Keeping it unreal


[Original post by Dan McCafferty, migrated from a private forum.]

Two of the sadder words from Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter are adopted as the title and central premise of the book Faking It: the quest for authenticity in popular music. It asserts that inauthenticity is “the defining characteristic of great popular music,” and that the quest for authenticity in music has often been more about “a means of policing racial boundaries,” than any kind of proper ascribable value.



Journalist Jeff Sharlet describes the book’s primary concept—the Authenticity Trap—as a phenomenon that explains why and how, the harder one tries to keep it real, the less authentic one will be. He provides a glimpse into chapters such as “Honesty” that pairs Billy Joel and Neil Young with surprising results; another that discusses Cobain together with Leadbelly; as well one dedicated to Mississippi John Hurt. Sharlet points out that the book’s ultimate failing is in its avoidance of inherent political implications that the authors’ position affords:

“Barker and Taylor have escaped the authenticity trap, but only by embracing the pleasures of inauthenticity. There's nothing wrong with entertainment, they insist. True enough; but there's nothing wrong with taking music seriously, either, even when it's ‘fake.’”


The piece concludes by recognizing a contradiction in using authenticity as a measure of music: as long as there is pleasure in it for someone, how much does truth or untruth really matter?