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Taruskinian 'Authenticity', The Cult of Historicism and Father John Misty

Let's be clear, I love Father John Misty. But that does not change the fact that he is an artist for whom the word 'authentic' in quotation marks was made. From creating the persona of the 'LA hippie priest' in Father John Misty to draping every performance of his songs with layers of irony, Josh Tillman is extremely concerned with what it means to make authentic pop in modern times. Of course, this brings him to direct conversation with Taruskin's thoughts on what it means to be 'authentic' and to perform music with a level of adherence to the style in which the composer intended it to be performed. (Additional note of interest - Father John Misty is also, as I will hopefully go into in my final project, an artist whose music is regularly ascribed the description of 'troubadour' on music blogs and in critical reviews.)Firstly, a little bit of video explication before we move into how Father John Misty interacts with Taruskin's theoretical affirmation. The first video embedded is a live performance of 'Bored in the USA' on David Letterman's former CBS show. By itself, the song is a satirical meditation on American culture as it stands today, yet Misty adds layers of ironic detachment to castigate the very notion of authenticity. From faking playing the automatic piano (although he can play the piano in real life), gauchely striding around the stage like a loud singer, to adding in a canned laugh track akin to those found on sitcoms, every aspect of this performance is made to provoke the audience, to make them think about whether what they're seeing is real. And of course, where could this performance end but in a few seconds of awkward silence as the audience struggles to determine whether the performance is over. Those few seconds make me laugh every single time. The second video is even more appropriate because it directly engages with Taruskin's thoughts on the pervading influence of historicism. Taken from a Pitchfork series called 'Over/under' where artists will jokingly rate things as over or underrated, we see Misty give an answer on authenticity that could almost be directly paraphrasing Taruskin's critique of the 'specisous veneer of historicism.' Just as Taruskin has a distatte for the privileging of period-appropriateness and intentionality over the cariety of human performance, Misty castigates the 'porkpie hats and banjos' (hi Mumford and Sons) that make up most people's authenticity. The leap from banjos and porkpies to historical authenticity being "implicitly projected into historical periods that never knew it" is merely a matter of academic audience.Quoting Grout, Taruskin talks about our desire to recreate dead eras rather than live in new ones. In Misty's performance of 'Bored', we see a repudiation of that schema that taruskin would surely have approved of. Besides the nod in the title to seminal Springsteen classic 'Born in the USA', every aspect of the performance is taken from a bygone era and rendered ridiculous. There is no aiming for 'contextual' authenticity or 'verisimilitude.' Rather, like Taruskin, Misty points out the fallacies of trying to recapture the ghosts of the past. "Really talented performers are curious" according to Ruskin, in their view of performance, in their view of the canon, in the musical choices they make. In revealing the artifice of 'authentic' performeance, Misty reveals himself as a talented performer in his own right. Comparing the studio and the live version (I have not embedded the studio vision but it is easily found), they could be two different songs entirely. Misty feels no desire to be 'authentic' to the version he recorded. He, like Taruskin, knows that moving through the 'dirt' of performance is better that making mere facsimiles.  

Songs of Love and War: Gender, Crusade, Politics (Sp16-FEMGEN-205-01/FRENCH-205-01)
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