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Inauthenticity Is the Defining Characteristic of Popular Music

That’s what the latest study shows. A critic objects, though, that it might be inauthentic to regard inauthenticity as the essence of anything. It’s disconcerting to consider that whole categories like COUNTRY and BLUES originated as marketing ploys, or that Henry Ford promoted Square Dancing for its blatant racism. But we can’t ignore the wise observation that we don’t have to believe that the Monkees actually believed "I’m a Believer" to know it’s actually a good song.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 (New American Standard Bible) "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. Is there anything of which one might say,
'See this, it is new'?
Already it has existed for ages
which were before us."

Which is to say that there is nothing new about nothing being new.


To make something that is private into something public robs the thing of its private nature, giving it a public one. If it were authentically private, it would not be made public. I do not see that this is any worse for pop music than for anything else, from literature to blog remarks.

Square dancing is racist, blatantly or otherwise? Please explain.

Also note the scary way lead singers are being trained in the studio and produced to mimic the elocution of Avril Lavigne, whether in modern country, pop, or top-40 rock. So the word "where'd" comes out "eh-HHhhhrrrrghd-a," and the important syllable "you" is transformed into a curling basilisk of a phrase that probably cannot even adequately be transcribed as "Hh-euuuu'wuh."

Beautiful day here in Ohio.
Consumed a great glass of wine. Discovered an old Grateful Dead tape (Hartford, 10-14-83).
If you get confused listen to the music play. Likewise,the Dead never really worried about the $.

I gratefully agree that Jerry Garcia was very authentic about his inauthenticity. He was too laidback about everything (including his health) to have been any kind of bourgeois bohemian. Contrast him, for example, with the calculating Jagger.

I agree with Jagger's marketing of the "Mic" image. Consider the high points; The Knights of Prosperity, The Simpsons, The Superbowl. The low points; Freejack! However, it would be interesting to see how much of the Stone's profits go into keeping Keith Richards alive?

The key finding, from which all the monkeying ideas here about authenticity in music spring forth, is that the lone-guitarist blues genre was invented by white patrons' manipulation of Leadbelly and others, out of a desire to confirm their own oppositional vision of what is authentically rural, black, or primitive. The Leadbelly story and this angle on it is important, but the "finding" is simply embarrassingly wrong, as a thousand recordings from the 20s and 30s prove. Leadbelly was one guy amid hundreds, and fairly late in the development of the genre. Similar ignorance is displayed about the development of country and western. Scroll down in the comments attached to the essay, and read the comments by Ace2 and RNeumann to get the reaction of those who know the terrain.

Martha Bayles has an interesting account somewhere about how Lightning Hopkins and other working bluesmen of the old days would play waltzes, standards, spirituals, basically whatever the audience wanted to here. "Let the paying customer through" was their motto, and it was their job to be able to play enough styles to satisfy a wide variety of customers, even if the blues-inflected center of their style was what it was.

One also recalls the story of the Count Basie band having to learn to play tangoes before they could play the Roseland Ballroom. That's the way it was when Americans had a hearty appreciation for good-time music, in its humble place, and didn't worry themselves so about authenticity.

The latter condition seems to be a disease they picked up in the by-ways of academia, particularly that European by-way called Bohemia. And actually, Mick Jagger has a major role here, although Robert Zimmerman with his Bob Dylan role was, oddly enough, the prime mover. But when you consider the early Stones, they had this rhetoric of "we're not pop, like those damn Beatles, we're R & B." "We Stones, we give you the blues roots unsweetened and straight, 'cause we don't really care if have a hit record." Sure you don't. Indeed, Jones and Jagger(or was it Richards?) met one another on train because one of them was casually brandishing an-impossible-to-find American blues record. That is, 9 times out of 10, talk of authenticity is some sort of bohemian one-upsmanship. This was not the sort of thing that people like Basie, Hopkins, Monroe, or even Presley, worried about. And of course, their music was consistently far better, even if we have to admit that rock at its very best speaks to us in ways that the older pop music can't match, at least when we're in the peculiar mood for it. The humility of the older American popular music, and the connection of this with its unapologetic commericialism, was in retrospect, a source of great strength. Perhaps its last heyday was 70s disco...although that's a complicated subject indeed. In any case, we've all become, black and white, rural and urban, too middle-class now to entirely shake off our authenticity-haunted bohemian instincts, although a lowering of expectations about what popular music ought to be about, and a decoupling it from our various identity games, would nonetheless be healthy for it.

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