Must Music Be Authentic? Roger, Wilco.
Have you been in a coal oil fire? Because if not, you should write your song about something else. If it doesn’t come from some genuine experience, what are you writing about?
Inauthenticity is so annoying. Like when you lose a loved one and are in deep distress and some never-been-hurt 22 year old tells you they know what you are going through. You look for a really soft wall to punch (you don’t want to hurt your hand).
Then you turn on the radio or Spotify or whatever, and some never-been-married punk tries to tell you what love is, which apparently is a one night stand. Or John Legend croons about the “perfect imperfections” of his Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model wife. Thanks John. I know it’s tough to overcome her exotic good looks and floss bottoms. Good for you sharing that with the rest of us as we ask the clueless clerk at Penney’s if they make khakis with adjustable waist bands.
I only have so much patience for all this fakey fakeness. I almost can’t take the upper-middle class suburban kids crusin’ downtown on Saturday night with the bass thumping under the next cookie-cutter, f-bomb wielding rapper who just really wants to explode so he can become the next Ice Cube in some daddy’s-stuck-babysitting-the-kids-again comedy. It makes me want to go full Johnny-from-Karate-Kid on their radio, but this time Johnny isn’t a bully but a worker of justice against inauthenticity and hypocrisy in music and the skeleton costume represents that the emperor of Musictown is wearing no clothes!
John Legend and Ice Cube are probably sharing a laugh and a cocktail right now as they discuss how rich and beloved they are. And the truth is, I like some of what both of them do. I like swimming in pop culture. My wife can’t stop singing “All Of Me” and I can’t remember college without hearing N.W.A. pumping out from every other dorm room. Who’s the hypocrite now?
I want something better, authentic, genuine. I want that in me. I want that in you. Jesus wants it in us. Let’s create stories, lyrics, sounds, and scenes that come from us. That deal truly with our stories and speak to the lives and stories of others.
Portlandia brought on Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to make a similar point. For me it draws out questions about authenticity in art and in me. And it’s just funny.
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Very well written article, Steve. When you brought up Johnny from Karate Kid, my Frosted Mini-Wheats came out of my nose. I totally agree with the point of your article that authenticity is something to strive for, especially as a Christian. However, I’d like to latch on to one of your final comments because I think it would be fun to run down an unintended rabbit-trail. “For me it draws out questions about authenticity in art and in me.” A question to begin the rabbit trail: If art is not created in the first-person, is it still authentic? I remember hearing an interview with Sting when he spoke of how he loves exploring different personalities and topics through song writing. In a sense, the songwriter takes on the role of an actor; “If I were in this person’s shoes, how would I respond?”. If Jeff Tweedy has never been in a coal fire, but sung about it as a character in his song, would that be inauthentic? Maybe it’s a question of genre, since there is an unwritten rule that folkies are expected to be more authentic for whatever reason. Well, the trail has been cleared…watch out for rabbits.
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