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Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music [Paperback]

Yuval Taylor , Hugh Barker
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 April 2007
In the last fifty years, the quest for authenticity, for the 'real,' has become a dominant factor in musical taste - whether it be the folklorist's search for forgotten bluesmen or the rock critic's elevation of raw power over sophistication. Faking It explodes the myth of what it means to be 'real' and 'fake' in pop music. Why does no one listen to the Buena Vista Social Club in Cuba? Why do white suburban teenagers love rap? And what did Kurt Cobain's suicide note really mean?

Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571226590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571226597
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.6 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 79,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A groundbreaking and accessible account of the tension between artifice and authenticity in popular music.

About the Author

Hugh Barker edits music books for several UK publishers, and lives in London.

Yuval Taylor has published and edited books about music for fifteen years. He lives in Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For any music lover that has argued that their favourite rock artists are realer than say Britney Spears or Take That this book is a must read. Barker and Taylor do a thorough job examining the issues at the heart of the argument. Are artists like Kurt Cobain more 'authentic' than say someone like Moby? And what constitutes 'Authentic'? and is it really attainable? Rather than being just an arbitrary notion. An eclectic range of artists are examined from Elvis to the Sex Pistols to The Beuna Vista Social club. The most interesting chapter is Neil Young's tortuous obsession with 'Keeping it real' and the lengths that he drives himself too in pursuit of that intangible. This is a crisply written and absorbing study of an idea that may well be impossible to achieve - but that won't stop me arguing that Nirvana are more authentic than Britney, whatever that means.Last Train to Memphis: Rise of Elvis PresleyThe Record Men: Chess Records and the Birth of Rock and RollNevermindTonight's the NightPlay
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing Study of the Music Industry 2 Jun 2010
Why are some acts slammed for being 'manufactured', whilst others are revered for their perceived 'authenticity'? The authors of this book explore the phenomenon, look at historical examples and consider how skilful management of artists has created massive international superstars. Authors Barker and Taylor have created an accessible look at an under-explored subject in music writing, which delves behind the facade to try and discover a little more about the marketing of popular music from the 1940s onwards. Unfortunately, despite some promising source material, it can be a little hard-going for the more casual reader. But if you're prepared to stick with it, it's well worth the effort.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for any serious fan of pop 1 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Barker & Taylor have written a book that is informative, entertaining, and deeply thought-provoking. As a jaded academic with 20 years experience in the subject area, I rarely come across any text that really energises me - but this book did. As well as being a much better read than parallel academic tomes in the field, the authors manage not to sacrifice complexity in terms of their arguments, sources or examples. If there was one book I was asked to recommend to any student, or serious fan of popular music wanting to move beyond the journalistic into the analytical, even the philosophical domain - this would be it. Dr Ron Moy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating stuff 12 April 2013
A great, warm, fascinating study of "keeping it real" in music.

What is so great is not so much the arguments, but the vast knowledge and love that the writers have for their subjects.

Sharply written, and fascinating - any serious music fan should buy it now!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book on what is real (and unreal) about "being real" 21 Feb 2007
By Craig Matteson - Published on
This is a very interesting book for anyone who has grown up paying even a little attention to the disputes about "authenticity" in popular music over generations. I am a classical musician and while the issues are hardly the same in that world, I can understand the notions of what these folks are struggling over and arguing about.

The authors begin with Kurt Cobain singing a Leadbelly song on MTV unplugged. His manner of singing the song, his complaints about being "real" and even his suicide act as a springboard for the whole book. We learn more about Leadbelly and his promoter, John Lomax, and where they actually fit into the music world of their time versus what white people believed about their heritage. John Hurt, who was a legend as an old man among the sixties folk singers. Yet, in his youth he was not nearly as popular nor as "authentic" as the sixties idolizers would have had the public believe.

It turns out that the Black public preferred Jazz and its sophistications to the blues and rural music that Leadbelly, Hurt and others performed. Nor was it as rooted in the slave past as the traditions believed. There was a lot of cross between rural White music and the rural Black music. We also see this in Jazz. It was only later that the schism between what is authentically "Black" or "White" became a fundamental issue, and its conclusions are largely wrong.

