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Música de mierda

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Tarareamos canciones que decimos detestar. Solo nos emocionamos cantando cuando nadie nos ve. Lloramos con baladas de las que nos hemos burlado antes. Mentimos sobre lo que nos gusta para que nos acepten. Y decimos que los demás tienen muy mal gusto. Considerado uno de los mejores ensayos estéticos sobre el gusto musical de la década, «Música de mierda» investiga el mal gu Tarareamos canciones que decimos detestar. Solo nos emocionamos cantando cuando nadie nos ve. Lloramos con baladas de las que nos hemos burlado antes. Mentimos sobre lo que nos gusta para que nos acepten. Y decimos que los demás tienen muy mal gusto. Considerado uno de los mejores ensayos estéticos sobre el gusto musical de la década, «Música de mierda» investiga el mal gusto y la sensiblería musical a partir de una contradicción: ¿por qué la persona que más discos vende es de la que más gente se ríe? Carl Wilson quiso hacer una investigación sobre el éxito de Céline Dion pero se descubrió escribiendo un ensayo maravilloso sobre el amor (a la música), el esnobismo como coraza y la capacidad de emoción en tiempos de cinismo.


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Tarareamos canciones que decimos detestar. Solo nos emocionamos cantando cuando nadie nos ve. Lloramos con baladas de las que nos hemos burlado antes. Mentimos sobre lo que nos gusta para que nos acepten. Y decimos que los demás tienen muy mal gusto. Considerado uno de los mejores ensayos estéticos sobre el gusto musical de la década, «Música de mierda» investiga el mal gu Tarareamos canciones que decimos detestar. Solo nos emocionamos cantando cuando nadie nos ve. Lloramos con baladas de las que nos hemos burlado antes. Mentimos sobre lo que nos gusta para que nos acepten. Y decimos que los demás tienen muy mal gusto. Considerado uno de los mejores ensayos estéticos sobre el gusto musical de la década, «Música de mierda» investiga el mal gusto y la sensiblería musical a partir de una contradicción: ¿por qué la persona que más discos vende es de la que más gente se ríe? Carl Wilson quiso hacer una investigación sobre el éxito de Céline Dion pero se descubrió escribiendo un ensayo maravilloso sobre el amor (a la música), el esnobismo como coraza y la capacidad de emoción en tiempos de cinismo.

