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.)
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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 TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved