Rhetoric of authenticity

My sympathies to Jonathan — this is truly a wretched time of year for anyone involved with higher education. Somehow starting up classes and whatnot again after Christmas feels a lot more sledgehammer-like than it does after the summer. Jonathan expresses relief that I’m on my game, but my game, in truth, is rather diminished.

Still, my American Idol posts from last week seem to have gotten some readers, so that’s all to the good. The Texas Tech theory department (what, all of them?) wrote a piece that picked up on one thing I love about the show — namely, "it’s like aural skills class, but on TV." And it gets you thinking about performance, too: TTTD points out that the problem with a lot of the AI contestants is that they think that if they just really, really feel the music they can turn in a good performance. But performance isn’t always, or even often, a matter of sincerity. George Burns is supposed to have said, "sincerity is everything — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made." So true. In my classes I often like to point out that the artistry of singers like Bob Dylan is largely directed at fashioning a rhetoric of authenticity. You hear Dylan’s hard-prairie voice on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and think, ah, the splintery authenticity. But the chewed-up R’s and flat vowels and the moments of high intensity where Dylan overshoots the pitch are just as carefully crafted as the portamenti on a Frank Sinatra album. What’s particularly impressive about Dylan’s sixties albums is how he was coming up with a whole new vocal-performative code for each album. It’s a remarkable acheivement: between 1963 (Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan) and 1967 (John Wesley Harding) he invented half a dozen ways of being authentic.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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3 Responses to Rhetoric of authenticity

  1. Rhetoric of authenticity

  2. ECG says:

    But Phiiiiiiiiiiil…two points stick in my throat. I LOVE this: “The aesthetic ideal of pop is the perfect realization of the expected pattern.” I do. But I can’t quite get past the fact that it seems like a not insignificant number of other things could replace “pop” in that otherwise rock-solid assertion. Let us not get into the multi-layered complexities of expectation/realization strategies in antecedent-consequent phrase constructions of, say, the 1st Viennese school. Also, Tim Taylor killed all rhetorics of authenticity for me some time ago; whether intentionally or not, I can’t be sure just yet.

  3. Voices

    Thanks to Lyle for the link to an interesting post at a blog dedicated to musicology: Phil Ford writes first about American Idol and then progresses to Dylan:
    And it gets you thinking about performance, too: TTTD points out that the problem with a l…

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