30 review for Música de mierda

  1. 4 out of 5

    Buck

    In Let’s Talk About Love, Carl Wilson does something brave and—alright, I’ll say it—noble. He takes Céline Dion seriously. Yeah, that’s right, Céline Dion: for many of us, the biggest block of cheese in the pop culture fromagerie. If this book doesn’t make you feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself for ever having put down Céline—and you know you have, you heartless snobs—then you’re beyond help and deserve to die under a huge pile of John Cage records. Wilson’s bracing little pamphlet is part of th In Let’s Talk About Love, Carl Wilson does something brave and—alright, I’ll say it—noble. He takes Céline Dion seriously. Yeah, that’s right, Céline Dion: for many of us, the biggest block of cheese in the pop culture fromagerie. If this book doesn’t make you feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself for ever having put down Céline—and you know you have, you heartless snobs—then you’re beyond help and deserve to die under a huge pile of John Cage records. Wilson’s bracing little pamphlet is part of the 33⅓ series of books, in which prominent rock critics get to analyze an album of their choice. Not surprisingly, most of the other contributors opted for safely canonical works—think Trout Mask Replica and the like—but Wilson purposely chose the most uncool album he could think of: Dion’s 1997 classic, Let’s Talk About Love. This could very easily have degenerated into an exercise in condescension, with the smarty-pants writer coming on like some trust-fund kid sashaying through Wal-Mart. But Wilson’s sincerity is disarming: he really does want to understand Céline on her own terms, and he treats her with the same respect he would give the Pitchfork-friendly artistes he normally traffics in. One sign of this respect: he works hard to contextualize Dion, doing the scholarly legwork on her that nobody else has seen fit to do. If middle-class American critics don’t get Dion, Wilson suggests, it may be because they lack the cultural competence to ‘read’ her correctly. As a blue-collar francophone girl from insular, backwoods Quebec, Dion is so far off the ethno-cultural map of American society that she might as well be from Moldova. Consequently, her big, inclusive gestures are routinely misinterpreted as hubris: When Céline talks in the first-person plural—we achieved this, we hoped for that, we decided to make this record—she is speaking of herself, Rene, her producers...and all of what’s called “Team Céline”, but symbolically it includes Quebec’s extended family. Where she comes from, collectivity counts, and her gains are the gains of a people. It is a recognizable trait in an African-American star, but in Céline it doesn’t read: she represents an opaque referent, rendering her meaning illegible. That’s a heaping plate of insight right there, if you ask me. (Wilson is equally perceptive—and sympathetic—about Dion’s 'meltdown' on Larry King in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when she appeared to condone the looting of New Orleans with the infamous phrase, ‘Let them touch those things.’ Wilson’s verdict: ‘every second was quintessentially québecois’). Chances are, if you spend a lot of time on this site, you have what you consider to be good taste in music. If not Satie and Debussy, then Pavement and The Mekons, or Coleman Hawkins and Albert Ayler. At any rate, you like things that are difficult, original or sophisticated rather than simple, formulaic and sentimental. So do I. So does Wilson. The difference between him and me is that he doesn’t passively accept his own standards as some Mosaic Code of coolness; he questions them, honestly and relentlessly, until he (and the reader) starts to see how narrow and shrivelled and odious these criteria really are. To do this, he draws heavily on the work of the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, who basically argues that tastes are counters in an elaborate game of social one-upmanship. Your principled enjoyment of Fassbinder movies and DeLillo novels may be genuine enough, but it’s also a way to distinguish yourself from the white-trash rube you’d rather not be mistaken for; at the same time, it helps smooth your entry into the social class you aspire to (and, by the by, potentially gives you access to a higher order of pussy or dick). For anyone who loves art, this is a pretty depressing theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For his part, Wilson doesn’t swallow it whole, but he concedes its broad validity. Don’t worry, though: he’s not out to rub your nose in your own class prejudice. He just wants to expand your sympathies a bit (and that’s always a good thing, no?) You may never come around to Dion’s music—Wilson doesn’t quite, either, though he’s a gamer—but with a little openness and imagination, you can certainly understand how it could mean so much to millions of people not all that different from you. The key word in the later chapters of the book is ‘democracy’. I don’t know about you, but this is one of those abstract nouns that get me all choked up sometimes. Like ‘love’ or ‘faith’ or ‘customer service’, it points to an elusive ideal, or (more often) gestures helplessly towards it. I guess that’s what makes it so poignant. Anyway, I’d better not reveal too much of Wilson’s argument, but I can tell you it’s more moving than criticism has any right to be. If you’re not careful, he’ll have you blubbering uncontrollably, like the innocent creature you were when you first watched Titanic—or like that Filipino lady Wilson saw at Dion’s show in Vegas, ‘who sat beside me whispering, “Wow. Oh, wow,” and occasionally weeping behind the sunglasses that she wore.’ Ridiculous, I know, but then we’re all ridiculous, and maybe that’s part of democracy too: being ridiculous together. So go ahead and cry. Nobody should be too cool for that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is a beautiful meditation on art, one of the best I’ve ever read. Why do people like this kind of stuff and not that kind of stuff? Why do they then go further and say “My kind of stuff [be it novels, movies or pop music] is actually better than your kind of stuff – because I, you see, have really good taste, and you, well, now, I’m never going to tell you to your face, you understand, but your taste is... not the best, shall I say. I mean, you think The Shawshank Redemption is the best mov This is a beautiful meditation on art, one of the best I’ve ever read. Why do people like this kind of stuff and not that kind of stuff? Why do they then go further and say “My kind of stuff [be it novels, movies or pop music] is actually better than your kind of stuff – because I, you see, have really good taste, and you, well, now, I’m never going to tell you to your face, you understand, but your taste is... not the best, shall I say. I mean, you think The Shawshank Redemption is the best movie ever made, and you refuse to watch anything in black and white, you think that Maria Carey is a good singer, you’ve never even heard of Jacques Brel, and when I come round to your place I have to avert my gaze from your bookshelves, the sight of so many Clive Cussler, Robert Harris and John Grisham hardbacks nearly