J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Friday, April 20, 2007

Notes from Underground - #3
Talkin' Them Authenticity Blues

Ed Cone sparked a conversation over at his blog about a new book called Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Pop Music. The book seems (and I say 'seems' since I haven't read it - only reviews) to come to the conclusion that 'authenticity' in music is practically a joke and that the musicians we hold up as paradigms of the art are actually the least authentic.

It is true that in a genre as worked over as 'rock and roll' is, there's little left to come up with that's new. But all art forms pull from their predecessors, either as examples or anti-examples, so does this really remove 'authenticity?' The book seems to purpose that even 'authentic' people, like Muddy Waters or Ledbelly, are inauthentic at their core since there was a point where they began playing a role as musicians, not just writing whatever came to their mind. The book nails Neil Young (not that he's the only person who's ever said this) for saying he doesn't write with any sort of plan - that things just come to him and he rolls with it.

Let's step aside for a second and examine a chameleon of an artist who frequents these pages - Ryan Adams. From his days in Whiskeytown to the winding, varied muses of his various solo records, Adams seems to revel in moving from one genre to another from record to record. The triptych of Cold Roses/Jacksonville City Nights/29 from 2005 showed his ability to work well within similar, yet disparate styles. But is his ability to shift a sign of 'inauthenticity?' Would anyone actually claim Adams to be 'authentic' in the first place? Can you only be authentic in one area, or is it possible to jump from one to one?

Finally, does it matter? The book asserts that it doesn't - that inauthenticity is in fact a sign of some of the best that pop music has to offer. We mentioned the Monkees on this week's show and they're held up in the book as an example of a band that people widely consider inauthentic. But are they? They became an authentic band despite not playing the instruments or writing the songs on their first records - but we long ago abandoned song writing as a sign of authenticity - otherwise why would we herald interpretive singers so much? So if "The Monkees" were a face for an entity of musicians and songwriters, does that make them any less authentic? I'd argue not. Music is still being produced - whether in straightforward ways or not. Pop, in its very nature, is a consumptive creation. We don't question the authenticity of the people who make bathroom cleaners or food items. ("You know, I used to dig Stouffer's until they sold out.") So if we treat art as another commodity, who cares about authenticity?

Although I'm apparently about 2 years behind on this song, it's only surfaced to my attention lately and it's the perfect example of how 'inauthentic' music can be quite spectacular. I won't remember this song in 5 years, but for right now, I can't get enough. Take that, authenticity.



  • At 5:21 PM, April 28, 2007, Blogger Satisfied '75 said…

    adams stylistic shifts can be disconcerting to the listener. e.g. Rock & Roll is my least favorite of his records as it's just too damn different from the stuff where he really shines (alt.country, folk, roots rock).

    But if I heard R&R and I did not know it was by him would I like it more? Possibly.

  • At 3:01 PM, April 29, 2007, Blogger J. Neas said…

    I second your opinion of Rock and Roll being his weakest, precisely because of stepping out of that vein. But I also understand your point. Perception does affect our opinion.

    In what is truly an embarassing story from my teenage years, I used to really hate Oasis. I think I'd been "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova"'d to death and I detested them (especially because of my love of Blur - yes, I took sides in that little dust-up). Then, I heard "Don't Look Back In Anger" on the radio and (it being sung by Noel as opposed to Liam) I didn't know it was Oasis. I thought it was a great song. Until my friend Patrick set me straight and made me listen to (What's the Story) Morning Glory and that was the end of my hatred of Oasis.

    I use a similar trick in order to lure people into listening to (and liking) Del Amitri. Throw 'em a song that's not "Roll to Me" and catch their reaction. Fun stuff.


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