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

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  198 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company
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Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Thom
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
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
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
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 ...more
Ulf Kastner
Aug 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: curious listeners
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. ...more
Kathleen O'Neal
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nick Huntington-Klein
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
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 ...more
John Defrog
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Steven Mirkin
Jan 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Josh Neas
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Oct 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jonathan by: Domenica
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 ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 10, 2015 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Mat Davies
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mark Taylor
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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?
Lucas Miller
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Arguments I've benn having for years.
Jan 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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?
Andrea Harrow
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Interesting exploration of how our culture judges music and artists. Gives insights into opinion.
May 31, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: perhaps someone obsessed with Leadbelly
Shelves: relinquished
murky premise. unstimulating. too much other good stuff i could be reading.
Aug 12, 2010 rated it liked it
Pairs quite nicely with Leroi Jones' Blues People.
Danny Volt
Jul 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: pop music history buffs
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.
rated it it was ok
Jun 30, 2009
Pam Mckinney
rated it liked it
Dec 16, 2015
Austin Amonette
rated it it was amazing
Feb 09, 2010
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