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Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music Hardcover – February 17, 2007
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
I would love for these writers to author a "realness" book focusing on R&B and hip hop because I feel that those genres specifically offer PLENTY of case studies and examples for a general thesis.
All in all, read this book. It's great.