Thursday, April 30, 2009

Authenticity... again. Now with more historical and cultural context!

I mentioned this briefly in class today, but I've been thinking about it more since then.

Krzys asked us why we thought that middle class white kids liked NWA so much. I said that both Bob Dylan and NWA have an authenticity thing going. I didn't actually mean to answer the question, I just needed a vehicle to say that once I thought of it, so I tied it back in. Ha. In fact, I mostly had stuff to say about Bob Dylan.

But anyway, the extent to which Bob Dylan tried/succeeded in being authentic is pretty impressive. We studied him a lot last semester in history of rock music. Rock'n'Roll was in full force in the late 50's. While a couple folk musicians gained popularity (Guthrie, Pete Seeger) then, it was Bob Dylan that brought folk music to the mainstream in the early 60's. The folk music revival coincided nicely with the civil rights movement in New York at least, Bob Dylan writing about it often.

The authenticity part comes in because of how folk music changed rock music, which is mostly lyrically (at least, that's the relevant part. It worked stylistically also, of course). Folk brought activism and politics into rock music at a time when mainstream music had always had banal lyrics about puppy love and throwing parties. This mingling came later, though. When folk being popular was a new thing, folk musicians sought to separate themselves as much as possible from rock music and it's falseness. Fans and musicians dressed differently and opposed any poisoning of the authenticity of folk with rock influences (why Bob Dylan plugging in at the festival was such a huge disaster at the time).

The ironic bit of all of this, of course, is that stating rules and boundaries for folk music is somewhat contrary to the heart of the genre and rather inauthentic inherently. Theoretically, it would be about pulling influences from wherever felt appropriate, but that attitude in music didn't come until later.

This post seems pretty off-topic, so I'll backtrack to NWA and the Wire:

I see a common thread between the authenticity of Bob Dylan and that of NWA. In both instances, it's a little hypocritical (Bob Dylan will not ever really be on the receiving end of racism; NWA aren't quite as on the streets as you might guess), and in both cases, they were using authenticity to make popular a genre of music which contrasted the current mainstream. Bob Dylan brought folk out against rock, NWA brought gangsta rap out against... well, everything wholesome. AND lyrics/message were a huge factor in both!

As far as the Wire goes, it's not a musical artist of course, so that comparison is out the window. I do think it shares the slight hypocrisy in that any television show created for entertainment isn't going to be totally realistic, much like any real gangsta is not going to be in a recording studio. The idea that it's creators are ex-cops and such lends it some credence, though. The "lyrics" of the show, much like NWA or Bob Dylan, are pretty revolutionary. I think the dialogue is one of the strong points in the Wire, both for authenticity and entertainment.

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