by ND¢ at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2007


If you think about what you do, then it is inauthentic. If you just do it, then it is real.

Did you see this comment:

I've written things and really enjoyed doing so, only to find out later that my song was really similar to someone else's work.

Talk about a buzzkill. I mean, my song is still authentic, but it's no longer one I sing because people say 'that sounds just like...'
posted by chuckdarwin at 12:47 PM on April 20

posted by jason's_planet at 10:06 AM on April 20, 2007


You shouldn't be thinking about anything. But not thinking about something doesn't mean that you lose all memory of its existence.

I've written things and really enjoyed doing so, only to find out later that my song was really similar to someone else's work.

Talk about a buzzkill. I mean, my song is still authentic, but it's no longer one I sing because people say 'that sounds just like...'

posted by chuckdarwin at 12:47 PM on April 20

You would not play something that you enjoyed playing because of what someone would say to you after playing it?

Tell them to kiss your ass. I don't know.
posted by ND¢ at 10:11 AM on April 20, 2007


Are you trying to be seen as 'authentic' somehow?

authentic what?

it's pretty much a useless concept for me as a musician ... my first exposure to it was in the mid 70s when it was thought by some around the little scene i was in that electric music, or pop/rock music, was "fake", and only folk based music was "real" ... at first, that's what the people running the college's coffeehouse thought, and "indie" rockers couldn't get in

the next year, people plugged in and recognized that it didn't have to be folk to be worthwhile ... after that the punk thing happened and opened up a whole other debate about "real" and "fake" in music

there was also, back then, the debate over whether white people could "really" play the blues ...

i suspect you don't find this very useful to you when you play music and neither do i ... i don't consider it very useful to me when i listen to music either ... i get the impression that a lot of people do worry about this ... which maybe is why a lot of today's music sounds self-conscious and constrained to me

But both are talking about some ineffable 'realness' that just breaks right down

oh ... well, a lot of zen buddhists could have told you that ... it's not a plate of beans i care to overthink
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 AM on April 20, 2007


ps ... the one great thing about rock and roll is that if you turn it up to 11, you can't hear what they're saying about it
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 AM on April 20, 2007 [6 favorites]


I haven't read the book, but my first reaction to this review is, "No shit, Sherlock." That's also my final reaction. Authenticity of recorded folk music depended on the money and the musicians that Ralph Peer, either Lomax, or even people like David Lewiston (working now) can scrounge up that day, as touched upon by Miko above.

From the article:

The Monkees, for instance, fare well compared to the pedantic "therapy songs" of John Lennon. And if Billy Joel, "obnoxious and bullying . . . mawkish or lecherous", doesn't look so good next to Neil Young, Barker and Taylor none the less make a compelling case that the "Piano Man" was as honest a songwriter as Young.

Since Neil Young actually plays guitar on a Monkees album (he's one of the musicians listed on the soundtrack to Head), is he more or less authentic than Lennon or Joel?
posted by sleepy pete at 10:21 AM on April 20, 2007


I'm completely in agreement with you, pyramid termite. I think authenticity is basically a bullshit concept -- if it means anything, it means what you suggest: the perception of someone else that you're 'real' or believable or untainted.

The reason I've got it so overthought is that I've spent a lot of my time both at work and in music on traditional music and culture. When you look hard at music of any kind, even the folkies have to confront the idea that there's nothing to the idea of 'authenticity.'
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2007


the punk thing happened and opened up a whole other debate about "real" and "fake" in music

Tis a good point, but it should be remembered that it wasn't the original punks who ushered in that nonsense. It was the first people to deconstruct Punk that did.
posted by psmealey at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2007


Why gauge music on its authenticity anyway? What inherent value is there in it? Instead of looking at quasi-spiritual notions behind the merit of a song, and due to the fact that we lack any technical definition of quality in the arts, it seems obvious to look at the societal impact, and to the accuracy or quality of the message when available. Of course this is heresy to the bulk of musical critics.
posted by kigpig at 10:36 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


authenticity is basically a bullshit concept

Yeah, and it's in the same drawer with "purity," another bullshit concept. It's sad how reluctant people are to admit we're all a bunch of mongrels, stealing each other's ideas and recombining them for as far back as recorded history can take us. But a certain sort of (mostly young, male) person has a desperate need for that particular brand of bullshit. Fortunately, when it expresses itself artistically it has no worse results than posturing. In the real world it can result in genocide. So keep flaunting those record collections, kids!
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


"The story of American music is the story of constant borrowing, sampling, covering, remixing, swapping, and stealing."

Whaddaya mean "American" music? Ever heard of Chopin, Bartok, Grieg and Wagner? And not only music, as tracing the influences of (or borrowings, samplings, coverings, remixings, swappings, and stealings from), poets, novelists and painters will illustrate.
posted by davy at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2007


And thanks for the article: it furthers my education, even if all the ensuing thread does is let us Intelligentisians line up to declaim on how intellectually and morally superior we are to those other fakes who say they're not fake.

