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February 06, 2007


Yuval Taylor

While I have no doubt that in order to be taken seriously punk bands had to act pretty earnest, there was always an element of mockery even in the very earliest punk songs. You can certainly see this in the Ramones, from the very beginning, but the Sex Pistols' songs were also full of irony, self-mocking, and knowing winks, and I'm afraid I don't see Alternative TV, the Fall, or Wire as a departure from that posture. All these bands combined earnestness with a sneer. Perhaps the Clash were something of an exception for a year or two, but their cover of "I Fought the Law" is full of self-conscious posturing.

Hugh Barker

For me, it's a matter of degree, of how clearly the bands felt able to telegraph their posturing. I agree with you about The Ramones, which is why I limited the discussion to UK punk, which took a different path. But for me the early Pistols and Clash could never have made it as clear as those later bands that there was any irony or humour involved - they had to appear earnest and straight-faced even if there was a slight nod and wink involved on a close inspection - whereas the examples quoted here are quite openly undermining that earnestness.

Yuval Taylor

Maybe we disagree only on the Sex Pistols--the Clash were pretty irony-free, but "No Feelings" and "Pretty Vacant" are ironic from beginning to end (and "Holidays in the Sun" and "God Save the Queen" have plenty of irony too). I really can't see the difference between "Pretty Vacant" and "How Much Longer," or between "No Feelings" and "12XU."

What other bands were in the pure earnestsness camp along with the Clash? Certainly Stiff Little Fingers were, but didn't they come later?

Hugh Barker

The difference for me between Pretty Vacant and How Much Longer is that Pretty Vacant is punk posturing, ironic or not, whereas How Much Longer is taking the piss out of punk posturing.

I guess this was a tension that was there from the start - how openly one could be ironic or knowing about one's posturing. Some of the first wave of bands like the Adverts and the Slits were pretty knowing at times, whereas Joy Division, the Banshees, the Jam, even X-Ray Spex were more po-faced. Then bands that came a bit later like SLF and Crass were some of the most dour of the lot. But as I said, the distinction I intended to make was not about whether bands are being ironic or posturing to some degree, it's more about the degree to which they are prepared to openly acknowledge that pose or irony, to make a joke or artistic point out of the fact that they are posturing.

Maybe I should go back and edit my original post to try to make this distinction more clear, but then these comments wouldn't make so much sense. Ah well...

Thalia May

I always felt it was the media's reaction to early punk that was po-faced, more than the bands themselves. The punk bands always came across as being in on a secret joke, which the media didn't get, one of the reasons I liked it at the time.


Yeah, I think Thalia is right on.

And what Hugh is saying about the acknowledging what is really going on or not gets to the point of Fiction/Real-life crossing over. Nothing is explained. No context given. I think that's part of the beauty and mystique of rock'n roll and other similar musics. But in addition I don't think the artists are really "in" on it either.

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What people are saying about our book

