Letís Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
Itís said that thereís no accounting for taste, but Canadian music critic Carl Wilson certainly makes a Herculean effort in this latest entry in Continuumís 33 1/3 series. Traditionally, the series allows writers to run word-count wild, detailing personal connections and making-of backstories as they relate to a single significant album. In Letís Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Wilson takes an altogether different tack: He puts Celine Dion and personal taste on trial in an attempt to come to terms with why Quebecís internationally known pop queen so repels him. Up-front, heís unflinching in his disgust: ďFrom the start, her music struck me as bland monotony raised to a pitch of obnoxious bombast--R&B with the sex and slyness surgically removed, French chanson severed from its wit and soul--and her repertoire as Oprah Winfrey-approved chicken soup for the consumerist soul, a neverending crescendo of personal affirmation deaf to social conflict and context.Ē
Taste has two climaxes: when Wilson attends one of Dionís over-the-top Las Vegas performances, and when Titanic soundtrack annoyance ďMy Heart Will Go OnĒ plays on the season finale of Gilmore Girls, moving the author actually to weep--an effect listening to Dion CDs canít reproduce. En route, Wilson finds plenty of fellow detractors, generously hashes out a lengthy definition of ďschmaltz,Ē and drags Elliott Smith, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Clement Greenberg, Pierre Bourdieu, and a gaggle of shameless, starry-eyed Dion fanatics into his intellectual and aesthetic morass. Heís forced to concede that the singerís virtuoso sentimentality strikes a huge global chord--signifying something hopeful and magical to everyone from Third World denizens to upwardly mobile gay men to snarky culture writers to gray-haired retirees. Perhaps, Wilson suggests, Dion is less icon than vessel: ďAll medium and no message, channeling feeling impeded by as few contours as possible, streaming light into her fansí lives.Ē
However skeletal, sculpted, and apparently robotic, Dion is by all accounts a generous, caring person who has never forgotten her roots; as Wilson carefully details Quebecís complicated musical history and how his subject is an undisputed product of it, the media caricature of her as an egalitarian creature begins to crumble. And by Tasteís closing chapters, both Wilson and the reader have almost done a 360, shifting from a position of scorning, discerning superiority to a surprisingly uncomfortable envy; suddenly, we want to believe in Dion and her airy fairy-tale love, too.