(I'm still resisting the temptation to alter my opinion just because some blaggard syncophant appears to share it.)
posted by davy at 10:44 AM on April 20, 2007


Having thought about it a bit more, I want to adjust my position. Those guys at Berklee College of Music playing Charlie Parker solos from sheet music are officially inauthentic in my book, no matter what is in their heart of hearts.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:46 AM on April 20, 2007


Davy - yeah, you're right about American. You're right, as languagehat noted, all music works that way.

if all the ensuing thread does is let us Intelligentisians line up to declaim on how intellectually and morally superior we are

I'm getting tired of hearing this at MetaFilter. It keeps cropping up lately and it's really reductive and dismissive. I don't think most people come here to feel superior, I think many of them are actually interested in the topics. If you don't want to get into a discussion about ideas, why come here? I realize I'm bordering on MeTa, but it would be nice if this thread didn't have to go down that same old road.
posted by Miko at 10:47 AM on April 20, 2007


Those guys at Berklee College of Music playing Charlie Parker solos from sheet music are officially inauthentic in my book

Yeah, but those guys are doing it not to be authentic, but to learn, so the question of authenticity on that count is pretty much irrelevant anyway. No one plays note-for-note Charlie Parker solos out unless he wants to be considered a laughing stock.
posted by psmealey at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2007


Sorry, but this whole thing really pisses me off. Historically, let's look at country (or "country") music:

1. The first million selling country album was sung by Vernon Dalhart, an opera singer who hated folk music. He's in the country music hall of fame, by the way.

2. The uncredited guitar player on that recording, Carson Robison*, was born in Kansas, but was actually a vaudeville musician who was a whistler, able to whistle two notes at once because of a childhood injury. He put on a pair of cowboy boots and a silly outfit and became one of the first country artists to tour the world. Doesn't mean that his songs like "Life Gets Teejus Don't It" aren't great, but they aren't folk.

3. AP Carter searched for songs around his home, wrote them on a piece of paper and recorded them with his wife and sister-in-law and claimed the copyright.

4. Smith's Anthology was culled (without regard to copyright) from recordings by professional musicians.

You know, the media that these early songs were recorded on had as much to do with the musicians having to cut their all night performances down to their best verses. You can only put about 3 and a half minutes of music on a 78 RPM disc.

Also, pyramid termite:

because neil diamond (in the 60s), boyce and hart, and carole king are crap songwriters and producers and the musicians who really played on their records weren't equatable with any of the beatles as musicians

actually, as musicians, the l a wrecking crew were better, so that last part's right


I don't understand the hate for Carole King. The Beatles played songs by her, and she was not only a Brill Building writer, but she also wrote for Phil Spector who used the Wrecking Crew to play his songs. 60s Neil Diamond sucks? Are you saying that "Heartlight" is better than "Cherry, Cherry" or "Kentucky Woman"? Just wondering.

Lastly, thanks for the article, jason's_planet. As much as it pissed me off, I'm glad I read it.

*I've met Gloria Throne, the person who wrote this article, and she's a really nice and brilliant person, but this article is about as hokum-filled as some of Robison's songs. I actually met Robison's son as well and talked to him about his dad. Great stories, but even he knew that it wasn't "authentic".
posted by sleepy pete at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2007


psmealley: Seen 'em out there busking on the street, music stands and all. But it wasn't funny, it was sad.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2007


I can't believe that I didn't remember this until now, and I don't recall who said it, but the best example I've ever heard of what something means to be authentic is the Beach Boys' In My Room. You may not like the song, find it sappy, insipid, whatever. But upon listening to it, you have to believe that Brian Wilson means it when he's singing it. It has everything to do with an artists' connection with his or her music, craft, message, medium and audience.

You cannot see what's inside the artist's heart, but sometimes you can feel it.
posted by psmealey at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2007


Pop music is, in its very essence, completely post-modern, deconstructionist, reconstructionist, what have you. Taking bits and pieces from other places is not a by-product; it's the point. It's not about what you use, it's about how well you use it.

To put it mildly: we are the sum of our influences.

And now to sue voltairemodern for ripping me off! Keepin' it real!
posted by grubi at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2007


My plate of beans are heirloom, organic Fin de Bagnol beans. So, yall can suck it.
posted by everichon at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2007


And what languagehat and miko said.
posted by everichon at 11:20 AM on April 20, 2007


Nice list, sleepy_pete! In addition to the note about the Carter Family, when they started running out of AP's traditional repertoire and RCA Victor was asking 'Hey, haven't you got any more of that old-time hillbilly music?' AP started collecting songs farther afield, but also started writing his own songs - songs which, now, many people hear, play, and think of as traditional.
posted by Miko at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2007


you have to believe that Brian Wilson means it

When talking about the artist's feelings, I think you're describing sincerity, rather than authenticity.
posted by Miko at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


sleepy pete - i was being sarcastic; i have great respect for the pop masters of that era and i would equate them with john lennon ... hell, i'd equate paul mccartney with john lennon ...

the first record i ever bought was the monkees' first album ... and as another interesting insight into how "fake" and "contrived" and "inauthentic" they were compared to john lennon, let's examine their first hit, "last train to clarksville" ... oh, he's going on a train ... and he doesn't know if he's ever coming home ... it just drips with teenaged drama, doesn't it?

until you realize that like many young men of that time, he was taking the train to clarksville to ship out to vietnam

i'll put that and pleasant valley sunday against john lennon any day and i like john
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2007


I'm trying to appreciate the article for its research, but this mentality always strikes me as the aesthetic equivalent of orthorexia.

