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Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music

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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 ot 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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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 ot 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.

30 review for Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    1. Nirvana, Leadbelly and the allure of the primeval: In which our authors restate arguments which have now become familiar, having been thoroughly presented in three or four books before. Which is that folk music is not pure, it's miscegenated, for every John Henry you got from a sharecropper on your 1937 field trip in Missouri you got 6 Bing Crosby or Jimmie Rodgers songs. John Lomax again gets a good kicking for his treatment of Leadbelly. Quite rightly so. (The authors use the previous books 1. Nirvana, Leadbelly and the allure of the primeval: In which our authors restate arguments which have now become familiar, having been thoroughly presented in three or four books before. Which is that folk music is not pure, it's miscegenated, for every John Henry you got from a sharecropper on your 1937 field trip in Missouri you got 6 Bing Crosby or Jimmie Rodgers songs. John Lomax again gets a good kicking for his treatment of Leadbelly. Quite rightly so. (The authors use the previous books with this argument to quote from, they aren't trying to claim it as their own). 2. Nobody's Dirty Business - Folk, Blues and the segregation of Southern music. Again, familiar stuff (see Elijah Wald on Robert Johnson, Benjamin Filene, etc). But anyway, worth saying again : that in the segregated South, possibly the only thing that WASN'T segregated was music - blacks and whites played each others' stuff with relish and abandon, whites sang the blues and played jazz, and blacks - like Mississippi John Hurt - recorded songs which previously whites had mostly recorded (John Henry, Frankie and Johnny, etc). Then in came Ralph Peer - genius businessman - who invented the whole notion of recording the blues and hillbilly music - and he enforced a strict apartheid. Which gave succeeding generations a distorted view. The purist (Lomaxian) view is that only music *uncontaminated* by exposure to the other race is *real* blues, or *real* country. Hence Lomax's desire to record in prisons like Angola where blacks had lived apart from whites for years (except the guards). A completely wrong notion, which many people, including those who passionately cared for the various genres of American music, have shared. Check out the huge arguments about the white contribution to jazz, for instance. 3. TB Blues - The story of autobiographical song. Exploration of the idea that it's more authentic to sing about yourself. So from Jimmie Rodgers to John Lennon and onwards. Answers the question - why didn't blind blues singers sing songs about being blind? I confess I had never thought about that before now. 4. Heartbreak Hotel - the art and artifice of Elvis Presley. This is about how very weird he was. "Perhaps Elvis's peculiarities no longer sound like affectations because we've become so familiar with them... but compared to the singing of Hank Snow, Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra, Elvis sounded completely crazy. He sounded evil." Idea of Elvis as a completely artificial construct. 5. Sugar Sugar : Faking it in the age of Singer Songwriters. All about the Monkees trying to wrest control of themselves from their creators (they wanted to play on their own records & maybe write some songs too). The Monkees were created as a canny gap-in-the-market response to the Beatles' casting off of their moptop selves (see cover of Sgt Pepper) and this leads the authors to compare John Lennon with Mike Nesmith, a ludicrous notion if ever there was one. Come on, guys!Lennon's attempts to write autobiographical songs led him up some blind alleys (is screaming "Mama don't go, daddy come home" more authentic than screaming "well shake it up baby now, twist and shout"? - answers on a postcard please. By now I'm beginning to get the notion that all this chat about authenticity is pointless. 6. Tonight's the Night - Neil Young and being even yet more real. The authors make a lot of good points in all of this, but they do labour their insights just a little too much. And there's a sprinkling of ill-phrased howlers too - e.g. p 203 (we're talking about the early 70s here) "the age of the three-minute single was effectively over, supplanted by album-oriented rock". I can't see that being even slightly true any which way you look at it. Ask any T Rex, Donny Osmond or Jackson Five fan. Comparison of Neil Young and Billy Joel. One was real, the other was completely made up. Neil Young's frequently self-destructive moves to keep it real (ending up with his record company suing him for making records that didn't sound like Neil Young! I love that, don't you?) 7. Love to Love you Baby : Disco and the mechanization of music. Apparently some people think disco was a low point. They can't have heard George McCrae doing Rock Your baby (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSQo7B...) 8. Public Image : Punk's Paradoxes of Authenticity. Possibly the best chapter, trying to unravel the complexities of those three-chord wonders whose poster boy was Sid Vicious performing My Way. Was the anyone-can-do-it anti-mystique make-it-real aesthetic able to express anything apart from a list of things they didn't like because they were FAKE? Were all the punks just the electric three-minute working class version of Holden Caulfield? The authors show the artistic paralysis of John Lydon after the Pistols, making me wonder if there's any mileage in comparing the purists of any movement, say musical, artistic, political or religious. 9. Y Tu, Que Has Hecho? - The recreation of cultural authenticity. Ry cooder and the ubiquitous Buena Vista Social Club, and the quest for authenticity which is the raison d'etre of the "world music" genre (so say the authors, I'm not so sure. I listen to foreign stuff because it's different, not because it's not fake. As far as I know, the African bands I hear might be the Nigerian version of the Monkees, I wouldn't know). 10. Play - Moby, the KLF and the Ongoing Quest. Well by now I was a bit bored to tell you the truth. But hey, these ideas are well worth booting around the football pitch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1pv2B...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Individualfrog

