When we, as fans or writers, talk about realness it’s often to draw a line between the classic and the modern, the inventors of a genre, a culture, and the musicians who used the style of these sacred bands as a template to build their own sound. This idea that some music, or as a whole someone’s artistic pretension, is more « real » than other can be found in virtually any genre, from the Detroit Techno scene to the ones that were exported back from the UK to the US (see Energy flash by Simon Reynolds) or in the Norwegian Black metal scene (see Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan). High Baker and Yuval Taylor, respectively a musician and a journalist, demonstrate with a deep historical and musical researcher of all their subject how our concept of what is « real » and what isn’t is rooted in misconception fueled by musicians who pretended, or where presented, as real when they were actually impersonating someone else than themselves.
From Kurt Cobain‘s obsession for the blues musician Leadbelly to the use of samples from Soul records in Moby‘s music, the two writers question ideas related to cultural identities and the differences we erroneously perceive between black and white musicians or why a musician like Neil Young can be considered more honest in his music and the interpretation of his emotion throughout his career than Billy Joel. Their comparison between Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious‘ life ask a lot of important question on the nature of Punk as a movement whereas the analysis of the rejection of Disco as a fake movement is explained more as an homophobic reaction than as anything to do with realness.
As a fan of Metal, this book is a bit frustrating as the two writers reject from the get go Heavy metal as being a culture that prides itself on being fake. Although I would rather explain in more details the reason for my disagreement I will only say briefly that although Metal often deals with fantastical them, be it Darkness, Satan or Fantasy, it’s paradoxically obsessed with remaining true to certain values and a certain aesthetic that defines what is real and what isn’t.
However, this rejection of the genre by the author does not negate in any way the quality and the argument of the writers. Each chapter is painstakingly researched and offers much food for thoughts of any music fans who is not already aware of all the facts about Elvis, Neil Young or Buena Vista Social Club. What this book is begging for however is a sequel since there are so many cultures and artists to analyze in the same way. Still, as many sequels do, it would only serve to reinforce the point the authors are making: There is no such thing as realness, it’s all pretend, so let’s enjoy music for the emotions it gives us and let’s stop obsessing about what artist is more legitimate than the other. It’s all fake and real at the same time.