To me, the tone of the writer of this article sounds somewhere between all those "Matrix within a Matrix" theories that swirled around after the second movie, and this one MADtv sketch where the guy from the 7up commercials gradually had a psychotic break because everything he said was shown to be on cuecards despite his claims to the contrary.

As to authenticity, I think it depends on what level of worth you put on it, and how much you let it affect your enjoyment of things. There's a goth band from South Africa called The Awakening, They're pretty much Sisters Of Mercy part II, but I find them enjoyable regardless. The Awakening isn't any 'wicked underground' because they're not Sisters Of Mercy, nor am I for listening to them.

On the other hand, a few years ago, when everyone was going crazy about The Killers, the only thing I could think of was "If Ian Curtis didn't kill himself, but Joy Division still turned into New Order, they would be The Killers". Now, I don't dislike The Killers for this reason, I dislike The Killers because I think they're fucking boring.

Identity != sequence of consumption.

If this makes me sound pretentious, so be it.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:25 AM on April 20, 2007


When talking about the artist's feelings, I think you're describing sincerity, rather than authenticity.

I think sincerity is a subset of it, but I am talking about authenticity.
posted by psmealey at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2007


It's not about being authentic, it's about whether they make a nice noise or not. The Monkees, aside from a catchy jingle or two, failed to make nice noises whereas Leadbelly and Kurt Cobain made very, very nice noises.
posted by caddis at 11:28 AM on April 20, 2007


pyramid termite, I am sorry that the lameness of the article's postmodernism blinded me to your sarcasm. I should have known, and, as a person who loves the Monkees, I concur.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:28 AM on April 20, 2007


When I heard Cobain killed himself my reaction was pretty much the same as when I'd heard that (among others) Elvis and Lennon died, something like: "So what? S/he's an entertainer neither of us know. Let me know when my mom gets hit by a bus."

And Miko, the point you object to point is best understood in context: "...us Intelligentisians line up to declaim on how intellectually and morally superior we are to those other fakes who say they're not fake."

First, I did not exempt myself: like most participants in this thread, I too am an Intelligentsian who scoffs at the idea of "Authenticity" (in Art, if not indeed everything else). Second, if we don't really feel superior we should stop crowing out how superior we are, seein' as how it ain't authentic, eh? The issue is whether you'll read back over the thread and admit you understand it, or whether I'll have to sit here and take you by the hand all through it, typing out analyses of damn near every comment. Unlike people who work for a living I don't have all day to sit at my computer and waste somebody else's time.

(Miko, I don't mean to be particularly querulous with you personally; what really bug me is the thought of having to sit here laboriously typing with two fingers for hours, through the pain down my typing arm from a pinched nerve in my neck, going on about a point that I think should be blindingly, unspeakably obvious to any bona fide and institutionally recognised Intelligentsian such as a "History Museum Administrator." That is, it's not all you it's also partly me: it ain't like anybody's paying me to sit at a computer at all, let alone to engage in lengthy pedantic disputation.)
posted by davy at 11:30 AM on April 20, 2007


I said "Second, if we don't really feel superior we should stop crowing out how superior we are, seein' as how it ain't authentic, eh?"

And I take the point about "sincere" vs. "authentic" -- actually I mean both.
posted by davy at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2007


Second, if we don't really feel superior we should stop crowing out how superior we are, seein' as how it ain't authentic, eh? The issue is whether you'll read back over the thread and admit you understand it, or whether I'll have to sit here and take you by the hand all through it, typing out analyses of damn near every comment. Unlike people who work for a living I don't have all day to sit at my computer and waste somebody else's time.
davy, please stop acting like a dickhead.

kthxbye.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:43 AM on April 20, 2007


I too am an Intelligentsian who scoffs at the idea of "Authenticity"

i'm not an intelligentsian, i'm an opinionated bastard

Second, if we don't really feel superior we should stop crowing out how superior we are, seein' as how it ain't authentic, eh?

*cues dictators' master race rock*

what really bug me is the thought of having to sit here laboriously typing with two fingers for hours, through the pain down my typing arm from a pinched nerve in my neck, going on about a point that I think should be blindingly, unspeakably obvious to any bona fide and institutionally recognised Intelligentsian such as a "History Museum Administrator."

quit having opinions, people ... we're making davy SUFFER!
posted by pyramid termite at 11:45 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


The problem with a discussion like this is that people have a bunch of different definitions of what "authenticity" means. That may be a good reason to abandon the word, itself, but it seems to me that the article attacks one definition and takes that as a refutation of the others- for example, the article seems to argue that many of Leadbelly's songs originated with white musicians, making him inauthentic in that sense- so therefore, the manufactured pop of the Monkees is superior to the earnestness of John Lennon. The definition of "authenticity" used for the Leadbelly argument doesn't seem to be the same as the one used for the Monkees vs. Lennon argument, yet it is treated as though it were.