    As a teenager in the post-Nirvana 90s, I was an eye-witness to the strangling authenticity-above-all ethos of "alternative" music. "We dress this way because it's how we feel," said whatever amazing-looking, grunge-chic band member or skater kid on TV, "don't be what other people want you to be, be yourself!" This was the "positive" message constantly rammed down our throats in those days: be yourself, unless "yourself" liked to wear the wrong thing, listen to the wrong music, or, especially, if As a teenager in the post-Nirvana 90s, I was an eye-witness to the strangling authenticity-above-all ethos of "alternative" music. "We dress this way because it's how we feel," said whatever amazing-looking, grunge-chic band member or skater kid on TV, "don't be what other people want you to be, be yourself!" This was the "positive" message constantly rammed down our throats in those days: be yourself, unless "yourself" liked to wear the wrong thing, listen to the wrong music, or, especially, if "yourself" didn't agree with the "be yourself" message. "Poseur" was a favorite insult during my high-school days--God forbid a teenager might want to try something new. I sometimes feel like I've spent my life trying to get out of the impossible labyrinth of this ethos. This book, about the "quest for authenticity" in its most natural habitat, the music scene, opens with the death of Kurt Cobain, a tireless promoter of the very catchphrases that were tearing him up inside. The subject matter is interesting/infuriating, but the authors' use of it is confusing and strangely banal. They come up to the point of demolishing the entire idea of "authenticity" altogether, but can't seem to bring themselves to seal the deal, because they still want to say that Neil Young's 70s albums are more "real" than Trans. They show how music has always been syncretic, and black and white musicians (before the segregation imposed by record companies) played the same repertoire, but they still imply that Moby and Paul Simon are cultural imperialists. They trace the genesis and eventual ubiquity of the autobiographical song--mostly unknown before the 20th Century--but put this research to use only to mock Tori Amos and other "confessional" songwriters that they dislike. They lay out a case (without quite coming out and saying it) that "world music" notions of authenticity are essentially racist, but still call commercial American releases like Buena Vista Social Club "watered down". They love to point out that what white, rock-ish audiences consider authentic-sounding are in fact unpopular with the communities that birthed them--a strange "gotcha" that simply substitutes one arbitrary authenticity criterion for another. It's strange to read these two authors building up all this evidence to undermine the entire edifice of music criticism today--as they point out, authenticity is still something by which music of any kind is judged--but refuse to follow through with it, so they can still criticize the artists they dislike (Europop, Yes, Fatboy Slim) with it. In any book on popular music, I end up feeling that some band I care about has been neglected--I would love to see The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in here, for example. I suppose I can accept their begging off the topic of hip-hop as being too complicated to fit into this book--it probably does deserve its own volume. But I really do think that the chapter which contrasts the "real" Neil Young to the "fake" Billy Joel would have been much more interesting if they had substituted David Bowie for the latter. The fact that Joel is relatively critically un-acclaimed stacks the deck; Bowie, both beloved and widely considered "fake", complicates their whole thesis. Surely in a book about authenticity in rock'n'roll, Bowie deserves a place, if only to break down why on earth we call him, but not Joey Ramone, inauthentic. In the most intriguing moments of the book, by breaking down the concept of authenticity, the authors end up chipping away at the very concept of the continuous self. The imperative to "keep it real" and "be yourself" has always been impossible. How can one be authentic if one is continually changing, moment to moment? All of us, not just the miserably pigeonholed stars they highlight (Cobain, Donna Summer, John Lydon, etc.) are to some degree trapped within our own identities. The insistence on authenticity is essentially an insistence on an illusory stability in a world of flux. To their credit, the authors recognize this. They quote Kafka: "I have nothing in common with myself." With the early discussion of acoustic blues beloved of white record collectors, I was reminded of Steve Buscemi's 78-collecting character's lament in Ghost World: "I hate my interests!" I would have liked this book to go further along this path, but perhaps it ends up too deep into philosophy, and strays too far from the pop-music topic that they started from. But maybe someday we'll find a way to let ourselves, and each other, change our minds, adopt new mindsets, try different styles, as unhesitatingly and smoothly as we change our moods.