We get to compare the truly personal music of Jimmie Rodgers and his "T.B. Blues" against other music of its time and the tradition of autobiographical music. It is not as deep, rich, or lengthy tradition as one might expect. There is a lot of "character" biography, but not deeply personal stuff such as Rodgers singing about the tuberculosis that was killing him.

The authors later show us Elvis and how he created his persona and what traditions that flowed out of along with what Elvis actually invented. The problem is that what he created has become so much a part of what followed that it seems part of the genre now, but it was radical when Elvis created it. Or so the authors state.

We then get a wonderful chapter comparing The Beatles and The Monkees. It isn't quite as cut and dry issue of what is "authentic" versus "fake" as you might first think before you read the book. There is no question that The Beatles changed everything, but there is a lot of artifice that went into their music, too.

There is also woven into this the pop music of the Don Kirshner types and his role in The Monkees and what he did afterwards in creating The Archies and the lasting pop hit "Sugar Sugar".

Then comes a look at Neil Young and his travels through various stages of the search for Authenticity (the capital "A" is needed to describe what he was after). The Disco world and Donna Summer is next, the Punk Rock world, the faux reality of Ry Cooder's "Buena Vista Social Club" and world music. The book ties up with a look at Moby and then Nick Cave's "Mercy Seat" and the even more "real" cover by Johnny Cash.

One of the things that I find odd about the idea of "authenticity" in the making of a song is that these artists go around the world performing these pieces for decades. It is not possible that every performance of the work is equally "authentic" or even retains anything "real" about it after the thousandth time they perform it. The authors do mention Keith Jarrett who actually does make up new music on the spot for that night's performance. Now THAT is authentic. Of course, I find that a lot of his ruminations are just as boring as most of real life. Sure, there are moments of great brilliance, but art is working that up into a work and sharing that rather than all the scutwork that goes into the hard work of composing or writing or painting or sculpture.

I liked this book a lot and agree with the authors that listeners need to play more with the realities and the ideas of authenticity. We need to keep our ears and minds open to actually perceive what is going on rather than quickly accepting or dismissing musical works and musicians because of who we think they are (there is a lot of artifice in the creation of these persona's, too).

Of course, in the classical world, there is some of this, too. What is "real" classical, and what is out of bounds. And that discussion is not appropriate to this review. However, the idea that the piece is a role for the artist to perform rather than something "autobiographical" is rather well established.

One of the things beginning listeners to classical music get trapped in is hearing autobiography in the works of the masters. It is not that it is never there, but that it is rarely there as much as they suppose it is. The key is, does it move us? Is it great music? Does it speak to us about our lives and the human condition? It can also be for simple delectation. Not everything has to be dripping in angst and death. Real life has enough of that. Art should have something more, don't you think?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Case-studies of artists and music industry professionals 3 Feb 2010
By Anthony Kyle Zwarich - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you can sustain your interest through the first few chapters, the book succeeds at presenting equal arguments for and against the title "authenticity" in music. The authors avoid "name-dropping" in favor of "situation-dropping," explaining in length the pretexts that surround some of the biggest artists in music. I felt that they managed to present the paradoxical subject with a good personal distance; there were only small portions that were editorialized.

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.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depends How You Define Authenticity 17 July 2007
By M. Feldman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book is very insightful, some chapters more so than others. As a participant in the folk revolution in the first half of the 1960s, the chapter on "Mississippi" John Hurt particularly resonated with me. However, I can readily see how other chapters would affect readers who came of age in other musical periods.

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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best books about music I've read 30 April 2007
By Eric Firth - Published on
Most books about music are narrative and follow the thread of a band or music movements arc. Either that or you follow a critics taste. That is fine, however those method doesn't end up telling you much but opinions and facts. They can be entertaining but they don't enlighten. This is a rare book about music that does. It helps you see your own taste differently. It helps show you how your opinions that you have about acts or subjects weren't created in a vacuum. It changes the way you feel about the way you feel about music, which is an amazing accomplishment.

My only hope is that they make good on the idea of an exploration of authenticity in hip hop.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting essay about the "authenticity" problem! 2 May 2014
By clovis d m baptista - Published on
Verified Purchase
Forgive me for any language mistakes, i'm from Brazil and I've find this book really interesting about the perception of authenticity by the listener, with a lot of stories about Elvis, Nirvana, Leadbelly and others!
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