My definition of "authenticity" is basically the same as psmeasley's, and it is something I value in music, though it isn't the be all and end all, and "sincerity" may well be a better word for it in the end. The article and many people here seem to equate it with some concept of originality, which is a mostly separate thing in my view. It's rather interesting to me that (to use an example I'm familiar with) in the underground metal scene, there is an obsession with being genuine and "authentic", (or "true" in the parlance of the scene) which is often taken to ridiculous degrees- yet for the most part, faithfully imitating one's forefathers is seen as being the best way to be "true", and the more you sound like old Bathory albums, the more "true" you are.
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2007


Jeez, I thought this stuff died with the fucking folkies booing Dylan. Ignore all the taxonomy and hipster doubletalk already and just turn up the volume and get me another beer.
posted by jonmc at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2007


(also, it's our first nice spring day here in NYC. I'm out on the porch in my pajama pants. I've got the wireless working and a few good books, a pack of smokes and some beer. The iPod is plugged in the speakers and on shuffle. Right now it's playing Jack McDuf's 'Hunk O' Funk' and I've got a clear veiw of the Manhattan skyline and the beginnings of a nice buzz. You people are harshing my mellow.)
posted by jonmc at 11:58 AM on April 20, 2007


a louis wain cat: I think it is the same definition of authenticy, which is about the idea of realness. Leadbelly's perceived 'realness' partially stemmed from the fact that he was poor, black, once a prisoner. So people have, at times, felt that his music was somehow realer -- more keenly felt, more representative of a primitive community.

As the author says, he and his friends heard in the music "the forgotten pain of dead black men....fantasies of the romantic savage." The music, the 'forgotten pain', and the performance too, were felt by him to be somehow more real, honest, primitive, genuine than the music of Kurt Cobain, who he's comparing Leadbelly to.

He's saying the same thing about the Monkees and John Lennon - some people say John Lennon is more authentic (real, honest, primitive, genuine), but there's nothing specific you can point to that makes the pop music of John Lennon more 'authentic' than the pop music of the Monkees.
posted by Miko at 11:59 AM on April 20, 2007


God I hate hipsters and their opinions on music.
posted by daq at 12:01 PM on April 20, 2007


I just went and looked up 'authenticity' online and at the top of the page was this ad:

* Authenticity For Less
Looking for authenticity? Find exactly what you want today.
www.ebay.com

So there you go, folks. If you're really craving authenticity, you can find it on ebay.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2007


in the underground metal scene, there is an obsession with being genuine and "authentic"

The underground metal scene is a particular case since instead of trying to find beauty they welcomed the ugliness of their music in defiance. This formed from poor unhappy misfits often with little to look forward too. But unlike the impoverished whom hipsters applaud, they received no sympathy and still are scorned for having the gall to actually be angry about their situation.

Because of the culture, authenticity is crucial because the inauthentic are viewed as near treasonous or spies in a sort of underground resistance movement. Since it's all they had, the idea that it could be commodified for the same demographic that was the cause of their strife was perceived as dangerous.

I realize that like any movement past its heyday it's mostly conscious frauds within the scene now so this image may not ring true anymore to most people's observations.
posted by kigpig at 12:20 PM on April 20, 2007


This article says exactly what I've been trying to say about music on Metafilter for the past six or so years. Now maybe I can shut up, and just link to it.
posted by Faze at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2007


"davy, please stop acting like a dickhead.

kthxbye."


There ya go, now jason's_planet just asserting his/her "superiority" to me -- i.e. unlike me s/he doesn't "act like a dickhead." We do it all the time: it's a large part of what goes on on Metafilter (and was going on before I got here in Nov. 2004), and what keeps some threads going for "billions and billions" of comments.

I think we act like this because with each other (as our ability to hang out on the World Wide Web all day shows) we don't have any real social/economic/political power, we of the "marginalized elite." Even History Museum Administrators don't have Zils Beemers with chauffeurs nor the ability to have random curmudgeons summarily shot.
posted by davy at 12:45 PM on April 20, 2007


me: "I too am an Intelligentsian who scoffs"

pyramid termite: "i'm not an intelligentsian, i'm an opinionated bastard"

As an apple is a member of the set Fruit, yes. The difference between us and non-Intelligentsian opinionated bastards is that we (I hope the plural fits) can spell "opinionated bastard" without spell checkers.
posted by davy at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2007


"Jeez, I thought this stuff died with the fucking folkies booing Dylan."

No jonmc, that was when it was busy being born, not dying.


"Ignore all the taxonomy and hipster doubletalk already and just turn up the volume and get me another beer."

But what else will we do to convince ourselves that we're at east as inteligent as the non-marginalized elites that deny us our rightful power, wealth and/or and fame? "Swimming pools and movie stars! SWIMMING POOLS AND MOVIE STARS!"
posted by davy at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2007


Here's what I don't get: why do you have to be (seen as) "primitive" to be (seen as) "Real"? What's wrong with "Tainted Love" or "Cars"?
posted by davy at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2007


davy, you are projecting something fierce. You and I don't see MetaFilter and the interactions here in the same way. I'll thank you to leave me out of your "we;" as far as I can see, you are the only one in this thread to whom that "we" might apply. WTF, marginalized elite? Who's marginalized? What is your point?

