Yo, homies, hope you’re keeping it real, and welcome to this edition of my occasional agony uncle column, where I attempt to provide authentic answers to entirely fake readers’ questions on topics as diverse as cults, personal grooming and philosophical definitions of authenticity.
Dear Guru. I’ve recently joined an online community where everyone uses a strange language of ‘donds’, ‘zedding’ and ‘asafaraes’. Do I need to speak the same way to be considered authentic? Confused of Abergavenny.
No, but language appropriation can be fun, as those mischievous Sparks boys, Ron and Russell, demonstrate with vaudevillian flair on Suburban Homeboy. They say “yo dog” and they mean it by God. Downright silly and strangely charming.
Dear Guru. If I fake it, will I make it?
Well, I’ve listened several times this week with great pleasure to the buzzy, petulant, trumpet-tinged punk-pop of Lancashire’s Angelica and You Fake It, You Make It, and I’m afraid I still can’t fathom out the answer to this question. But they want you to get off their ship, and they sound like they mean it.
Dear Guru. I have an upcoming interview for a job in marketing. My friends think I should wear formal business attire, but I feel it would be dishonest to myself and my potential new employers if I don’t turn up as the real me, complete with knitted balaclava.
Faced with this, or indeed any other conundrum of contemporary life, why not follow the advice of Jeffrey Lewis & The Rain and ask yourself the simple question: What Would Pussy Riot Do? Lewis was fed up with seeing the slogan ‘What would Jesus do?’ and decided to postulate this much more interesting yardstick of authenticity. If you’re worried about launching straight in with Pussy Riot, visit my online merch store and I can do a special offer on the ‘What Would Rick Astley Do?’ starter kit.
Dear Guru. While searching online for a new gas-fuelled wood burner, I discovered that my wife has been meeting other men in an online chat room. I am 40, my wife is 38 and we’ve been happily married for 15 years. What’s your advice?
Get a real fireplace. Take a listen to Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew, as he orders another drink, invites us to take a seat at the bar with him and his guitar, and laments the passing of dying trades and crafts, bemoaning the faux-rustic tastes of contemporary America and slipping into Olde Tyme Mem’ry of a day when wood was – you know – wooden.
Dear Guru. My boyfriend has started talking to me about music while we’re having sex. Do you know how difficult it is to climax while listening to someone explain his theory of disappointing second albums?
I can only imagine. Hole’s Live Through This is a pretty good sophomore effort, don’t you think, though? And Doll Parts brings us neatly back to this week’s topic. Courtney’s in love with Kurt, but so is half the young female population of Seattle. She’s trying too much – and faking it so hard, she’s beyond fake. Which introduces what became for me a recurrent theme of this week’s topic – authenticity and fakery blurring into one another and turning each other inside out
Dear Guru. How are you going to squeeze some reggae into the A-list?
Easily done. In fact, I was quite spoilt for choice this week, what with plastic smiles (Black Uhuru), false prophets (Dennis Alcapone), con men fighting the dreadlocks (Max Romeo), fakery of religion (Congos) and multiple back-stabbings (Byron Lee, Heptones, Israel Vibration). But my pick of the crop is the magisterial Manley Augustus Buchanan aka Big Youth, riding the riddim like the proverbial lizard on a limb with Wolf in Sheep Clothing.
Dear Guru. I’m in a band and finding it an increasingly alienating experience to perform on stage night after night. Is what we’re doing real, or is it an artifice for our audience?
An interesting existential question. For Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, John Cassavetes’ 1977 movie, Opening Night, summed up “how we let people see what we want them to see, the constant projection we make”. He was particularly taken by the scene in which Cassavetes’ character says to Gena Rowlands: “If I don't really slap you, it won't look real for the performance.” To which Rowlands retorts: “It's a play. Why would you have to actually slap me? That's the whole point.” Slapped Actress is a roiling whirlpool of a track. And I can recommend singing along with the backing vocals at the end.
Dear Guru. My friends say the music I like listening to isn’t ‘real’. What should I tell them?
Where to get off, I’d suggest. I’m guessing thousands of academic treatises have been written on what constitutes authenticity in music. The philosopher Theodor Adorno had a serious beef with jazz, which he claimed gave the bogus appearance of authenticity whilst in fact being consumed by concerns about appearance and – get this! – helping sustain capitalism by rendering it aesthetically pleasing. Some later verdicts on Adorno’s music criticism: “some of the stupidest pages ever written about jazz” (Eric Hobsbawm), “reams of turgid nonsense” (Roger Scruton). Charles Mingus once said: “I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.” Which puts a nice complexion on his solo piano work, Myself When I Am Real.