  3. 4 out of 5

    matt

    An absolutely fascinating and engrossing look at the idea of "authenticity" of popular music a topic that seems more and more absurd upon inspection.Barker and Taylor's investigations into the myth-making of early Blues producers and earnest folkies bring a much needed dose of perspective to those who yearn for a more idealized past. Even more interesting was his chapter on the Buena Vista Social Club and the conotations of the classification of "world" music. The chapter on Punk failed to menti An absolutely fascinating and engrossing look at the idea of "authenticity" of popular music a topic that seems more and more absurd upon inspection.Barker and Taylor's investigations into the myth-making of early Blues producers and earnest folkies bring a much needed dose of perspective to those who yearn for a more idealized past. Even more interesting was his chapter on the Buena Vista Social Club and the conotations of the classification of "world" music. The chapter on Punk failed to mention (a pretty sizable oversight) anything regarding the legitimacy or authenticity that comes with the means of production to which the music is delievered which has spawned the major/indie debate that has raged (in some wimpy, not violent circles) since the movement began. I also found myself wishing they'd get into the semiotics of album covers, presentation of group, etc. One chapter here draws a loose comparison between Neil Young and Billy Joel. One can easily argue that just by looking at their demeanor and how they dress one could make assumptions about who is being "more authentic." "Faking it" ends rather meagerly calling out for a truce- that people with "rockist" tendencies should perhaps listen with open ears. I couldn't agree more although I was hoping for something a little more profound besides "sometimes we listen to Abba" from two guys who went to some painstankingly long depths to make a convincing agrument.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lindy

    I wanted to like this book because I think it's a fascinating topic. Unfortunately my expectations were not met. First of all, I agree with almost everything in individualfrog's review. Second, it's painfully obvious that the authors' musical taste doesn't deviate more than two degrees from the Beatles. Third, the chapters in the book did not cohere; I felt like I was reading a series of Medium essays or something. On the plus side, the book is surprisingly easy to read and chapters or shorter exc I wanted to like this book because I think it's a fascinating topic. Unfortunately my expectations were not met. First of all, I agree with almost everything in individualfrog's review. Second, it's painfully obvious that the authors' musical taste doesn't deviate more than two degrees from the Beatles. Third, the chapters in the book did not cohere; I felt like I was reading a series of Medium essays or something. On the plus side, the book is surprisingly easy to read and chapters or shorter excerpts could be useful in helping to springboard a discussion.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    A critical look at not just the concept of authenticity and its relevance for music, but also the evolution of genre classifications in general. It's an odd reading experience, because instead of collaborating on each chapter the two authors split the book between each other by chapter. There are also times where the limits of the authors' musical knowledge become obvious, like pretty much every time it talks about hip-hop or metal... which is not very often. Having authors with an in-depth know A critical look at not just the concept of authenticity and its relevance for music, but also the evolution of genre classifications in general. It's an odd reading experience, because instead of collaborating on each chapter the two authors split the book between each other by chapter. There are also times where the limits of the authors' musical knowledge become obvious, like pretty much every time it talks about hip-hop or metal... which is not very often. Having authors with an in-depth knowledge of both genres apply the same project to those would be extremely interesting, those being the styles of contemporary music that are at once most stylized and over-the-top *and* most concerned which artists are "real" or not. The good stuff in the book is absolutely brilliant, though. The best part is the deconstruction of Alan Lomax, the folklorist responsible for most of what is today known about American folk music. Barker and Taylor reveal that Lomax' definition of "authentic folk music" was so ridiculously narrow (and off-base by the standard of modern anthropology) that the music making the cut to his compilations was hardly at all representative of traditional American music. As a matter of fact, much of the folk music community comes in for a good skewering: Popularly held ideas about who and what's "the real deal" are exposed as historical revisionism at best, the work of modern-day marketing at worst! The chapters doing compare/contrast between The Beatles and The Monkees, or punk and disco, are also quite illuminating. At the same time, while criticizing many preconceived ideas about authenticity people have when thinking about music Barker and Taylor do not say that there is no such thing. For example, one chapter is about why Neil Young's early albums (culminating with "Tonight's the Night") are the most authentic music records of newer history. The points made are basically that several common criteria for authenticity in music are rather shallow or just plain nonsensical, and that neither authenticity nor lack thereof is good or bad in itself. "Faking It" is far from perfect, for the most part because of the occasional amateurish writing and odd structure of the book, but nonetheless it makes a good case for a thought-provoking argument.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ulf Kastner

