Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music

Overview

Musicians strive to “keep it real”; listeners condemn “fakes”; ... but does great music really need to be authentic?
Did Elvis sing from the heart, or was he just acting? Were the Sex Pistols more real than disco? Why do so many musicians base their approach on being authentic, and why do music buffs fall for it every time? By investigating this obsession in the last century through the stories of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jimmie Rodgers, Donna Summer, Leadbelly, Neil Young, ...

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Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music

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Overview

Musicians strive to “keep it real”; listeners condemn “fakes”; ... but does great music really need to be authentic?
Did Elvis sing from the heart, or was he just acting? Were the Sex Pistols more real than disco? Why do so many musicians base their approach on being authentic, and why do music buffs fall for it every time? By investigating this obsession in the last century through the stories of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jimmie Rodgers, Donna Summer, Leadbelly, Neil Young, Moby, and others, Faking It rethinks what makes popular music work. Along the way, the authors discuss the segregation of music in the South, investigate the predominance of self-absorption in modern pop, reassess the rebellious ridiculousness of rockabilly and disco, and delineate how the quest for authenticity has not only made some music great and some music terrible but also shaped in a fundamental way the development of popular music in our time.

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Editorial Reviews

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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
One-time musician and songwriter Barker and Taylor (I Was Born a Slave) try to uncover the elusive sense of authenticity, honesty, and realness in American popular music. In their longest and most thoughtful chapter, they deal with the interplay of race and authenticity as exemplified by Mississippi John Hurt's rise to fame during the folk-blues boom of the 1960s. They then blast rock'n'roll for its inauthenticity, glorify Neil Young's alcohol-fueled "Tonight's the Night," opine on the cultural appropriation of world music by Ry Cooder with the Buena Vista Social Club, and more. Despite their obvious grasp of American popular music, the authors present a confused, forced, and misguided thesis, never defining authenticity and vacillating between the perspectives of the artist and the listener. They also underplay the impact of social climate and individual preferences on their metaphysical concept of realness. At one point, they admit that the importance of authenticity for them has diminished as they've aged, and this raises the question of their root motivation here. As most musicians realize, it might just be possible to get satisfaction from the passion inherent in all types of music rather than create neat, exclusive boxes of good and bad genres. Not recommended.
—Dave Szatmary
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393060782
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/19/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 976,845
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Hugh Barker, formerly a musician and songwriter, works in publishing in London.

Yuval Taylor, senior editor at Chicago Review Press, is the coauthor of Faking It and the editor of I Was Born a Slave. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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