Looking for An Authentic Revolutionary Soundtrack

Posted January 23, 2014 @ 9:06am | by Tripp

Awaking once again (The new normal?) well before dawn, I shuffle my way to the kitchen and make the first pot of coffee. I want to say “first” here because I speculate that there may be more than one. I’m not sleeping like I am used to sleeping. I am not sleeping badly. I am simply not sleeping for long. Apparently five hours is all I need right now.

I don’t believe it for a minute, but it’s what I got. And about the coffee. As much as I blather on about it, I usually drink one cup a day. I might have tea at lunch. So, I cannot blame caffeine overload for this as much as I would like to.


The good news is that coffee is still salubrious. The bad news is that I don’t sleep. But this is not a post about sleep or coffee. 

This morning I read about the CV as poetry, how politician’s spouses can ruin everything, and some more about the end of pop music.

Of the three, which do you think struck a nerve?

I’m predictable. I admit it.

So, here I sit at my desk getting ready to work through some course syllabi that need my attention and I am plagued by “culture” and “power” and various other discourses that we all swim in. Let’s talk about music just for a second. Bear with me. Neil Davenport writes:

'For previous generations, pop music was as much about the social side of music as it was about seven-inch singles and chart rundowns. Today, when young people are encouraged to hunker down in the bosom of the family well into adulthood, and with the outside world presented as a fearsome place to be, pop music is no longer quite so resonant as a symbol of excitement and independence, sex and romance. The desirability of pop music has faded, not because of MP3s and free downloads, but because the desire to be extraordinary, independent and free is less of a smash hit today. Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME - no wonder it all seems like a dream.'

Music, I suggest, is only ever social. Even when created alone, it is a means of framing one’s social reality. It is a means of navigating (read: expressing and engaging), social life no matter how large the population of one’s social milieu. So, there’a a problem with Davenport’s line of thought from the get go. Now, that said, on its own, the essay is an interesting bit of published ethnography. I have seen similar rants about the new Coen Brothers film. Pleas for authenticity abound.

Folk music is about one of the most authentic things in the world. It’s music that comes from the lower classes, from their real lives. Many folk songs are ‘traditional,’ which has many meanings, including that specific authorship is unknown. They seem to arise from the cotton fields and mines on their own, true examples of working man pain and suffering and joy. Folk music was, for a time, how a certain segment of society spoke to itself.

The folk revival of the 20th century was all about trying to get back to the authenticity of folk, and as is always the case with movements designed to rediscover purity, it came from an inauthentic place.

Sentimentality and nostalgia for “real” music percolate many of the reviews. Even positive reviews frame exceptions of one kind or another. Also, fascinating. Authenticity. Purity. Rediscovery. Also, as Tom Shone of the Guardian writes, "It's fascinating to hear such an argument for authenticity from the Coens – kings of the unashamedly inauthentic and ersatz."

So intertwined with particular times in history and specific individual experiences of youth, rebellion, and social change are some musics that people are unwilling or unable to “grant” newer musics the same genre status. Newer musics are "inauthentic." The newer musics, claim critics, are of less social value, carry less cultural capital, in some way. They even sound “cheap” or "fake."  

I’m taken by this public display of musical disatisfaction and the willingness of our now elders to repeat the same sonic snootery they railed against when they were younger. No, Miley Cyrus is not framing a rebellion. No, there is no specific music to accompany the Occupy Movement (perhaps this is why it doesn’t have traction). I wonder, instead, if such movements are hyperlocalized. Listen to the hip-hop of East L.A. or Oakland. Perhaps we need to listen to the urban sounds of the Dominican immigrants in New York City. Or, even less romantic, we need to take seriously the young woman who says to her friends, “I was driving along listening to Beyonce’s new CD and it changed my life.” Alone in her revolution, she is a rebel no less. 

Long live the revolution and the music which accompanies it.

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