When I was younger I was obsessed with authenticity in music. I wouldn’t even play electric guitar because it felt too easy, like cheating somehow. I expended a lot of energy and attention trying to figure out what is and isn’t authentic. Now, at the age of 34, I’ve officially given up. I doubt there’s even such a thing as authenticity in music, at least not in America. There’s just stuff that I enjoy hearing, and stuff I don’t. But the concept of authenticity meant a lot to me for a long time, and it continues to mean a lot to many of the musicians and music fans I know. So what is it, and why do people care about it?

At various points in my quest, I thought I had identified some truly authentic musical forms and styles. Here they are, more or less in order of my embracing them.

Sixties Motown

When I was growing up, my mom and stepfather had the Big Chill soundtrack in heavy rotation. You could equate authenticity with soul, and there’s plenty of soul here.

In the eighties, my parents’ friends liked to praise the classic Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin recordings on this soundtrack as “pure,” by contrast to the music of the then-present: hip-hop, synth-heavy pop, Michael Jackson. I dutifully accepted this formulation, even though my ears told me to like the eighties stuff as much as the sixties stuff. Continue reading

Billie Jean and lip-synching

Is lip-synching to a recording a form of music? It’s definitely dance, of a specific kind. But is it music, or just mime? I feel instinctively that Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” routine on the Motown 25th Anniversary is a musical performance, one of the all-time great ones. So I guess I consider lip-synching to be music.

Listen to that crowd. Lip-synching might be fake, but Michael’s audience knows they’re witnessing something real. The band in the back is just sitting there, since all the music is pre-recorded. But they’re feeling it, you can see dudes clapping. What makes this music, even though no one is singing or playing any instruments?

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