    Authors Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor examine the ofttimes hypocritical demand for musicians and their music to conform to ambiguous standards of authenticity using ten distinct moments in popular music of the 20th century which marked extraordinary, confluent climaxes in the treatment and reaction to said demand on the part of Kurt Cobain, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis, The Archies (or if you will producer Don Kirshner,) Neil Young, Donna Summers, John Lydon, Ry Cooder, and Moby. Authors Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor examine the ofttimes hypocritical demand for musicians and their music to conform to ambiguous standards of authenticity using ten distinct moments in popular music of the 20th century which marked extraordinary, confluent climaxes in the treatment and reaction to said demand on the part of Kurt Cobain, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis, The Archies (or if you will producer Don Kirshner,) Neil Young, Donna Summers, John Lydon, Ry Cooder, and Moby. In the process they cover a lot of ground related to these particular moments (and a lot of other musicians and bands, a few too many to even begin to list here) which document continuous developments in the making of and listening to music since the dawn of the business of selling recorded music. I gained a number of valuable and rather eye-opening insights into some long-held preconceived notions on my part regarding all kinds of music and makers thereof - a number of which turned out to be downright racist. Some of the consequences of these realizations include a reevaluation of Elvis (Chuck D calling the man a racist was just too tempting a bandwagon not to jump on for me growing up, but after reading `Faking It' I feel compelled to closer examine this particular claim) and my understanding of folk and blues traditions (respectively how manufactured said traditions actually are.) The authors put their finger at a marketing-driven segregation of white and black musical heritage that didn't exist nearly to the present extent prior to the commerce of recorded music. It's these aha-moments which I crave in non-fiction and this book dished me a handful of them. What more could I ask for?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen O'Neal

