Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Walking the Line: Musical Doppelgangers

In Beyond The Sea, Kevin Spacey sang Bobby Darin's greatest hits. Sadly, Mr. Spacey couldn't swing if you nailed him to a pendulum. In Walk The Line, however, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were so good at impersonating Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash that they should go on tour.

In Ray, Jamie Foxx, wisely, let Ray Charles sing the songs, but, ironically, the actor re-recorded the "sample" from I Got a Woman used in Kanye West's hit Golddigger. For many younger people, their introduction to Charles' song will be via musical doppelganger Foxx's imitation of it. This is one step beyond the cover version: covers are clearly imitative, but samples suggest authenticity. In Golddigger, the "original" is a fake.

Genetically-modified, retro-engineered, faux-authenticity is the latest stage of musical evolution. Budding singer Foxx is probably cheaper to sample than Ray Charles and he's certainly sexier. Johnny and June had their appeal, for sure, but Joaquin and Reese are an altogether prettier proposition for the pop market. Pop prefers photegenic cyphers to careworn and characterful originators. Pity Brad Pitt can't croon. Then again, neither can Bob Dylan.

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