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2.10.2006

she'll do me, she'll do you, she's got that kinda lovin' 

"Authenticity's a bitch," writes Andrew Gilstrap on PopMatters today. Good point.

I got my introduction to "The Authenticity Debate" in college, in an odd-shaped, one-round-wall-and-two-flat-walls space that otherwise would have been library storage. Above us was Cabell Hall, the University of Virginia's music auditorium, so we were frequently conducting class while listening to the Glee Club's glee or the orchestra's tunings. Outside our door were the Music Library stacks, a circular trail (remember, underneath the auditorium) that wound through music scores and theses and rock criticism, up and down ramps, occasionally skirting a table or at least a chair.

In short, it was a haven of sorts, a place to disappear and also find yourself in dusty volumes and endless interpretations of things that matter - and wireless internet to boot! But this is not merely library worship. You have to understand that this building is located in the famed "academic village," Thomas Jefferson's vision of a civilized community of scholars designed to promote all the good stuff about secular education that I need not get into. The mumbo-jumbo of TJ's ideas retains it's credibility, but is complicated by many other truths about his life that seem to get in the way. Nevertheless, it remains that any UVA grad will attest to the beauty and grandeur of The Lawn, the main quad that is lined with the original dorm quarters (now reserved for those special few who make the cut) and bookended by the Rotunda on one end - a mini, Jeffersonian Pantheon - and good old Cabell Hall on the other. Even if the most memorable experiences of the Lawn involve streaking it, getting caught by policemen with flashlights, and returning to your pile of clothes in the corner only to find them misplaced by your devious friends.

Strolling down the length of the Lawn, famously terraced for maximum grandiosity, underneath the colonnades, admiring the overwatered spring green grass and the perfectly spaced trees (and the students playing frisbee or having picnics, living the very pictures that peppered the catalogue they received in high school), up the stairs with the secret society's cryptic markings, into Cabell Hall where I would then descend into the depths of the Music Library, there was surely a lot to contemplate about authenticity. But this post isn't meant to be about UVA, it started off as an introduction and turned into a quasi-nostalgic description of things I used to do (see the later reference to nostalgia for a possible explanation).

So, with an overly indulgent context now set, I return. Gilstrap addresses the problems of authenticity as a method of judgement for "true" roots music, because it inherently prevents anyone from using it in a way that preserves its authenticity. How's that for a mobias strip?

So people have attached certain cornerstones of knowledge to the term, hoping to at least represent a sort of knowing-ness and connection to things that is deeper than the average American. It's strange, because isn't roots music - americana, whatever you want to call it - isn't it supposed to be representative of the general American population? People use the term "Authenticity" to make a distinction between something that means something and something that blatantly buys into consumer culture. Nostalgia is a big part of it.

He writes:
Before too long, how many songs will be born of genuine personal experience, as opposed to someone's abstract idea of what certain experiences must feel like, or from vague memories of experiences that don't exist anymore? In short, is it possible for there to be genuine roots music — at least in the traditionally accepted sense — anymore, without it being little more than proof that someone listened to their Alan Lomax, Carter Family, and Muddy Waters discs with a really attentive ear?

People don't necessarily have to label themselves as followers of a certain tradition in order to actually be followers of a certain tradition. It's all in the aftermath, anyways. The tags become reference points for, yes, discussion, but mainly, for consumption.

My definition of roots music is that it hails from the period before music splintered into genres. Before "rock and roll" became an advertising slogan. I don't know when that is, somewhere around 1950 I think. I mean people like Bill Haley and Big Joe Turner and Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams- they pre-date things like "rock," "country," "folk." And once you mix in early blues and jazz, it's a virtual melting pot- how American. When music recalls this era, it has the makings of being authentic roots music.

You have to take into consideration the way that technology has changed the sound of music as well, and then there is the little phenomenon of rock and roll (maybe these two things are related, like form and function- which is a duck, which is a decorated shed?) to contend with, and hence the reason why there is so much debate about authenticity. There have to be new definitions. I think we are all living proof of them, it's just a matter of being able to put it into words.

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