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Authenticity

By Mike Ruffin Sometimes before a worship service in which I’m going to preach, I’ll tell the folks staffing the soundboard, ‘Try to make me sound better than I am.’ We share a laugh. But I’m always suspicious that they’re thinking, ‘We would if we could!’ I don’t really mean it, though. I want my real voice to be heard. I furthermore want my real voice to reflect my real life. In a recent Rolling Stone article, Eric Church was talking about losing the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award to Garth Brooks. He said he didn’t mind losing to Brooks. What he did mind, he said, was that Brooks lip-synched his performance on the awards show. The reason Brooks gave for doing so was that his voice was shot. But Church said that the Entertainer of the Year shouldn’t fake it. He said, ‘If I can’t sing, I won’t sing, or I’ll sing badly. But at least you’ll get what you get.’ Church’s point was that singers should give the audience what they have. They should be authentic. And if they aren’t at one hundred percent, then so be it. That’s what’s real, and you should give them what’s real. I remember watching a Saturday Night Live episode in 1978 (this was back when I was young and could stay up that late). I was excited because the Rolling Stones were going to perform. They opened with ‘Beast of Burden,’ which was (and still is) a favorite of mine. The band played very well. Mick Jagger’s voice was shot. He croaked through it. It wasn’t good. But it was cool. It was real. It was authentic. About ten years ago, Rolling Stone produced a list of the top one hundred singers of all time. Aretha Franklin (who died on August 16) was #1. Most of the others are generally acknowledged to be great singers. Here’s the rest of the top ten, omitting #7: Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown. If I asked you to guess who #7 is, chances are you wouldn’t say Bob Dylan. But he is. We might wonder how in the world Dylan got listed along with those other marvelous singers. Let me quote what Bono (singer for the band U2) said in the article: When Sam Cooke played Dylan for the young Bobby Womack, Womack said he didn’t understand it. Cooke explained that from now on, it’s not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It’s going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth. It’s all about authenticity. That’s what we need from our singers, our preachers, and our politicians. It’s what we need from each other.

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