Most music fans associate Johnny Cash with authenticity. His life and music speak of his genuineness and commitment to his music. But like most popular artists, Cash was bound by the conventions of the musical world, conventions he struggled against his entire career. Part of his difficulty stemmed from a genre instability that made his connections to his associated audiences tenuous. But another larger problem was the concept of authenticity that lies at the heart of musical adoration and often music criticism. In short, judging anything by its authenticity is a problem—the concept is fraught with logical, artistic, and conceptual difficulties. How do we know who is “real”? What are the criteria? Who benefits from these criteria? And yet, authenticity remains a definitive term for judging a musical artist. In this presentation, I will offer a critique of the authenticity system and suggest some other ways of judging and analyzing pop music using Johnny Cash as a case study.
JONATHAN SILVERMAN is the author of Nine Choices: Johnny Cash and American Culture (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010). He is an assistant professor of English at University of Massachusetts Lowell and received his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He recently served as a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies in Norway.
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