Sunday, September 29, 2013

Against authenticity

There has been a vigorous discussion on Facebook – curb your enthusiasm, it’s nobody famous, just Chad Taylor, Paul Litterick, me and a few others – about authenticity in popular music. It began when Paul posted this comment:
Read it and weep: The most awful band New Zealand has ever produced is set to become the best known band we have ever produced.
linking to this news story about a NZ band called the Naked and Famous.

Comments ensued. Chad responded with this excellent post on his blog. Quote unquote on his days at Rip It Up:
Pop music was not proper music. It was not the Velvet Underground or Leonard Cohen or classic soul or indie. It was pretentious, style-obsessed, fake and so on and it made people very, very angry. Which is ironic, because all pop was ever trying to do was be liked.
Tess Patrick commented about the inauthenticity of some rap artists “faking their gangsta backstories”. Yes, really, they do. And then from Tom Beard: “Nothing wrong with inauthenticity: any music beyond guttural vocalisations and the sounds of nature is the product of artifice. Some hide it; some forget it; and some glory in it.”

Quite right. And let’s not get started on Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Let us instead turn to Tom Lehrer in 1959 and his variations on the folk song “Clementine”. He begins by saying:
I should like to consider the folk song, and expand briefly on a theory I have held for some time, to the effect that the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.
You can hear the shudder when he says “the people”. He proceeds to perform the song as if it had been written by Cole Porter, Mozart (“or one of that crowd”), Mose Allison or Gilbert & Sullivan:

More here. There are many great quotes from him. This one gives the flavour : “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

A snarky, Jewish, piano-playing songwriter, he was the Randy Newman of his generation. Apart from being a maths lecturer.  

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