  • 9/07
    "[A] perceptive exploration of authenticity and its meaning in 20th-century popular music. . . . Highly recommended." --M. Goldsmith, Choice
  • 7/1/07
    "This revelatory book is a must for anyone who has been an ambivalent pop music fan. . . . An exhaustive and thought-provoking book that deserves serious attention." --Alan Licht, The Wire
  • 5/22
    [Four stars] "Whether nailing how perceptions of the blues were moulded by the racist cultural bias of those who originally recorded it or assessing the multi-dimensional pranksterism of the KLF, this well-researched, informative and thought-provoking book pierces the bubble of what pop authenticity really means." --Thomas H. Green, Q Magazine
  • 4/18
    [five stars] "Enthusiastic . . . superb. . . . Like all great music writing, Faking It is unashamedly subjective and, above all, makes you wish you were listening to the records it describes." --Martin Hemming, Time Out London
  • 4/17
    "Essential reading for anyone who really loves pop." --Paul Connolly, London Lite
  • 4/16
    “Persuasive . . . powerful. . . . A fascinating and nimble investigation of pop’s paradoxes. . . . A great collection of true stories about fake music. It's the essay as Möbius strip; a literary illusion that . . . tells us more about what's true, what's not, and why that doesn't always matter, than a more straightforward confrontation with the secrets and lies of pop music ever could.” --Jeff Sharlet, New Statesman
  • 4/15
    “Valuable . . . instructive . . . Taylor, who has written extensively on slavery, is particularly strong when discussing how the music of the American South was divided along race lines by the fledgling record industry, even when white and black artists had almost identical repertoires. The chapters on Jimmie Rodgers's autobiographical 'TB Blues' and Elvis's 'Heartbreak Hotel' are excellent.” --Campbell Stevenson, The Observer
  • 4/14
    “Diabolically provocative . . . [A] tightly focused examination of why, when and how authenticity became such a powerful force in popular music – and eventually its key marketing tool.” --Greg Quinn, Toronto Star
  • 4/11/07
    “The authors skillfully navigate a complicated musical past. . . . The book avoids the prose pitfalls of dry academic work and is not without humor. . . . Among the most notable essays is a bracing consideration of Donna Summer and her disco hit ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ the hypnotic epic of simulated female orgasm. In this chapter, Barker and Taylor nicely fuse a brief history of early disco with a larger contemplation of the tensions between authenticity and artifice in the disco era. As good as the authors' defense of disco is, it's topped by a riveting analysis of the career of John Lydon. In this finely nuanced chapter, Barker and Taylor penetrate the core contradictions within the punk scene, a genre rife with internal debates over authenticity and fakery.” --Chrissie Dickinson, Washington Post
  • 4/11/07
    “This is a work by two fanatics that, through copious research and profound contemplation, offers fellow fans a stimulating semantic exercise . . . and, more significantly, carte blanche to enjoy guilty pleasures without guilt. . . . Barker’s obvious passion for and deep understanding of manufactured pop make his chapters fascinating. . . . The exquisite research and nuanced insight Barker brings to [Donna Summer’s] moans and groans makes ['Love to Love You Baby'] one of the strongest chapters in the book. . . . [And Taylor’s 'Heartbreak Hotel'] is one of the most passionate, articulate love letters to the King I have ever read.” --Jake Austen, Chicago Journal
  • 4/7/07
    "Merrily throwing in references from R. Kelly to Mississippi John Hurt to the KLF, . . . Faking It is dynamite for the pop subversive. . . . The arguments are very persuasive." --Bob Stanley, The (London) Times
  • 4/1/07
    “What Faking It shows us, through an impressive array of eras and musicians, is that the quest for purity in pop is a fool’s errand. . . . Faking It is a fascinating read based on a truly provocative and enlightening argument. It will be hard to think about pop music in the same way again.” --Nora Young, Toronto Star
  • 3/28/07
    “Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor certainly know their stuff and have fun poking and prodding at our idols.” --Jonathan Gibbs, Metro
  • 3/28/07
    “In 10 chapters--each addressing a particular song or song cover as a starting point before running rabid over all kinds of cultural, racial, and social terrain--[the authors] trace the shifting importance of originality in popular music from the early 20th century to the early 21st with diplomatic élan and overachieving gusto, . . . smashing precious illusions like microbrew bottles along the way. . . . Faking It is certain to inspire some awesome conversations among readers.” --Raymond Cummings, Baltimore City Paper
  • 3/22/07
    "Sure to fuel arguments among music nerds for years to come. . . . Taken as a whole, the book becomes a fascinating, complex study of the increasingly blurred line between actuality and artifice." --Ira Brooker, Time Out Chicago
  • 3/14/07
    "A brutal attack on what professor David Lowethal called 'the dogma of self-delusion,' which basically kills the entire concept of 'authentic' alternative culture, eats it, shits it, buries it, digs it up, burns it, eats it and shits it out again. And then nails it to a canvas and calls it art. I intend to carry this book around with me. And the next time I meet a DJ who looks like he might be about to use the phrase 'keeping it real,' I shall smack him in the head with it. Repeatedly." --Steven Wells, Philadelphia Weekly
  • 3/4/07
    "Combines a strong point of view, intelligent and informed musical analysis, and rigorous historical research." --Ben Yagoda, The New York Times Book Review
  • 2/18/07
    “Essential . . . a model of lucidity and concision. . . . Barker and Taylor might make great house builders. They lay a solid foundation for their argument that popular music is inherently 'impure.' . . . Part of the fun here is the way the writers trust their ears. . . . [A] smart, passionate book.” --Charles Taylor, Newsday
  • 2/15/07
    "With plenty of interesting and contentious assertions to stimulate even casual readers, this is a heck of an argument starter." --Booklist
  • 2/15/07
    "Insightful. . . . Faking It delivers lots of good stories." --Michael Washburn, Time Out New York
  • 2/9/07
    “Provocative . . . incendiary . . . fascinating.” --Ron Wynn, Nashville City Paper

The most essential songs discussed in Faking It