    On the whole an excellent meditation on the theme of authenticity in popular music. The vignettes chosen were all riveting although I wish more attention had been paid to hip hop music as well as PJ Harvey, Merle Haggard, and U2 (all of whom the authors claimed that they could have written about in more depth but whose work was barely mentioned). I would also like to see what the authors would have to say about this theme in the context of the hipster sensibility so prevalent in terms of evalua On the whole an excellent meditation on the theme of authenticity in popular music. The vignettes chosen were all riveting although I wish more attention had been paid to hip hop music as well as PJ Harvey, Merle Haggard, and U2 (all of whom the authors claimed that they could have written about in more depth but whose work was barely mentioned). I would also like to see what the authors would have to say about this theme in the context of the hipster sensibility so prevalent in terms of evaluating music today, which I see as almost anti-authenticity in a way that the book does not explore (perhaps because it was published before these trends fully took hold).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A lovely capturing of what I had suspected all along. I'm just going to post some comments from Facebook that demonstrate, at least to me, how much my mind had either been opened up or vindicated. I love to see how much of the "real" stuff was just cleverly marketed. So here we go: I'm kinda tired of the stuck-up attitude being stereotypically ascribed to classical music as if classical is the sole culprit. They are condemned for (possibly) considering themselves part of a superior or more sophis A lovely capturing of what I had suspected all along. I'm just going to post some comments from Facebook that demonstrate, at least to me, how much my mind had either been opened up or vindicated. I love to see how much of the "real" stuff was just cleverly marketed. So here we go: I'm kinda tired of the stuck-up attitude being stereotypically ascribed to classical music as if classical is the sole culprit. They are condemned for (possibly) considering themselves part of a superior or more sophisticated aesthetic. The thing is, many punk musicians had a very smug, stuck-up attitude about their own authenticity and rawness. The myth was they weren't phony, they weren't overly trained, and therefore more real (well, not really: many 'played down' their musical virtuosity to stay consistent with the DIY punk ethos) and therefore the music was superior. But it doesn't seem people feel as threatened by the self-righteousness of punk musicians. Maybe that's true or not, I don't know. But classical carries that reputation more than many other genres where that exact same smugness exists. I want to know why music aficionados in the know feel so much more threatened by classical smugness than punk smugness. If it's the smugness that's bothersome, why is the emphasis placed more on the "more virtuosic" brand of music? Have we forgotten about the eye-rolling ego-maniacal moves of rock singers (Bono, etc.)? That the Beatles are "bigger than Jesus"? Miles Davis' grade-A irascibility? And, as far as superior tastes go, the self-satisfaction of listeners in the universal condemnation of disco? And, not to go post-modern with it, but isn't there a hefty dose of pretense in dictating what is "holier-than-thou" or not? Or at least, dictating how other people should reflect and broadcast their own tastes and sensibilities? There's an element of policing there that is uncomfortably self-oriented. (I'm also willing to entertain that attitudes like this - demanding humble music and humility from musicians and listeners live a non-self-important and always-self-aware existence - are generation-based. They will - like attitudes about folk and blues and punk and baroque - fade and evolve like innumerable preceding fads and trends in music and art.) I do also want to address the speculation that classical has that aura of classism around it, and yes, while smugness and classism exist among aficionados and practitioners of classical music, I'm willing to speculate that neither exist in only classical music. Pardon in advance for the stretches that follow, but take for example: the perception that "authentic" blues comes from down-South crippled blind black men in rocking chairs on porches comes from many marketing campaigns of white executives to look for a pure, "primitive" music. In some ways it was a means to gaze into a pure, non-white music, but that voyeurism came with some racist and classist preconceptions of genuine black music. And Whitey pocketed all of the cash, no less. I don't know. Does that count as classist, or just racist, or both? Country also became a label imposed by the powers that be when a lot of performers in country blues and "old-timey" music were still performing with each other and exchanging ideas. They drew a boundary where a more sophisticated from of white folksiness took priority over the undisciplined "slave tunes" of African-Americans. One can call that racist, but putting down slaves and their music feels as classist as you can get. I mean, in comes from the most brutal, reprehensible income inequality in U.S. history. Okay, so maybe that's just the marketeers behind blues and country back in the day. Are the people marketing classical doing the same thing? And, non-rhetorical question: is it classist for composers to have appropriated peasant folk songs and "elevate" them, Bartók style? If that's so, classical music is not alone, and Graceland, Talking Heads, and Buena Vista Social Club are probably all more egregious offenders. But I think Bartók and Stravinsky were lifting the peasant spirit and praising it, not judging against it. I don't know. A last thing about classical that I feel is shared by "less elevated" forms is this: It can get really intimidating to wade through classical. Learning Italian for one thing is tough for a dummy like me, then the terminology behind which periods, all that stuff. However, as far as that particular difficulty is concerned, metal has been a much worse rabbit-hole for me to understand, what with all the subsidiary nooks, crannies, branches and scenes. So I do the same thing with metal as I do for classical, which is just give up the semantic stuff and push forward. I guess my major thing is taking things that are true for classical and applying them to popular or less "elevated" forms, in part to put the lie to the "classical > ____" thing. It is truly off-putting to look at this massive body of work - 400 years of classical versus 50 years of rock is one thing - and dive in. Truly. And I do hope that part of the nature of it is in the logistical concerns, not in the terror of judgmental people, or being intimidated out of it by seemingly intimidating people. What am I talking about? I guess there's a pervasive fear of "not being a good enough" classical performers, but there's always the terror of a "not being good enough" classical listener. But good God, I have the fear of "not being a good enough" listener in every genre all of the time. That's just another way I personally try to unpack classical as this holy grail or "final frontier" of music and see how the allure and/or fright of it applies to other genres. There's endless, fractal subcultures and rabbit-holes to everything that get overwhelming. Is it because I can't know everything and yet there's everything to learn? I sound like I'm begging people to listen to classical, which, I don't care if you do or not. I love hearing about what's off-putting to people and where their tastes have led them. Fear not what you listen too, for music is that intrinsic-to-the-soul gift, and it's the bee's knees. If there's anything I've learned about taste and self-importance, it's these two things: (1) It takes self-importance and a well-maintained conviction to perform and create to begin with. Those convictions may change and minds may bend, open, and close at whim; however, I at least personally find performing and creating absolutely absurd when my self-esteem is in its occasional pit, and that the converse is true. And (2) taste should be treated as a guide into the music of yourself. Your taste is merely your gut and your mind hinting to you what paths can be followed to get closer to your own artistic essence. In my experience, this attitude is healthy and ought to be embraced. It's best to assume strong opinions from others aren't about you. People's opinions don't exist to condemn you; in fact, their opinions likely formulated in a context from which you were totally absent. Taste anchors one's inner journey, which is a nice tool in a sobering, confusing world. Interpreting it as non-threatening is difficult, I know. But what a fascinating conversation can spin out of this approach when discussing taste. And this conversation is destroyed when accusations of pretense preclude burrowing deeper, when "don't judge me" reigns over "tell me more." So, we can accuse each other of aloof superiority all we want, but we lose so much information about music, each other, and ourselves.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    As a die-hard, authenticity obsessed, punk/orgcore/Springsteen (who strangely enough isn’t talked about) obsessed rockist, this book was an eye-opener. I learned about the racial segregation in the music markets that split American music into ‘blues’ and ‘country’, the way old folk and blues artists were ‘rediscovered’ and changed, the manufactured fake authenticity of ‘world music’ like Buena Vista Social Club, and the relatively recent birth of autobiographical song. It directly challenged eve As a die-hard, authenticity obsessed, punk/orgcore/Springsteen (who strangely enough isn’t talked about) obsessed rockist, this book was an eye-opener. I learned about the racial segregation in the music markets that split American music into ‘blues’ and ‘country’, the way old folk and blues artists were ‘rediscovered’ and changed, the manufactured fake authenticity of ‘world music’ like Buena Vista Social Club, and the relatively recent birth of autobiographical song. It directly challenged everything I thought I knew about music. That said, there were some lapses. It treated bands I knew about like The Replacements and Daniel Johnston shabbily, claiming the reason their songs moved me & others so much was the false cult of authenticity, not Alex Chilton basically being a perfect song. It still upholds old, old viewpoints like the genius of Imagine and Nirvana, and there’s a chapter that’s basically bits from Shakey, the Neil Young biography. And no Springsteen! Still, the chapter on blues & folk alone is worth it

