Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Let's talk about Celine Dion
I've been reading Pitchfork reviewer Carl Wilson's masterpiece from the 33 and 1/3 series, "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste" on and off, and find myself constantly fascinated and enthralled with all the little factoids about her music and her fans. I learned a lot about taste--good and bad--and think that this book has really instilled a sense of compassion and patience towards those whose tastes I find repulsive.
I used to be far more outspoken and intolerant when it came to others' taste in pop music and culture. As a teenager, I ruined a friendly group outing by lambasting my blind date, a guy who made us listen to Christina Aguilera in the car ride home, thereby creating an awkward silence in his souped-up Honda Civic for nearly an hour. I had recently learned the term "melismatic" and found it necessary to lecture on how showy and trite I found this vocal choice to be in popular music. Years later, I made a good friend's little sister cry. She was about 11 years old at the time, and I was horrified to discover that she idolized The Spice Girls. But there's a happy ending that particular tirade: I caught up with her recently, and she thanked me for turning her off the girl group at a young age, freeing her up for better things. But at any rate, I realized I had become very judgmental--as I think many people my own age are, brimming with pride about our under-the-radar indie rock findings; easily smug when others haven't heard of our new favorite bands.
But this book really made me understand the justifications for Celine Dion love. Here are just a few of the curious fun facts I discovered from Carl Wilson:
--A February 2007 USA Today article credits Celine, Bryan Adams and Lionel Richie with helping popularize Valentine's Day in Ghana, where public displays of affection among unmarried couples are traditionally taboo.
--From Observer Music Magazine, Dec. 2003, a 21 year-old Iraqi girl claims: "There is a lot of pain and separation in Iraqi songs. Generally the Western music we like is slow: Michael Bolton, Celine Dion."
--Jamaican-American music critic Garnette Codogan reminisced on a recent trip to Jamaica: "I remember always hearing Celine Dion blasting at high volume whenever I passed through volatile and dangerous neighborhoods, so much that it became a cue for me to walk, run or drive faster if I was ever in a neighborhood I didn't know and heard Celine Dion. The unofficial rule seemed to be, "If you hear Celine Dion, you're in the wrong place."
--26 year-old Iranian-Canadian activist Neda Hassani immolated herself outside the French embassy in London in 2003, trying to force French prisons to release several leaders of the leftist People's Mujahedeen of Iran: "Amid a glorious pile of wilting flowers laid days before at Ms. Hassani's funeral, a child sang Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' through a makeshigt public-address system, and the tears flowed."
--The Chicago Tribune (in 2003) reports that the most visible cultural influence in Afghanistan was Titanic. Most residents saw illegal videos when the Taliban was still in power: "In [Kabul's] central market, vendors now sell Titanic Mosquito Killer, Havoc on Titanic Perfume Body Spray, Titanic Making Love Ecstasy Perfume Body Spray...Whatever big is "Titanic." And Celine tapes played from boomboxes in many stalls.
--From Wilson's research: around 45 percent of Celine listeners were over fifty, compared to only 20 percent of music buyers overall. Add to that the fact that 68 percent of her listeners were female. Celine fans were about three-and-a-half times more likely to be widowed than the average music listener.

All of this mind-blowing information led me to learn one very important lesson: for every artist or piece of music that I believe to be pure and utter crap, there is a damn good reason why people love it, and it's not due to lack of intelligence or cultural sophistication.

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