Is Anything Authentic Anymore?

I dragged myself out of bed and headed in the general direction of the treadmill. Not an easy task this morning as two long rounds of disc golf yesterday had my legs feeling like lead weights. Usually on the treadmill I listen to Podcasts or Audio books, but that just wasn’t going to get it done today. Today I needed something special for that extra motivation. When I really need to get fired up, nothing works like listening to the music of my youth.

I don’t know why that is, but that is what I needed to hear on this day. So as I searched through the ipod I landed on “Journey”, and the album “Evolution”.

Recorded in 1978 this album was done “Old School” – 2 inch tape, all musicians playing together… and what struck me on this particular morning was REAL vocal harmonies. My goodness, I am a professional musician and listen to both new and old stuff, and have heard these songs hundreds of times. And yet – there was something that hit me. Maybe it was the lack of sleep that put me in a haze laden mental state, but the result was clear. What I was really hearing was… authenticity.

After the album was finished I got off the treadmill and contemplated. Could it be that even someone such as myself has gotten so de-sensitized by the constant barrage of pitch corrected vocals and time corrected beats that hearing something “real” is a shock?

It started me thinking of other things that were amazing as “authentics”, but the copies never stand out in the same way. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is a great example. When you listen to that speech it is not just the words or sentiments that have meaning; not just Dr. King’s excellent oratory skills or the way he delivers the proper inflection. It is the authenticity of the moment! I have since heard many politicians give a speech that is obviously based off of that same repetitive phrase style, and yet it always seems so…. Well, just not very inspiring. It has the technique but none of the soul.

Of course we live in a world of “reality” TV shows that have little if any reality in them. But this is what we have gotten used to; disposable celebrities and singers who can’t actually sing.

So can we ever go back to authenticity once we have been taken to the dark side of homogenized, watered down lackluster copies? Is it possible that we are all unaware of what is real? Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions”. Could it be that is where we have ended up, having our minds “stretched” to a place of mediocrity?

Sometimes people try to capture the “real” by consciously emulating what it is they think makes it so. Much of what we consider authentic is “the way it was back in the day”, especially when it comes to music. The way things are over-produced now with a slick finish and everything perfectly in tune and in time is a far cry from the early Dillon recordings that moved men’s souls. Then Jack White comes along and plays a few chords out of time and sings a few notes out of key and he is hailed as a genius. Maybe he is or maybe he isn’t – can we really tell? Are we being duped into believing something has some of those “authentic” qualities just because it is lo-fi? Or could it be that he, along with a number of others really ARE authentic, but now our skepticism makes us question all?

Well the Journey music got me through my workout and set me on a quest to examine if I could find authenticity around me.

I looked around my desk for authenticity. I saw an old hand crank coffee grinder that my Mom passed down to me, along with an old weathered wooden clock that was over 100 years old. These felt authentic. Then a quick look back at my music collection found AC/DC’s “Problem Child” with Bon Scott’s impromptu lyrics at the beginning, and Charlie Parker “Live from Montreal” blowing liquid improvised lines on the sax. This stuff was real! But hold on. Has authenticity been relegated to antiques and relics of bygone days? Have we lost it in the present?

As my eyes darted around looking for something that would tell me it is still alive and well and can be found with us today, my gaze fell on my dog looking up at me. I looked deep into his caramel brown eyes. He stared back at me with a trusting, loyal, un-selfish look, steeped in absolute pure love. Then he leaned up and licked my face as if to reassure me and prove that this indeed was a love that could only be described as “authentic”.

I smiled at him and he at me, and my hope was restored.


Take a minute and share in the comments where you have seen, heard, or experienced something authentic lately.

  • Michael Pardo

    Nice story Jeff! Authenticity is hard to find. Certainly Jimi Hendrix does it for me on music and reading The Tao Te Ching as well.

    • You are right Michael! Jimi was as real as he could be! I love that he wanted a guitar forever, even before he thought it was possible – it was just who he was!

  • Ron

    Great blog Jeff. I am going to have to start reading more!! Journey was by far far one of my favorite bands back in the day!! You are so right, almost everything around us is fake anymore. You rarely know what is indeed real and what is not. BTW, “Behind the Mask” is a great song!!

