A to Z of Dead Man Singing: A

A to Z of Dead Man Singing: A

178 days ago

A is for Albums. When Dave, the main character of Dead Man Singing, relocates to begin his new life, he can only take 100 albums from his vast record collection. While Dave’s choices aren’t listed in the book, I felt the need to know precisely which albums he picked. If you’re interested, you can find a Spotify playlist – Dave Masters 100 – which consists of one track from each album he chose, minus a few that aren’t available on Spotify or which don’t actually exist (Dave took all of his own albums, obviously).

The 100 ranges from his teen years through to late 80s offerings from his peers, particularly the ones who were more successful than Dave in reinventing themselves for the changing styles of the day, with a healthy mixture of classics and more obscure selections from the years inbetween. Dylan and the Beatles rub shoulders with The Faces – a key band in the story of the book – Richard Thompson and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Dave’s dilemmas – which albums to take to represent the Beatles, or the Stones? – became my dilemmas. I spent hours returning to classic albums from the period, listening with Dave’s ears to whittle the list down to size. The final list doesn’t necessarily represent my favourites by each artist, but the ones I thought Dave would pick. That said, our taste does overlap considerably and researching my selections became a real labour of love and the chance for me to discover some new favourites. If you’d like to see the full list, please drop me a line via the contact page and I can email it out to you.

A is also for Authenticity, one of the main themes of Dead Man Singing. Does it matter if a musician or band is ‘authentic’? I remember seeing Lyle Lovett (a big favourite of mine) supporting Mary Chapin Carpenter in the mid-90s. Between sets I overheard a man in the row behind me praising Carpenter for her authenticity and contrasting her with Lovett. I didn’t understand what he felt was inauthentic about my guy, but resisted the temptation to join the discussion and ask him.

Authenticity is a balancing act. I once heard Eric Clapton describe his late 80s rationale: he was happy to compromise on arrangements and production, but not on what he actually played on his guitar. That was where he found the balance between authenticity and commercial appeal. Dave Masters was less successful in walking that line, and when we first meet him in the book he is still paying the price for that, both professionally and artistically.

Authenticity matters outside of music too. Where is the line between being true to ourselves and thinking about the needs of others? Where does principled authenticity end and being a selfish git begin? For example, I never confronted the Mary Chapin Carpenter fan at that gig, thus not spoiling the experience either for him and his party, or for the friends I was with. Instead, I’ve railed against his slander in a blog post some 30 or so years later. Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served hopelessly out of date.

When you think about musical authenticity, who comes to mind for you?

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