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric Woodard

    Some of the chapters are better than others, as the two authors split writing the chapters, but overall this book gave me a lot to think about: most specifically, authenticity is just another type of pose. Hmmmm.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jason Comely

    "Faking It" is a masterpiece of musicology (and even psychology). Barker attacks the topic of authenticity from many different angles. A fascinating, addictive read. "Faking It" is a masterpiece of musicology (and even psychology). Barker attacks the topic of authenticity from many different angles. A fascinating, addictive read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Huntington-Klein

    A fantastic topic, but the content doesn't quite carry through. The authors spend far too much time hung up on which albums and artists they do or do not like, and try to wring a little too much out of each of their (relatively few) examples. We get a lot more "this is what artists X and Y did in an attempt to be authentic" and a lot less "what is the idea of authenticity all about and why do people chase it?" This led to quite a few overlong detours (we get it, you love Neil Young's "Tonight's A fantastic topic, but the content doesn't quite carry through. The authors spend far too much time hung up on which albums and artists they do or do not like, and try to wring a little too much out of each of their (relatively few) examples. We get a lot more "this is what artists X and Y did in an attempt to be authentic" and a lot less "what is the idea of authenticity all about and why do people chase it?" This led to quite a few overlong detours (we get it, you love Neil Young's "Tonight's the Night") and the feeling of a book half-written and filled in with factoids from artist biographies. They keep hinting at chapters which would have made great studies but which never got included, specifically one on David Bowie and one on hip hop. They also focus with near exclusivity on diary-style songwriting as the way in which authenticity is claimed in modern pop. This seems just incorrect to me: political, subcultural, and allegorical songwriting all claim authenticity in very similar ways and do not lean on autobiography. They do very little to back up their framing, and it even contradicts other parts of the book. The best parts of the book were about the relationship between authenticity and race in popular music, where they were actually doing the work the subtitle is selling. You could probably read the chapters on folk/country/blues/etc and stop there without missing out on much.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John Defrog