  • Lake Furney

    HI Jeff! Man, I love your new site. It’s amazing. So, about this authenticity thing… from my perspective, authenticity in music comes from the same place as anything truly authentic. From a restaurant to a self-help book, it’s all about the intention and motivation of the ‘performer’.

    It really comes down to whether or not people are truly interested in serving others from an heartfelt place. Some people play music from they’re hearts, and want to sincerely inspire others to grow emotionally/spiritually through their music. Others seek only to garner admiration from others and put money in their pockets (i.e. feed their egos/live from a superficial place).

    Same with restaurateurs… you can always tell when a place truly cares about providing a rewarding/satisfying experience versus one that just wants to make a profit by throwing together the cheapest ingredients and paying people as little as possible to throw it together.

    Thanks for being one of the authentic ones.


    • I can think of two restaurants off the top of my head that were awesome… then got sold and the new owners “cleaned them up”… made them all new and shiny and they completely lost the vibe and authenticity that they had before – both got much worse and one has closed already…. keep it real!

  • Authenticity is a rare quality these days. We live in a world of plastic, even if peace is not authentic …

    People do not expect more authenticity because are afraid, get scared, after all a world of lies is more predictable, safer ..

    But they are wrong … a world of lies is really dangerous.

    Something interesting to note is how people are anesthetized … the point of no longer recognize what is really true!

  • Jeff Wehmueller

    Fact is that pop culture is the reality these days. It’s can be humorous, even entertaining. But it lacks depth and conviction because only shallow thought is required to produce it. The authenticity that you are speaking of, in my opinion, comes from the work it takes to do it better, make it different, than the next guy. Listen to the music of the 60’s. What a plethera of ideas, styles, emotions, back beats, themes, went into those songs. When you listen to them now, you realize how each artist brought something different to the table. Unique people telling their stories, their way. We don’t have that as much now. Lasers, glitter, and pyro technics only get you so far before they lose relevance. TV? How many shows about tow trucks do we need. Swamp people? There are at least three shows about pawn shops. ( great album title though! ) I reject pop culture, and search for things and people that don’t fall into that modern trap. A bit of PC here, and a bit there won’t matter, but your soul, if you’re a thinking person, will never find satisfaction in it. The music that lasts, does so because it touches that reality inside of us. We identify with something in it, and it makes us remember whats important to us.

  • Kevin Eroskey

    Very well put Jeff! On the subject of music, there is still “real” out there being put out by genuine talents that is still great. The problem is, the masses do not want that. They want pretty homogenized formulas that do not challenge them in any way. All slick image, production and marketing…. You have to work to find real these days but it does exist.

  • well put my man..i often think when i put an album on my turntable and sit and listen and stare at the album jacket and think we are missing something with todays digital downloads. i miss the tangibility of music i grew up with.

  • Jeff

    I feel that when things are real to us, it becomes authentic. Music, when performed from the soul captures a glimps of authenticity, you can tell it when the music moves you and the lyric bring tears to your eyes. I also think that we’ve lost a connection between people and performance. It if moves me then there is something there, if its just entertains me, I’ll get bored with it.

  • Tim Z

    Yes, the work that Zach has done with us to get his spine straight, and last year when Q was in the NICU and his Drs using their computerize diagnostic equipment, could not tell us what was wrong. It took a good Dr just listening to the patients parents to figure it out and get him on the way home.

  • Nancy

    I so know what you mean, Jeff. Journey has always been my favorite band and listening to those “real” vocals goes straight to my heart. I also understand the “authentic” love that is felt when my dog looks me in the eye. That goes straight to my heart as well.

  • The superbowl show fits here nicely. I got to think most of it was not “real” and what was was not even close to the studio version. Music has just degraded so far in general. I don’t think new stuff will ever be “real” again in the matter us over 50 think of it. Is this good or bad? Hard to say, you as well as anyone should know that things change. When I was young a ball and glove, bat and a bicycle was all I needed for weekends and my whole summer. An occassional dip in the community pool and a drive-in movie with the folks and I was living large (and at age 10 I knew how to put in a new inner tube all by myself when I got a flat). Was it better then….I think so.Would today’s kids agree….I doubt it. Real is subjective and change is inescapable….nostalgia means your old. Now pet Towser, hug that beautiful wife of yours and move along before you get left behind 🙂

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  • renze

    Doggy. 🙂