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ARLT 101g:
Authenticity in Popular Music
Spring 2008
Taper Hall
M,W, 1:00-2:50
Authenticity has loomed large in American popular music since the 19th century. However, in the
last half-century critics and listeners alike have grown ever more invested in the “realness” of
musicians and their music. Particularly in rap and punk, no sin is greater and potentially more
career-deflating than faking it, or being perceived as faking it. Even mainstream pop acts,
including Milli Vanilli and Kelly Clarkson, have run into problems. There is no single standard
for authenticity, but critical variables include socio-economic background, anti-commercial
posture, street credibility, proximity to audience, political affiliation, purity of sound, and
sincerity of emotion.
This class investigates our culture’s investment in the notion of musical authenticity. It explores
the ways that musicians, who, after all, are performers, have negotiated the demands of
“realness,” and how their negotiations have varied according to genre, gender, race, and historical
period. To that end, we will focus on thirteen artists--Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday,
Jimi Hendrix, Jay-Z, Kathleen Hannah, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Janis
Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, and the Sex Pistols--all of whom in different ways enrich our
understanding of the ways in which authenticity operates. For example, Bob Dylan was regarded
as the genuine article even after the mainstream media revealed that his name and much of his life
story were fabricated. How has Dylan succeeded (to this day) in evading the charge of faking it?
And what do we make of British punk, which some have argued grew out of “fake culture”?
This course sharpens students’ critical ability through the practice of close reading, which is
employed here in relation to musical texts, biography, critical reviews, films and videos. It will
also familiarize students with the exciting scholarship about popular music emerging from
Cultural Studies, History, Anthropology, Musicology, Gender Studies and American Studies.
Finally, this class requires active learning. All students will be required to take part in aclass
presentation (with music and video clips included) sometime during the semester. It will require
some research beyond class readings, and writing a short a 4-5-page paper about your findings.
Class Requirements:
-Thoughtful reading of the material by the due date listed on the syllabus. Class attendance and
participation affect your grade. Note that you are allowed only one excused absence. Five
absences will result in a failing grade.
-Class project, including 4-5 paper (25%)
-Two short papers (3-5 pp.) on specific topics (20%)
-Take-home midterm (25%)
-Final Paper (6-8 pp.) (30%)
Legs McNeil, Please Kill Me
Gerald Early, One Nation Under a Groove
Jon Savage, England's Dreaming
Tricia Rose, Black Noise
Charles Cross, Heavier than Heaven
David Hajdu, Positively 4th Street
Course Reader
A course reader is required and available for purchase. Articles in the reader are marked on the
syllabus with an asterisk.
Course Outline
8-27--Introductory Lecture
8-29--The Blues and Its Guard Keepers
9-3---Labor Day--No Class
9-5--Robert Johnson: Iconic Bluesman
*Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues,
pp. xiii-82
9-10--Film: The Search for Robert Johnson
9-12--Folk Music and “The People”
*Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival, pp. 116-150
9-17--Billie Holiday: Lady of Hip-ness
Film clip: Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday
9-19--The Folk Revival of the 1960s
David Hajdu, Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob
Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina, pp. 3-157
9-24--Film: No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
9-26--Hajdu, pp. 157-end
10-1--Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Sanctified Rocker
*Gayle Wald, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Prehistory of ‘Women in Rock,’”
in Eric Weisbard, This is Pop
10-3--Soul Music: James Brown: Black and Proud
Film Clip: Ed Sullivan Show
10-8--Soul Music: The Sound of Young America--Motown
Gerald Early, One Nation Under a Groove, p. 1-65
Film Clip: Ed Sullivan Show
10-10-Soul Music: The Sound of Young America--Motown
Early, One Nation Under a Groove, pp. 67-135
Film Clip: Standing in the Shadows of Motown
10:15- Soul on Ice: Jimi Hendrix
*Charles S. Murray, Crosstown Traffic, pp. 78-105
Film Clips: Monterey Pop; The Mike Douglas Show w/Sly Stone
10-17-Janis Joplin: Queen of the Real
Film Clip: Janis the Way She Was
10-22-Film: The Festival Express
10-24-Black Moses: Isaac Hayes
Film Clip:
10-29-Patti Smith: Punk Poet?
Please Kill Me, pp.
10-31--Sex Pistols and British Punk
Film: The Filth & the Fury: A Sex Pistols Film
11-5-- Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming, p. 1-104
11-12--Savage, pp.
11-14--Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, pp
Film Clip: Eight Mile
11-19--Rose, pp. xxxxxxxx
Film Clip: Hustle and Flow
11-21--No Class
11-26--Jay-Z: Status-tician of Rap
*Kelefa Sanneh, "Getting' Paid: Jay-Z, Criminal Culture, and the Rise of Corporate
Rap in Lethem, ed., Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002
12-3--Kurt Cobain
Charles Cross, Heavier than Heaven