Barker, Hugh

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Barker, Hugh




Writer, musician, and songwriter.


(With Yuval Taylor) Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of the blog Faking It.


Hugh Barker is a writer, musician, and songwriter. In Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music, written with Yuval Taylor, the authors undertake an "examination of a number of the ways in which the idea of authenticity has affected popular music," commented a reviewer on the Tuned into Music Web log. Barker and Taylor are, the reviewer continued, "clear thinkers who recognize the limitations in their arguments and in their coverage of what authenticity may mean and how it may play out in various areas of pop music." Though they do not arrive at a final authoritative definition of the characteristics of authenticity, they "try to uncover the elusive sense of authenticity, honesty, and realness in American popular music," remarked Dave Szatmary in Library Journal.

Barker and Taylor begin their search for authenticity in the work of seminal blues singer Leadbelly, whose musical style has been characterized as pure and primitive. However, they note that Leadbelly's performances were influenced by manager John Lomax, who insisted that the once-incarcerated singer perform in prison garb and ensured that the sophisticated musician limit himself to music that conformed to common racial stereotypes of the day. For Barker and Taylor, Leadbelly was among the first popular musicians who were billed as displaying the authenticity of their personal history and musical style, but who were in fact "faking it," since his actual background and musical talent did not mesh with his public image as a performer. Throughout the book, the authors explore the work of numerous other performers and the nature of other musical styles, seeking the elusive quality of authenticity in each. The issue of race also figures strongly in their analysis. For example, Mississippi John Hurt, presented by his record company as a founding influence of Delta blues, wasn't from Mississippi and wasn't originally a blues singer. Yet because of his race and his presentation, fans eagerly flocked to Hurt's music even though it was, at core, not "authentic." Elsewhere, Jimmie Rogers, a white blues and country music singer, displayed the authenticity that Hurt lacked. The Monkees, a prefabricated 1960s pop group created in the studio by impresario and producer Don Kirshner, originally didn't even play their own instruments; later, however, they grew into their authenticity when they insisted they become true musicians and performers. For the Monkees, "somehow it didn't seem right that they should represent themselves on TV as something they were not," remarked New York Times Book Review contributor Ben Yagoda. Barker and Taylor consider musicians such as Neil Young, whose spare musical style supported his often expressed concerns about authenticity; Donna Summer, whose sultry image as a disco diva did not mesh with her more conservative personal views; and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide rather than find himself accused of "faking it."

The book contains "plenty of interesting and contentious assertions to stimulate even casual readers," noted Mike Tribby, writing in Booklist. New States-man critic Jeff Sharlet named it a "fascinating and nimble investigation of pop's paradoxes," while Yagoda noted that the book displays a "strong point of view, intelligent and informed musical analysis, and rigorous historical research." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that even though "the book's final conclusions are not revelatory, it offers an intriguing take on the development of popular music."



Booklist, February 15, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music, p. 22.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September, 2007, M. Goldsmith, review of Faking It, p. 107.

Guardian (London, England), April 15, 2007, Campbell Stevenson, "So That's Why Big Bill Had the Blues," review of Faking It.

Library Journal, February 15, 2007, Dave Szatmary, review of Faking It, p. 124; May 15, 2007, Yuval Taylor, "Don't Knock Rock!," p. 12.

New Statesman, April 16, 2007, Jeff Sharlet, "Keeping It Unreal: We Consider the ‘Primitive’ Music of Blues Singers Such as Leadbelly to Be More Authentic Than That of the Monkees. But, Explains Jeff Sharlet, All Pop Musicians Are Fakes," review of Faking It, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, March 4, 2007, Ben Yagoda, "Songs of Myself," review of Faking It, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, January 8, 2007, review of Faking It, p. 43.


Age, (June 26, 2007), Baron Alder, review of Faking It.

City Paper Online, (March 28, 2007), Raymond Cummings, review of Faking It.

Tuned into Music Web log, (May 19, 2007), review of Faking It

W.W. Norton Web site, (November 27, 2007), biography of Hugh Barker.