Replace "we are" with "I am," and "us" with "me" in your comments and then maybe they'll make some useful sense.

The ad hominem attack I'm not going to touch.
posted by Miko at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2007


SWIMMING POOLS AND MOVIE STARS!

By which of course I mean "Мир! Земля! Хлеб!"
posted by davy at 1:15 PM on April 20, 2007


Take your shoes off. Set a spell.
posted by jonmc at 1:18 PM on April 20, 2007


(Miko, maybe I'm so inept I need smilies; any wonder I'm not rich?)
posted by davy at 1:18 PM on April 20, 2007


Here's what I don't get: why do you have to be (seen as) "primitive" to be (seen as) "Real"?

glorification of the slave morale is thousands of years old (if not more). To be humble and simple is divine to a portion of the privileged class. I think it's like a spiritual thing.
posted by kigpig at 1:20 PM on April 20, 2007


Miko, I'll try putting it this way: do you, as a History Museum Administrator and/or a human being, feel that you have enough power in Society and/or in your own life? Some of us here don't, such as those who're bound to their desk jobs by a need to pay off their student loans and credit cards and keep their health insurance (or even feed their kids) -- let alone those of us who dropped out of 8th grade and are thereby forever debarred from those things. And if your job came with "swimming pools and movie stars" do you think you'd be as likely to notice some twerp's Mefi comments?
posted by davy at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2007


kigpig, you nailed it: myth of the noble savage.
posted by Miko at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2007


But it's not a myth! I really am a savage noble! ;-)
posted by davy at 1:35 PM on April 20, 2007


Hey, I have a really good time when I perform music for people, and when I write songs I write them to make myself happy, first and foremost. So am I not a musician now, because I'm sincere?
posted by davejay at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2007


I'm going to repeat what I wrote in the "Thou Shalt Always Kill" thread...

The Monkees... just a band.
The Boston Pops... just a band.
Siouxie and the Banshees... just a band.
The Strawberry Alarm Clock... just a band.
Spike Jones and his City Slickers... just a band.
Chicago, Boston, Black Oak Arkansas, Kansas, Alabama and Asia... just bands (unless you're taking a geography test).
The Dave Matthews Band... just a band.
Paul Shafer and the CBS Orchestra... just a band.
Blood Sweat and Tears, Earth Wind and Fire, Crosby Stills Nash and Young... just bands, three, I think.
The Go Gos... just a band.
Kay Kaiser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge... just a band.
The Four Freshmen... just a band.
the harvey girls... GODS!!!!
posted by wendell at 2:03 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, I have a really good time when I perform music for people, and when I write songs I write them to make myself happy, first and foremost. So am I not a musician now, because I'm sincere?

Real musicians write songs to appease the Great Lord Satan. Or else to meet girls.
posted by ND¢ at 2:05 PM on April 20, 2007


Yeesh. Do you have any right to pry into my personal life? Do I need to justify myself to you? Does this have anything to do with the discussion? Are you just picking a fight?

No, no, no, and yes.

I love my job. It's a good one. I worked my ass off through a long education and a lot of dues-paying jobs, most of the time working a second job to make ends meet, so I could get to the point where my employment puts me in charge of my own time. I can structure my own day. My job's going very well, and I'm good at it. I'm a happy person with a life I find very satisfying. I'm not sure why you felt you needed to know that. It certainly has nothing to do with what I'm saying here.

You shouldn't assume that your reasons for using MetaFilter, or your habits or personal inclinations, are typical of all others here. There are a lot of different kinds of people here who use MetaFilter in different ways and for different reasons.

I assure you I am not part of your "we." I don't fall into your mental mold of what someone who comments on the internet is supposed to be like, look like, or act like. I'm sorry if you feel powerless and unhappy. But you can't assume the rest of us do, and you must recognize that impugning someone's motivations is not an an argument. And you don't need the details of anyone else's life to judge the merits of their arguments.

Anyway, all that hasn't got much to do with authenticity in music -- unless you're in the midst of writing some authentic blues. Do you have a point, other than the self-defense of suggesting that people who disagree with you are doing so because they need to feel superior?
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2007


Miko, I'll try putting it this way: do you, as a History Museum Administrator and/or a human being, feel that you have enough power in Society and/or in your own life?

did it ever once occur to you that not everybody wants a lot of power?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:17 PM on April 20, 2007


Miko, either I'm not putting it right or you're not getting it. Whatever. Мир!
posted by davy at 2:17 PM on April 20, 2007


Oh, I get it loud and clear.
posted by Miko at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2007


Well duh. Some old fogey pop music scholars started saying so about 20 years ago and it's been the main theme of the enterprise since.
posted by spitbull at 3:06 PM on April 20, 2007


Miko: I think it is the same definition of authenticy, which is about the idea of realness. Leadbelly's perceived 'realness' partially stemmed from the fact that he was poor, black, once a prisoner. So people have, at times, felt that his music was somehow realer -- more keenly felt, more representative of a primitive community.

