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Miscellaneous - Authenticity

  by Jon Rogers

published: 4 / 12 / 2010

Miscellaneous - Authenticity


In his 'Hitting the Right Note' column, Jon Rogers questions the issues of authenticity in rock

Rock music, as opposed to pop music, has always been defined in value terms of ‘authenticity’. The ‘4Real’ ideology that ‘we mean it, maaan’. The rock musician placed their worth on notions of being artistically true to themselves, focusing on the need to express themselves artiscally. The argument goes that if you’re authentic the art that you create is true and poignant and relevant and meaningful. The songs you write are from the heart and therefore true and pertinent. This is opposed to the pop acts whose songs are lightweight, disposable and lack artistic ‘truth’. The pop artist serves a purpose but only on a superficial level, serving up pretty little three-minute pop songs about boy meets girl. But let’s face it, notions of authenticity in popular music are largely bogus at best and a crock of shit at worse. One of the world’s most loved and respected popular musicians, John Lennon, is not quite what he made himself out to be. There’s the great irony of him singing “Imagine no possessions” on his international hit ‘Imagine’ whilst the video goes around his huge stately home and he sits at a white grand piano while Yoko Ono opens the shutters. Then later on they take a walk in grounds. Authentic sentiments there, John, I don’t think so. And the Rolling Stones aren’t any better. What would the likes of Mick Jagger, who had a rather comfortable middle class upbringing know about the working class? Yet they are idolised in ‘Salt of the Earth’. “Let’s drink to the hard working people.” sang Jagger on the song from ‘Beggars Banquet’. At the time the band were holed away in their country piles, far away from the great unwashed proletariat, counting their wealth. The band had so much respect for the “hard working people” that they would make themselves tax exiles soon enough to avoid giving away a chunk of their income to the state, money that could have been used to improve the lot of those they so, apparently, admired. And then they extolled the virtues of armed insurrection in ’Street Fighting Man’. Yeah, the London School of Economics-educated Jagger would know all about that. And Jagger is so involved with the revolutionary spirit that nowadays he swans about sipping champagne with the international jet set, invariably with some supermodel hanging off his arm. The establishment must be quaking in their boots and taking shelter in their private member’s clubs due to that vicious onslaught. The Manic Street Preachers burst onto the scene with Ritchie Edwards famously carving ‘4Real’ into his arm after being questioned about their authenticity by the 'NME'. Initially their intention was to only make one album and then disband. They were so true their word that they’re nowadays to be found making dull, passionless and emotionless stadium rock for people to hold their lighters up to whilst they singalong to the anthemic chorus. This is just to highlight three particularly obvious cases. There are far, far worse offenders though. Scratch just about any so called ‘indie’ band and invariably they are little more than a boy band with guitars. The thing is there are so many of them it’s just not easy to know where to begin. Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian. All fraudulent in the sense that they are portraying that element that they are more meaningful from the pop stars as they are real and true and ‘authentic’. Take Kasabian, on their page on their record label’s website they are described as “21st century renegades”. Oh, stop sniggering at the back... And what irony for being such big renegades that they’re signed to one of the biggest record labels in the world, Sony Music. That’s the way to fight for rebellion by helping to increase their profits. Perversely it is now that a lot of pop acts seem to be securing the high moral ground over authenticity in that they not pretending to be something other than they are, like so many rock bands. Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding famously had a war of words with Oasis’ Liam Gallagher over this very issue. To my mind Gallagher clearly lost the argument with the girl band clearly being far more authentic than Oasis. Girls Aloud play simple, catchy pop tunes and don’t pretend it is anything more than that. That’s more honest and truthful than anything to have ever been emitted from anyone from Oasis. In comparisons between the two, Oasis come out looking like the frauds compared to Girls Aloud. Authenticity is also, somehow, tied in with songwriting and musical skills. For some reason the ability to play a musical instrument and write your own songs is given by rock purists more ‘value’ than some pop singer singing someone else’s song and couldn’t play a chord on a guitar if their life depended on it. This is a highly dubious argument. Give me The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ over anything by the likes of Coldplay any day. Dusty Springfield anyone? Sandie Shaw? And that rockist argument is surely blown apart by the likes of Maria Callas. Following that argument Callas would be viewed in pretty lowly terms. After all, she didn’t play an instrument and only sang other people’s songs. This world where the pop stars of the day are more ‘authentic’ than the rock bands is all very much a postmodern hyperreality, one which Jean Baudrillard would very much approve. In this hyperreal world culture must continually replicate ‘the real’ in order to avoid a cultural schizophrenia, what Baudrillard termed as “the simulation of something that never really existed” or what Umberto Eco dubbed “the authentic fake”. For a lot of rock bands they are simulating an authenticity that they never had. In this way authenticity is just another commodity to sell and market by big business (the record label) and sell on to the consumer.

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