Monday, January 22, 2007

Inventing Authenticity

Dial "M" for Musicology, in a short post about "American Idol" contestants, who so often appear to believe that sincerity is the key to performance:
. . . 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.

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January 25, 2007 10:16 AM  

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