As the author says, he and his friends heard in the music "the forgotten pain of dead black men....fantasies of the romantic savage." The music, the 'forgotten pain', and the performance too, were felt by him to be somehow more real, honest, primitive, genuine than the music of Kurt Cobain, who he's comparing Leadbelly to.

He's saying the same thing about the Monkees and John Lennon - some people say John Lennon is more authentic (real, honest, primitive, genuine), but there's nothing specific you can point to that makes the pop music of John Lennon more 'authentic' than the pop music of the Monkees.


I think I see what you're getting at, and I don't disagree that there's a connection between the two perceptions- but it still doesn't seem like exactly the same definition to me, in that Leadbelly's realness and authenticity was believed to have come from the fact he was a poor ex-convict playing what his audience believed was genuine black music. This led many people to jump automatically to the belief that his music was "real", a pure and authentic emotional expression. John Lennon, meanwhile, was viewed as authentic essentially because people simply perceived those qualities to be in his music. Though it's perhaps a subtle difference, and there is a relation between them, I don't think it's really the same idea of authenticity in both cases.

On the Lennon thing, I wouldn't agree that there's nothing you can point to that makes him more authentic than the Monkees- I think Lennon's motives were fairly different from those of the Monkees, and in a way that could be said to be more "authentic". Of course, trying to figure out what an artist was thinking is never something that can be done with any real certainty, but I think it's at least reasonable to assume that "Imagine", for example, was an expression of Lennon's own personal feelings and deeply held beliefs. The Monkees, meanwhile, were the product of a television producer who wanted to cash in on Beatlemania by creating a look-a-like group. At least at the beginning (I understand this situation changed somewhat later on), there wasn't much room for personal artistic expression on anyone's part there- the point was to create an appealing commercial product, and the songs had to be created in accordance with that. Lennon had no such restrictions, and, at least by my impression, wrote songs that reflected his own personal beliefs and feelings without much concern for anyone else's opinion of them. In this respect, Lennon strikes me as being distinctly different from the Monkees, and more "authentic" by my definition of it.

Now, all of this doesn't mean Lennon is actually better than the Monkees or vice versa(I don't really have an opinion on that specific example)- but I would say that a difference exists. I think I have rather different tastes than he does, but psmealey's description of In My Room is one of the most perfect descriptions of what I think of as authenticity and why I view it as a positive thing that I've heard. The very best music, from my experience, does contain this element of authenticity or sincerity or whatever you want to call it, though of course there's nothing that stops an artist from being both completely sincere and genuine and wretchedly bad, and there are many examples of such.

kigpig: I'd say that's a pretty accurate assessment of the particular segment of the underground metal scene I was talking about, yeah, though I don't know that I'd entirely agree about the fraud thing. One other aspect of it is that the underground metal scene strikes me having a very capital-R Romantic worldview in a lot of ways, and a lot of our concepts of authenticity can be traced back to the Romantics. So it's not that surprising that they would latch onto the whole "trueness" thing as fiercely as they did- along with everything else you said, it came with the territory, in a sense.
posted by a louis wain cat at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2007


But pyramid termite, we all do.

And Miko, there's nothing personal in this; you're being defensive. I'm happy for you though that you've Made It so well. Of course that means that come the revolution the museum's custodian might have to take you into custody! :-)
posted by davy at 3:51 PM on April 20, 2007


Yeah, and it's in the same drawer with "purity," another bullshit concept...Fortunately, when it expresses itself artistically it has no worse results than posturing. In the real world it can result in genocide.

To paraphrase Language Hat, "Do you know who else cared about whether music was 'authentic' enough? That's right..."

But seriously, I can't wait for the opportunity to explain at length to some hipster that "keeping it real" is exactly the same as Nazi Fascism.
posted by straight at 3:51 PM on April 20, 2007


Anyway. Why are WE sitting HERE saying that the concept of "authenticity" (and perhaps "sincerity") in music is bunk? What would Derrida say, or Foucault, or Johnny Hart?
posted by davy at 3:56 PM on April 20, 2007


What would Derrida say, or Foucault, or Johnny Hart?

Derrida and Foucauly would say something in French and Johnny Hart would carve heiroglyphics on a stone tablet, I imagine.
posted by jonmc at 4:05 PM on April 20, 2007


But pyramid termite, we all do.

davy, this is one of those things where you think you're telling us about life, but you're really telling us about yourself

And Miko, there's nothing personal in this; you're being defensive.

you're attacking her ... quite unreasonably

I'm happy for you though that you've Made It so well.

awww, he's jeawous ...

Of course that means that come the revolution the museum's custodian might have to take you into custody! :-)

fwap, fwap, fwap, fwap ...

Why are WE sitting HERE saying that the concept of "authenticity" (and perhaps "sincerity") in music is bunk?

me and miko are sitting here because it was interesting to talk about ... you're sitting here because you don't have a life and want to suffer ...

