I am reading, and very much enjoying, this little book about Celine Dion. It’s part of the 33 1/3 series of books about single albums (link is to the series blog), which is pretty awesome — for a retired record collector, the books (each of which is pocket sized and featuring the album’s cover on its cover) recall a little of the fetishistic pleasure of buying the record itself.
I previously read the edition on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, which was great, but mostly in a sort of “extended Rolling Stone article” sort of way (great stories and interviews about the album’s creation, etc.). This one is a little deeper than that — it’s written by a self-confessed music snob (a music critic named Carl Wilson) who grew up in Canada, and who therefore hated Celine Dion above all else, and it represents his effort to explore and better understand an artist who is both hugely, hugely popular, and also widely despised. He traces her roots in a particular French Canadian “chanson” tradition, and speculates that one reason she is so hated (more, for example, than certain equally cheesy African-American singers) is that it is so difficult to locate her in any sort of well-understood musical tradition that it makes her seem all the phonier. This is a topic that holds great interest for me, because I was raised in a snobby indie rock musical tradition, and worked for a college radio station where you would get in trouble for playing records that were on major labels, etc. Anyhow I have always taken great pleasure in certain Top 40 hits, while truly despising others, including Celine, so I’ve spent some time puzzling over the question of what value there is in my snobby view, if so many millions disagree with me. (One of my fondest classroom memories from college is the graduate seminar on Popular Music where the professor spent a 2-hour session purporting to demonstrate, objectively, why “Sweet Caroline” was so horrible and tasteless.)
I’m not done yet, so I don’t know yet if Wilson comes to any significant conclusions, but it’s great poolside reading in any case. I’ll also note, without comment, that James Franco somewhat mysteriously name-dropped this book on the Oscars red carpet earlier this year.