    I don't often take book recommendations from Jack White. But when he name-dropped this book (which explores the importance that music fans place on authenticity in music, be it punk, indie, blues, country or world music) in a recent interview, I decided to check it out. The book’s basic thesis is this: the demand by fans for music artists to be authentic – write yr own songs, keep it real, no fake plastic corporate rock, etc – is at odds with the fact that most music we think of as authentic sta I don't often take book recommendations from Jack White. But when he name-dropped this book (which explores the importance that music fans place on authenticity in music, be it punk, indie, blues, country or world music) in a recent interview, I decided to check it out. The book’s basic thesis is this: the demand by fans for music artists to be authentic – write yr own songs, keep it real, no fake plastic corporate rock, etc – is at odds with the fact that most music we think of as authentic started as anything but. A lot of “authentic” music is the creation of major-label target marketing, many “authentic” artists didn’t write their own songs, and authenticity is not always synonymous with quality. The argument gets muddled in places, and one big hole for me is the authors’ assumed definition of authenticity – one thing they miss is that for many music fans, authenticity isn’t about writing yr own music or literally singing yr life about so much as staying true to yr own artistic vision, whatever it may be, and not changing it for the sake of selling more records. Still, even though I disagreed with some of their reasoning, other parts are dead on. I’d recommend this for any music fan – especially the ones hung up on authenticity as a mandatory criteria for good music – just to challenge their assumptions of what “authentic” music is or isn’t.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Steven Mirkin

    Picked up this at the Library, thought it might help with an idea I'm playing around with. It didn't. To be fair, I don't really cotton to the idea of musical "authenticity"; to paraphrase, when I hear the word "authentic" used in relation to music is when I want to reach for my (metaphoric) revolver. Music is a mongrel art form and all the better for it. But still, But I picked this up ready to have my preconceptions challenged. The problem is the two authors lack anything close to a sense of hu Picked up this at the Library, thought it might help with an idea I'm playing around with. It didn't. To be fair, I don't really cotton to the idea of musical "authenticity"; to paraphrase, when I hear the word "authentic" used in relation to music is when I want to reach for my (metaphoric) revolver. Music is a mongrel art form and all the better for it. But still, But I picked this up ready to have my preconceptions challenged. The problem is the two authors lack anything close to a sense of humor and show an alarming lack of perspective. Their opening section tries to limn Nirvana's cover of Leadbelly's "In The Pines" on Unplugged as proof of Cobain's desire to be "authentic," which they see in some way as leading to his tragic suicide. Possible? Yes, but their argument's force is diminished by not mentioning that on the same album, they covered Bowie--hardly a proponent of the authentic--and the Meat Puppets, whose album "II," a record that mixed flat-out punk collides with loping, loopy psychedelic country in a manner calculated to drive anyone searching for authenticity off the deep end. The rest of the book, with chapters covering Neil Young's post-"Harvest" recordings, the Monkees and "bubblegum" and John Lydon's ditching of punk for PiL (among others) displays little feel for the subject matter.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    I read this book a while ago, but added it because I might read it again after reading "The Thing itself." "Faking It," is a very persuasive analysis and historical exploration of the tendency of make a fetish of "authenticity" in popular music. The irony is that authenticity is often faked. The best example of this is Ledbelly, a blues musician discovered singing in prison by Lomax (I forget which one). He became very popular among folk and blues fans of the early 60s. As he enjoyed his new pop I read this book a while ago, but added it because I might read it again after reading "The Thing itself." "Faking It," is a very persuasive analysis and historical exploration of the tendency of make a fetish of "authenticity" in popular music. The irony is that authenticity is often faked. The best example of this is Ledbelly, a blues musician discovered singing in prison by Lomax (I forget which one). He became very popular among folk and blues fans of the early 60s. As he enjoyed his new popularity, Ledbelly wanted to wear stylish suits, but Lomax insisted he wear a prison uniform (!). The rationale was that the appeal of his music was its rawness and primitive sound. The audience wanted to hear rustic prison songs from an actual prisoner. Never mind that Ledbelly wanted to dress like the successful performer he now really was. So much for authenticity. In addition to drawing attention to the hypocrisy of those who overvalue the raw and rustic in the arts, Faking It is a very well written and informative history of popular music in the U.S.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josh Neas