What would Derrida say

he'd write an essentially incomprehensible 20,000 word essay explaining "i want to be me" by the monkees

or Foucault,

"consider my cock as a text"

or Johnny Hart?

panel 1) fat chick approaches the snake with a club, who happens to be lying on a drum kit

panel 2) POW! BAM! BAM! BAM!

panel 3) beatnikish guy in a beret approaches fat chick with a contract, with three insects following ... "that was great", he says, "how'd you like to become a beetle?"

panel 4) the battered snake lifts his head and says, "i bet anything i'm going to hate touring with these guys"
posted by pyramid termite at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


All right, I'm coming into this a hundred comments too late, but, two points:
1. I agree with most of you in your dismissal of the original article.
2, Regarding Midnight Creeper's comment about Holden Caulfield's commenting that everything was "fake." Salinger, through the voice of a relatively inarticulate protagonist, actually said some very salient things about music in the two pages or so in which he attends a club and listens to a pianist. He recognizes the talent he hears, but also recognizes that the musician puts in a bunch of arpeggios and frills just to impress the listeners.
In this passage, Salinger addresses the sadness inherent in the process of playing music for audience approval and money...which are things which undermine the quality of authenticity, a quality I try to maintain in my music while still striving for a connection with the audience by playing something which I feel they want to hear. It's a tightrope.
posted by kozad at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2007


I never thought of "Last Train to Clarksville" that way, pyramid termite, that's very interesting...I always thought it was a "I'm leaving home to make my fortune" kind of thing, interesting to think about it in it's social context.
posted by Snyder at 4:49 PM on April 20, 2007


One of my favorite quotes (concerning performance) of all time comes from George Burns:

"Sincerity: if you can fake that, you've got it made."

This one ain't bad either:

"If it's a good script I'll do it. And if it's a bad script, and they pay me enough, I'll do it"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:57 PM on April 20, 2007


In this passage, Salinger addresses the sadness inherent in the process of playing music for audience approval and money...which are things which undermine the quality of authenticity, a quality I try to maintain in my music while still striving for a connection with the audience by playing something which I feel they want to hear. It's a tightrope.

Music is a form of communication. Like writing a book, having a conversation, giving public speeches, getting a message across is a perfectly reasonable approach. The idea that playing something that the audience connects to causes loss of authenticity is just a bit short of saying the audience is too dumb to understand the musician. Which could be true but could and often is actually just arrogant.

This doesn't apply to the money aspect, unless of course the message was that money rules everything I suppose.
posted by kigpig at 5:00 PM on April 20, 2007


But, I should add, kigpig, that I recognize that part of my function as a musician is to give pleasure to the audience; and forcing my so-called "authenticity" or "perverse originality" upon the audience might be determining that my agenda is superior to my role. And I am one piano player in a room of one hundred people. Who or what is most important? I go with the mob, and throw in a few "outside" riffs now and then for my pleasure, and the pleasure of the few folks who appreciate weirdness. Even in wedding bands, you see the same phenomenon at play.
posted by kozad at 8:05 PM on April 20, 2007


a louis wain cat: trying to figure out what an artist was thinking is never something that can be done with any real certainty

I think that's at the crux of what I was trying to express earlier upthread -- that all we can talk about is our perceptions of musicians, that what we call authenticity doesn't lie in the music itself, but in how listeners perceive it. We can presume John Lennon's music was more honest or heartfelt than the Monkees, and we can use what we know about their backgrounds to inform our sense of where they're coming from, but ultimately 'authenticity' is the word we use to describe how believable, honest, or sincere we think their expressions are. The thing is that that perception is in the listener, not in the artist.

I've written a lot of songs, and some of them are crap, many probably worse than the Monkee's worst songs. But someone wrote all of their songs with a desire to make music. Someone sat up late at night scribbing by a piano or guitar to wrestle words into the song structure. Someone scrapped ideas and started over. They may have worked a shorter time or a longer time, they may have set low goals (pleasing to the ear, poppy, makes money) or higher goals (challenge people to imagine there's no religious reward after life on earth; present new sounds to people by cutting up tape and remixing it), but they all were engaged in a music making process which is as authentic as anyone else's. The end result might be something that really pleases us and achieves wide acclaim, or something forgettable. But musicians really are all equal in that they use music to communicate and try to make a living, or at least a rewarding pastime, of it.

Applying a definition of authenticity that means 'honest, completely noncommercial, deeply heartfelt and personal and true' would logically result in a situation where a musician who sits in his or her rooms, writing painfully personal, daring, idiosyncratic songs based on their own hardships or life experiences, and never ever playing them for anyone would be the most authentic. That would be complete authenticity. But terrible musicianship. I'm saying that the idea that you can read a musician's or songwriter's mind to tell how credible or heartfelt or earned his or her expressions are isn't something that's possible. Authenticity is just a belief about someone's 'realness' or sincerity that an audience member has.

and lol pyramid termite
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2007


drezdn---
apologies for my pedantry, but it was Plato, not Aristotle, who asserted that "the (un)examined life is not worth living."
posted by Dizzy at 8:14 PM on April 21, 2007


Well, actually it was Socrates as quoted/invented by Plato, if you want to be really pedantic. And what he was said to have said was "ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthrôpôi," but let's not go there.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on April 22, 2007


"ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthrôpôi,"

yeah, just another dead white male talking about hos
posted by pyramid termite at 6:06 AM on April 22, 2007


You are correct, of course. Damn you.
(Thought I could fudge it with "asserted", but nooooo...)
posted by Dizzy at 6:51 AM on April 22, 2007


Hi to everyone. I'm one of the authors of the book being reviewed in the article, so just wanted to make a couple of quick comments.