Dear Guru. Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?
Mmm, is that you, Morpheus? Sounds like you’d dig Pete Shelley, who with his fellow Buzzcocks whipped up an anxiety-fuelled concoction of razor-sharp punk songs. Shelley plays the old dream theory card in I Don’t Mind. Reality both as dream and as game in which we never seem to find out just who we are. “I don't know if I'm an actor or ham, a shaman or sham.” Mighty fine music, not from yer average kitchen.
Dear Guru. I have greasy hair, and I’m sure other kids are staring at me. I’ve tried hair gel, but this only makes matters worse.
Now don’t take this the wrong way, but – you know what? – Nobody Cares! When you chew long enough on that stoical thought – and listen to it encapsulated in a sparkling four-minute piece of shape-shifting electronic grunge by those lovely boys and girls Superorganism – it becomes surprisingly liberating. Don’t agonise about what other people think: just be, dare I say it, yourself. This one’s best played very loud, I’ve discovered.
Dear Guru. My next door neighbour claims he’s Jesus and wants me to be one of his disciples. What should I say to him?
Tricky one, this. Dave Cousins of Strawbs had a friend who encountered a similar would-be Messiah while working in a shop in Denmark. This got him thinking about how Jesus would go about convincing people of his authenticity if the Second Coming ever happened. The Man Who Called Himself Jesus is brimming with deft touches of English social awkwardness, fumbling conversations and enigmatic gestures. Promptly banned by the Beeb of course.
Dear Guru. I thought you were meant to be guiding us towards some practical lifestyle options that would give us greater authenticity. I’m not sure you’ve quite got the hang of this agony uncle business.
Maybe it would help to listen to some Big Star. Alex Chilton struck me as someone who tried hard to be the real McCoy. And here he is, in The Ballad of El Goodo, counselling us not to be buffeted around by people telling us where to go or what to do. Which is pretty much the dictionary definition of authenticity in existential thought – a measure of how far your actions are congruent with your beliefs and desires, despite the pressures and influences of the material world. Oh, and it’s a humdinger of a song.
Dear Guru. My manager wants me to record a six-minute piece of psychedelic pop, complete with sitars, phasing and overdubs, which wears its influences rather heavily on its sleeve. The songwriter’s spent the summer hanging out in London with one of those Gibb brothers and now thinks he can write like the Beatles. The song’s meant to be a retort to Coca-Cola’s new advertising slogan and, I’m assured, a celebration of authenticity. Will this corrupt my artistic integrity?
Yer Actual, Authentic A-list Playlist:
Sparks – Suburban Homeboy
Angelica – You Fake It/You Make It
Jeffrey Lewis & The Rain – WWPRD
Mischief Brew – Olde Tyme Mem’ry
Hole – Doll Parts
Big Youth – Wolf in Sheep Clothing
The Hold Steady – Slapped Actress
Charles Mingus – Myself When I Am Real
Buzzcocks – I Don’t Mind
Superorganism – Nobody Cares
Strawbs – The Man Who Called Himself Jesus
Big Star – The Ballad of El Goodo
Russell Morris – The Real Thing
The Bona Fide B-list Playlist:
The Dramatics – Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
Arctic Monkeys – Fake Tales of San Francisco
Roxy Music – All I Want Is You
Lyle Lovett – That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas
Slapp Happy – Casablanca Moon
The Bevis Frond – Living in Real Time
Rozetta Johnson – Mine Was Real
The Jigsaw Seen – Celebrity Interview
Eric Matthews – Forging Plastic Pain
Smashing Pumpkins – To Sheila
Curtis Mayfield – No Thing on Me (Cocaine Song)
Geraldine Hunt – Can’t Fake the Feeling
Coldcut – True Skool (feat. Roots Manuva)
Guru’s Wildcard Pick:
Roxanne Shanté – Queen of Rox (Shanté Rox On)
When Brooklyn hip hop group UTFO put out a B-side called Roxanne, Roxanne, little did they know that it would spawn several dozen (some claim over a hundred) response records, with competing claims as to the ‘real’ Roxanne. I was always quite partial to this one, featuring the 15-year old Lolita Shanté Gooden. True skool!
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: The real thing? Songs about authenticity and fakery. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.