    A really fascinating look at the idea of what 'authenticity' means in popular music, why people seem to prize it so extensively and how we use it to judge the legitimacy of 'art.' While there are one or two chapters that don't quite capitalize on their conceit (each chapter focuses on a specific moment/song/artist and then expands to make the examination more universal), the best ones - chapters on 'Mississippi' John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Donna Summer and disco, among others - really open up som A really fascinating look at the idea of what 'authenticity' means in popular music, why people seem to prize it so extensively and how we use it to judge the legitimacy of 'art.' While there are one or two chapters that don't quite capitalize on their conceit (each chapter focuses on a specific moment/song/artist and then expands to make the examination more universal), the best ones - chapters on 'Mississippi' John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Donna Summer and disco, among others - really open up some interesting examinations about why we seem to value 'authenticity' in a commercial art form that is on so many levels inherently fake. A really great read for people who enjoy the analysis of pop culture and what it says about us.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    For anyone who has ever gotten into a long car-ride debate over what makes one musician/band/song "fake" and what makes another "real," this book can help. The authors take on a wide array of musicians and bands (maybe too wide - the selections seemed appropriate yet random) in order to show how American audiences have displayed an increasing obsession with "authenticity" in the past 100 years. The authors write in an academic style (the writing style of authenticity!) which is always an interes For anyone who has ever gotten into a long car-ride debate over what makes one musician/band/song "fake" and what makes another "real," this book can help. The authors take on a wide array of musicians and bands (maybe too wide - the selections seemed appropriate yet random) in order to show how American audiences have displayed an increasing obsession with "authenticity" in the past 100 years. The authors write in an academic style (the writing style of authenticity!) which is always an interesting style to combine with subjects like Kurt Cobain's suicide note or Donna Summer's struggle with rectifying her sexy stage presence with her Christian morals.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I learned I should have read this book ten years ago, so that I could have quoted chunks of it during a time when my life was more involved with others' impassioned diatribes about 'realness'. That said, the book as a whole didn't leave me with that much of an impression, but maybe it was just that I read it in a rather piecemeal fashion. It's possible that it aligned with my own views enough that I didn't become all that engaged. Definitely a useful object, and it's likely that a second reading I learned I should have read this book ten years ago, so that I could have quoted chunks of it during a time when my life was more involved with others' impassioned diatribes about 'realness'. That said, the book as a whole didn't leave me with that much of an impression, but maybe it was just that I read it in a rather piecemeal fashion. It's possible that it aligned with my own views enough that I didn't become all that engaged. Definitely a useful object, and it's likely that a second reading might make its assertions more enduring in my mind.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    Barker and Taylor explore the world of popular music, focusing on stories of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Leadbelly, Neil Young, Jimmie Rodgers, and others, in terms of what is real and what is fake. They explore a span of 50 years, examining not only the music but also the performers, with the goal of classifying their authenticity--culturally and personally. For anyone who has not delved into this topic, this book is broad and encompassing, although not definitive.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    This is a book for music critics more than music fans; only the snobbiest fans really care about whether the music they like is authentic or not. But there are some interesting issues, especially in the early sections that discuss the early days of folk and blues, when black and white were very intermingled before white record producers decided to separate the two.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    a solid set of essays about the idea of authenticity in music and how it's bullshit, another argument for making sure to look at quality first. the essay about billy joel and neil young being equally authentic is great, a good arguement for why authenticity a dumb way to measure something by. a solid set of essays about the idea of authenticity in music and how it's bullshit, another argument for making sure to look at quality first. the essay about billy joel and neil young being equally authentic is great, a good arguement for why authenticity a dumb way to measure something by.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mat Davies

    Decent overview of the ludicrous debate about authenticity in pop. A bit too pleased with itself at times and bludgeons rather than deconstructs some of its arguments but I'm being overly picky. It's well worth picking up. Decent overview of the ludicrous debate about authenticity in pop. A bit too pleased with itself at times and bludgeons rather than deconstructs some of its arguments but I'm being overly picky. It's well worth picking up.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    murky premise. unstimulating. too much other good stuff i could be reading.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    The title says it all. What is real and what isn't. Pop music today has no heart and soul. Crass commercialism at it's worst. What do you think? The title says it all. What is real and what isn't. Pop music today has no heart and soul. Crass commercialism at it's worst. What do you think?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Harrow

    Interesting exploration of how our culture judges music and artists. Gives insights into opinion.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Britt

    probably obvious to real music scholars, but interesting to me to learn more about the racialization of music styles and the fabrication of the idea authentic forms of music

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Pairs quite nicely with Leroi Jones' Blues People. Pairs quite nicely with Leroi Jones' Blues People.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

    Fascinating book that addresses a central demand of rock and roll and popular music. What does it mean to be real and authentic and why should it matter?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Danny Volt

    Worth the cost even solely for the "Sugar Sugar" chapter. Several other chapters present jumping-out points that make me want to read another edition. Worth the cost even solely for the "Sugar Sugar" chapter. Several other chapters present jumping-out points that make me want to read another edition.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Miller

    Arguments I've benn having for years. Arguments I've benn having for years.

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