We devote quite a bit of space in Faking It to the concept of music as self-expression. There's an exchange between Robert L. Marshall and Charles Rosen in the December 6, 2007 issue of The New York Review of Books that readers might find illuminating. Mozart wrote that he could express his "thoughts and feelings" not in words but "by means of sounds, for I am a musician." Rosen notes that "Mozart writes not about the expression of his personality or his biography, which is the way that some critics would like to interpret self-expression, but about the expression of his 'thoughts and feelings,' as he says. No doubt the music does express his personality and is influenced by his life; but this was not a specific intention of Mozart, as it would be for some later artists."
What does this have to do with pop music? We tend to call music that deliberately expresses the personality or biography of the artist more authentic than music that doesn't, so that the music of Lightnin' Hopkins or Nirvana is more authentic than that of KISS or ABBA; and Hugh and I go to quite some lengths in the book to describe the pitfalls of that approach, specifically focusing on autobiographical or semi-autobiographical artists such as Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Neil Young, and John Lydon. But could we rescue the term "authenticity" from its many paradoxes if we were satisfied instead with Mozart's rather more simple demand--that music reflect the artist's "thoughts and feelings" in order to be personally authentic?
Since taking my hiatus from this blog I have been listening more to Bach, Mozart, and Haydn than to any other music, and perhaps this is simply because it communicates thoughts and feelings more directly than today's pop. And that could be because prior to the nineteenth century music was never concerned with the artist's biography or personality. It is all too easy when listening to Beethoven or Schnittke or Tchaikovsky to connect the music with life of the composer, and it's impossible to escape this connection when listening to most blues, country, folk, or rock; but when listening to eighteenth-century composers, the connection rarely if ever comes to mind. Yet that doesn't make the music any less authentic--or less personal. In fact, the eighteenth-century composers could serve as models for today's pop musicians, who focus so much attention on words, videos, and other extra-musical factors that the load of communication borne by the music alone is relatively light, and the thoughts and feelings expressed by the music alone, set aside from the words and images, tend to be far less interesting, complex, and compelling than those of the eighteenth-century composers. It might be good to explore all the various implications of Mozart's words:
"I cannot write in verse, for I am no poet. I cannot arrange the parts of speech with such art as to produce effects of light and shade, for I am no painter. Even by signs and gestures I cannot express my thoughts and feelings, for I am no dancer. But I can do so by means of sounds, for I am a musician."
At the moment, this credo strikes me as one of the most authentic a musician can aspire to.
(I will try to post some MP3s soon.)