Will Oldham on how authenticity is being marketed and sold

It seems to me that a key concern in all your work is authenticity, but I’ll say with a lowercase “a,” since we live in a time when authenticity is something that is marketed and sold, almost as a product. Do you feel this tension – and also the tension between accessing a larger audience and fighting against fame in the way that you have?

Yeah, this authenticity thing is very important to me, in certain ways. You know, to some extent, it’s impossible to do it completely, and it can be impossible to do it thoroughly. But at least, on some level, I like to feel like I care about the perception of what it is that I’ve done with the audience, that it’s not totally separate, that the audience doesn’t think one thing about a part I’ve played, or a song that I’ve been a part of, and I think something completely different about it.

At the same time, I do love show business and I love the fact that people work so hard to create an illusion or an alternate reality or a parallel reality. I love that. But I think that the golden age of Hollywood – you know, the new golden age, being the mid ’60s to the mid to late ’70s – was possibly the only time that there was a dominant acting style that was allowed to be authentic.

I know that as I discover particular pieces of work – whether it’s books or movies or music from all different parts of the world, from all different times – how powerfully they can resonate with me. And, in terms of reaching an audience, I work under the assumption that I am in a movie right now, and this year only some people will get to see it. That doesn’t really worry me because next year more people will see it. And the year after that, still more people will see it. I think that these things have a life of their own. I don’t put a lot of stock in a large audience but I do put a lot of stock in a wide audience.

And I trust that there are people every day, finding their way to the pieces of work that are going to be important in their lives, either accidentally, or through some sort of dogged discipline. You know, “What is it that I need? I need something. My community isn’t speaking to me. I’m not even communicating with myself – I don’t know what’s going on.” And you find a new gateway for understanding through some piece of work that somebody has made.

And that’s something that, thankfully, continues to happen and will continue to happen. And it’s not even trackable, you know, it’s not a trackable thing – where you can look at numbers or you can look at box office returns, or you can look at theatres, look at how many copies of something has sold – because, to work like this, it happens on such a non-traceable human level.

And it’s completely vital that as many people as possible seek and experience these things, these movies and music. But the boundaries are impossible, are defined by who relates to what. You and I can look at the same piece of work and find different aspects of authenticity, and they would both be completely valid. I can never invalidate it when somebody says a thing is great that I can’t understand at all, or that I disdain. That’s how I learn what is authentic to somebody else – when they describe their own response to a piece of music or art.