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Comment: Copyright 2007, hardcover with dust jacket. All pages are clean.
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Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music Hardcover – February 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barker and Taylor's exploration of the idea of authenticity in modern music takes them from the falsely labeled "pure" and "primitive" style of Leadbelly to the first truly "autobiographical song" (Jimmie Rodger's version of "TB Blues"), the disintegration of the Monkees and Neil Young's "Drugged-out, driven, and death soaked" album Tonight's the Night—what the authors believe to be the most "honest" rock record of all time. Strangely, the book does not include a discussion of hip-hop, a surprising omission given the attention paid to other aspects of black music and the genre's particular concern with the book's themes. By the end, Barker (a musician and songwriter) and Taylor (I Was Born a Slave) find the distinction between real and fake "[b]reaking down and becoming increasingly meaningless." It becomes clear that even seemingly obvious examples of authentic and inauthentic defy easy categorization when scrutinized. After all, is disco's well-intentioned alternate reality any less "real" than the violent, "mocking pretenses" of the Sex Pistols? Though the book's final conclusions are not revelatory, it offers an intriguing take on the development of popular music. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Searching for "authenticity" in a music intended for broad commercial success may seem an odd undertaking, but Barker and Taylor are hardly the first to try. What was more authentic, the Sex Pistols or disco? Setting aside that so asking demonstrates a misunderstanding of what Malcolm McLaren and his hirees were up to, that simple question expresses the authors' MO. Similar queries animate the discussion and help make a framework within which to consider desegregation in the American South and other historical matters. Perhaps the quintessential chapter is "Heartbreak Hotel: The Art and Artifice of Elvis Presley." Few other pop stars have so thoroughly covered the gamut from the plausible authenticity of Presley's musical roots to the obvious, saccharine artifice of the King's movies. Other chapters ponder Neil Young (a rocker given to concerns about authenticity and legitimacy, sometimes too much so), Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Moby, and Donna Summer. With plenty of interesting and contentious assertions to stimulate even casual readers, this is a heck of an argument starter. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (February 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060782
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting book for anyone who has grown up paying even a little attention to the disputes about "authenticity" in popular music over generations. I am a classical musician and while the issues are hardly the same in that world, I can understand the notions of what these folks are struggling over and arguing about.

The authors begin with Kurt Cobain singing a Leadbelly song on MTV unplugged. His manner of singing the song, his complaints about being "real" and even his suicide act as a springboard for the whole book. We learn more about Leadbelly and his promoter, John Lomax, and where they actually fit into the music world of their time versus what white people believed about their heritage. John Hurt, who was a legend as an old man among the sixties folk singers. Yet, in his youth he was not nearly as popular nor as "authentic" as the sixties idolizers would have had the public believe.

It turns out that the Black public preferred Jazz and its sophistications to the blues and rural music that Leadbelly, Hurt and others performed. Nor was it as rooted in the slave past as the traditions believed. There was a lot of cross between rural White music and the rural Black music. We also see this in Jazz. It was only later that the schism between what is authentically "Black" or "White" became a fundamental issue, and its conclusions are largely wrong.

We get to compare the truly personal music of Jimmie Rodgers and his "T.B. Blues" against other music of its time and the tradition of autobiographical music. It is not as deep, rich, or lengthy tradition as one might expect. There is a lot of "character" biography, but not deeply personal stuff such as Rodgers singing about the tuberculosis that was killing him.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Kyle Zwarich on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you can sustain your interest through the first few chapters, the book succeeds at presenting equal arguments for and against the title "authenticity" in music. The authors avoid "name-dropping" in favor of "situation-dropping," explaining in length the pretexts that surround some of the biggest artists in music. I felt that they managed to present the paradoxical subject with a good personal distance; there were only small portions that were editorialized.

This isn't a guidebook on how to "be real," nor a Rolling Stone-esque exposé on (Your Favorite Artist), but serves more like a history of American music with an industry-related context. It explains personal and professional strategies that swayed particular musicians and bands into fakery or reality, and explores those notions carefully.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is very insightful, some chapters more so than others. As a participant in the folk revolution in the first half of the 1960s, the chapter on "Mississippi" John Hurt particularly resonated with me. However, I can readily see how other chapters would affect readers who came of age in other musical periods.

My only problem is definitional; the authors were too Manichean about authenticity versus the lack thereof. As I see it, while a second edition of Moby Dick may lack the authenticity of the first, it is nevertheless a desirable artifact. In other words, such other factors as age and popularity (i.e., staying power) may compensate for missing authenticity. Accordingly, while the authors would classify as "inauthentic folk music" such songs as Early Morning Rain and City of New Orleans, I would be a less restrictive; they are destined to join such equally inauthentic folk songs as Camptown Races and This Land Is Your Land in the great American folk canon.

Similarly, the authors define as "authentic" a song by Kurt Cobain and an album by Neil Young that were each recorded in one take and display all kind of [authentic] imperfections and angst. However, I question whether that makes them more authentic than a perfect opus by Pink Floyd or Miles Davis, or for that matter, Sinatra's perfect cover of I've Got You Under My Skin, which reportedly took over 30 takes to complete. And, if it is angst that confers authenticity, then that goofy pop tune, It Never Rains In California, takes the cake ("Out of work, out of bread, out of self-respect, I'm out of my head, I'm under-loved and underfed, I want to go hoooome").

Buy the book; just pretend that its title is Random Thoughts On Post-60s Music; you'll enjoy it and it will make you think.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eric Firth on April 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Most books about music are narrative and follow the thread of a band or music movements arc. Either that or you follow a critics taste. That is fine, however those method doesn't end up telling you much but opinions and facts. They can be entertaining but they don't enlighten. This is a rare book about music that does. It helps you see your own taste differently. It helps show you how your opinions that you have about acts or subjects weren't created in a vacuum. It changes the way you feel about the way you feel about music, which is an amazing accomplishment.

My only hope is that they make good on the idea of an exploration of authenticity in hip hop.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth on September 19, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was written by two rock critics, one British, one American. Like a lot of critics, they're self-conscious about not making artistic contributions of their own, and justify their existence by denigrating those who've become successful - the more successful, the more they're put down. Another technique is to present facts and contradictions to the public story (like - we're the real insiders!). There were quite a few inaccuracies in the book, and, in some places, they give reasons for their negativity and later use opposite arguments for further criticism.(!) I think a lot of celebrity bios might actually give more perspective.
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