Firstly, good to see such an very interesting discussion here, kicked off by the New Statesman review. It is an intriguing review, but expresses Jeff Sharlet's views, which don't always completely represent our book. In particular we are not arguing for or against authenticity, merely trying to understand it (for instance I certainly wouldn't say that we were 'embracing inauthenticity as the essence of popular music'). I'd encourage anyone interested in this stuff to judge us on the book, not the review. We also have a blog at fakingit.typepad.com, where we talk about some of this stuff.

Secondly, how to define authenticity? (subject of many comments above). In our book we start from the observation that many people define authentic in opposition to what they see as 'fake'. We go on to talk about three distinct (but related) types of authenticity:

Representational authenticity: which refers to the question, is an artist what they claim to be (as Milli Vanilli weren't when they claimed to have sung on their records)?

Personal authenticity: sincerity, honesty, maybe autobiography and originality but not necessarily - primarily, this is about whether you feel you get to know the 'real artist' through their music.

Cultural authenticity: music that is believed to be a true record of a culture, as people often believe folk, blues, certain kinds of world music to be.

I think some of the comments mix together ideas of cultural and personal authenticity, whereas they raise rather different questions.

As I said, we're not saying authenticity is 'good' or 'bad' in the book, but it's certainly an interesting subject to explore and to try to understand how it has affected the way we listen to and create music.
posted by Hugh Barker at 2:37 AM on April 25, 2007


Damn, Hugh, now I'm gonna have to go out and buy the book!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 AM on April 25, 2007


Well, I'm not promising that some of it might not irritate you in other ways... Just don't want people leaping to conclusions about what's in the book based on that review.

Incidentally, someone earlier was talking about how Leadbelly, Lennon and the Monkees all seem to represent different kinds of authenticity. Well, that's a pretty big bit of our argument, that people have sought all kinds of different things under the label 'authenticity', and that has helped shape the story of popular music in different ways.

The Monkees just wanted to be a 'real band', not a 'fake band', as they were judging themselves inauthentic in comparison to bands like the Beatles. Lennon, who was part of a 'real band' got frustrated and wanted to be more personally authentic, thus the soul-bearing and the increasing dollops of autobiographical lyrics. Whereas people look to Leadbelly as an icon of cultural authenticity, seeing him as part of a 'pure' tradition of black music (a tradition which was in fact, like most musical traditions, much less pure than it was imagined to be).

So the the idea of authenticity applied to each of these is indeed rather different.
posted by Hugh Barker at 6:14 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting incidentally to see the effect a sub-editor's headline has on an article. Sharlet slightly twists our point by saying that we are 'embracing inauthenticity', (I'd rather say we are questioning value judgments based on authenticity or inauthenticity) - so the headline writer translates this as 'all pop musicians are fakes' which is miles away from what we would say.

And, as one of the first posters here points out, the line "We consider the 'primitive' music of blues singers such as Leadbelly to be more authentic than that of the Monkees." is so bleeding obvious as to be meaningless - I mean the interesting thing for me about the Monkees is the way in which even the band saw themselves as being inauthentic.

Anyhow, I'll stop banging on about it...
posted by Hugh Barker at 8:32 AM on April 25, 2007


Thanks for the correction Dizzy.
posted by drezdn at 8:34 AM on April 25, 2007


Turns out my correction was incorrect, but l-hat corrected it.
posted by Dizzy at 9:16 AM on April 25, 2007


Thanks for the correction of your correction then...

(Though I would argue you were right in the first place, considering the whole we only "know" what Socrates said because of Plato thing)
posted by drezdn at 9:23 AM on April 25, 2007


(Never disagree with l-hat. Never.)
posted by Dizzy at 9:38 AM on April 25, 2007


Hey, thanks for dropping by, Hugh! And the book does sound very interesting.

Turns out my correction was incorrect, but l-hat corrected it.


I wasn't "correcting" so much as "out-pedanting"; there's little I like so much as competitive pedantry (aka "no, I believe you'll find you can fit a few more angels on the underside of the pinhead"). It's certainly true that we only "know" what Socrates said because of Plato (give or take some sidelights thrown by Xenophon and Aristophanes). But I do like the whole "Never disagree with l-hat" thing. Can we get that put in the guidelines?
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2007


Hey, thanks for dropping by, Hugh!

A pleasure, lots of interesting things to read here.

I might join in the pedantry another time as that's one of my other hobbies.
posted by Hugh Barker at 1:29 PM on April 25, 2007


I'll submit it to the Council Of Smart Really People at the next Academics Anonymous meeting, l-hat.
posted by Dizzy at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2007


I'll submit it to the Council Of Smart Really People at the next Academics Anonymous meeting

Membership in, or even attending meetings of non-Cake organizations of any kind is a very serious matter, comrade Dizzy. I feel copmpelled to inform you that The Cake Leader himself has taken a personal interest in your case.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:19 PM on April 25, 2007


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