makes me go blind. Darling I love you and all, but really, you’re hopeless.” The peg this mediation is hung upon is Celine Dion, who apparently is much reviled by some and much loved by others, and who I had heard of but never heard, except the Titanic song. I’ve now checked up some Celine love on youtube. Okay, she’s a belter. Is she worse than all the other contemporary divabelters? She tends to come across as a person who has forgotten there’s a microphone in front of her and who is trying to reach the 100th row. The only time she dials it down is when she’s lying in bed in a Parisian nightie whispering a few lines about how her lover has been killed or maimed, but then quickly she bounds forth from the four-poster and lets rip with some mighty howling about eternity and forever and things more important than death. The issues you get into when you think about taste are profound and confusing. Carl Wilson has read up some high faluting theoreticians – Daniel Levitin, Hume, Kant, Clement Greenberg, Adorno, Pierre Bourdieu to name only the main ones. He dissects the great question of taste through the great throat of Celine Dion in the following chapters – you have to love this : 1. Let’s talk About Hate : “Hell is other people’s music” said Momus in 2006 in Wired magazine. How Celine Dion and Elliott Smith collided on Oscar night and how she was really nice to Elliott. 2. Let’s Talk About Pop (and its Critics) : why did our author grow up hating country and disco? 3. Let’s Talk in French : Celine’s odd background (poor white French Quebecois trash). 4. Let’s Talk About World Conquest : Celine eats the world country by country (except Germany). 5. Let’s Talk About Schmaltz : yes, I do want to talk about schmaltz. See below. 6. Let’s Sing Really Loud : power ballads and Phil Spector recordings. 7. Let’s Talk About Taste : the belly of the beast. 8. Let’s Talk About Who’s Got Bad Taste : the second belly of the beast. 9. Let’s Talk with some Fans : our author surveys online Celine geeks and goes to a Celine show (and is overawed and slinks away). 10. Let’s Do a Punk Version of My Heart Will Go On (or, Let’s Talk about our Feelings) : ironic metal versions of Celine. Nooo! 11. Let’s talk About Let’s Talk About Love : he finally sits down and reviews the album. 12. Let’s Talk About Love : the wrapup. * EVERY TIME I PUT MY FINGER ON IT, IT SLIPS AWAY (or, A Few Random Points to Ponder) Critical taste in rock music remains fairly stable. A canon has been created. Rolling Stone did an all time album list in 1987 and again in 2003 – 12 0f the top thirty were the same. You couldn’t call them elitist lists either – aside from Velvet Underground & Nico and Astral Weeks, they were all big sellers. Compare this to a poll of polls listing greatest ever movies – most of the top 30 were classic film buff stuff like 8 ½, Battleship Potemkin, Sunrise and Tokyo Story – yes, elitist if you will. I had never thought of this before, but the fanboy critics of music who I had thought of as impossibly sneery are a whole lot more democratic than their movie (and book) equivalents. Celine’s main audience is : older females. Surprise! Now me, I like Dusty Springfield. (And a host of other great female singers that aren’t around anymore.) But once I got round to listening to a little bit of Celine I thought : what’s the difference between Dusty and Celine? Why is Dusty beloved by many critics and Celine despised (I don’t think that’s too strong a word)? They’re very similar, except that Celine made a giant success of her career and Dusty imploded and crashed and burned horribly. Is that it? When Carl Wilson goes to Vegas to see a Celine show he found he was just a little outside of his comfort zone : I was a stray member of the cultural-capital tribedeported to a gaudy prison colony run by a phalanx of showgirls who held hourly re-education sessions to hammer me into feeling insignificant and micro-penised. At the concert : The songs of devotion began to probe at the open sore of my own recent marital separation, and even coaxed a few tears. For a few moments, I got it. Of course, then Celine would do something unforgiveable, like a duet with an enormous projection of the head of the late Frank Sinatra. Sometimes you read a sequence of books that connect together brilliantly, and you didn’t plan it, it just happened – serendipity. From a recent consideration of my dodgy relationship with experimental novels, to an actual experimental novel (10.01) which I disliked, to an experimental graphic novel (Acme Novelty Company 20, which I loved) to this long essay about the nature of taste. Well, do I have good taste? I mean, I think I do, but I seem to like an awful lot of kitschy music. All that doo wop, it’s not Schoenberg you know. Then all that syrupy 50s stuff I’ve been whistling along to recently – Memories are Made of This, Shrimp Boats are A-Comin’, Little Things Mean A Lot – there’s tons of it! Is this me enjoying kitschy music as others collect kitsch art like black velvet paintings, Elvisiana and early girly mags? Or is this me wishing to rehabilitate Kitty Kallen, Jo Stafford and Manuel and His Music of the Mountains and elevate them to the level of folk art? Or is this me agreeing that yes, it’s bad all right, but bad kitchy songs can still be done well and artfully? E.g. Art and Dotty Todd’s original version of Chanson D’Amour? Well, we could rabbit all day about the fascinating issues Carl Wilson’s little book drags into the white heat of our frontal lobes. I haven't even mentioned the whole argument which says that your taste is what you use to distance yourself from your class inferiors and cuddle up to those your aspire to be. So I'll stop now and just say : wonderful stuff! Recommended for everyone who knows what bad music is when they hear it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Have you ever laughed at someone who claimed to actually enjoy Celine Dion's music? Have you ever felt like you were better than those people who love The Kite Runner or Mitch Albom's books? Have you ever forced all of your friends and family to watch a movie you loved because you were convinced that they needed to see it for their own good? My answers a few weeks ago would have been absolutely, of course, and who hasn't? but after reading this book, I would most likely nod sheepishly. Wilson de Have you ever laughed at someone who claimed to actually enjoy Celine Dion's music? Have you ever felt like you were better than those people who love The Kite Runner or Mitch Albom's books? Have you ever forced all of your friends and family to watch a movie you loved because you were convinced that they needed to see it for their own good? My answers a few weeks ago would have been absolutely, of course, and who hasn't? but after reading this book, I would most likely nod sheepishly. Wilson decided to write a book about Celine Dion after watching the Academy Awards the year that Celine and the Titanic juggernaut steamrolled over one of Wilson's favorite singers, Elliott Smith (who sang "Miss Misery" from Good Will Hunting). What started as an attempt to grasp how human beings could actually like Celine ("her music struck me as bland monotony raised to a pitch of obnoxious bombast -- R&B with the sex and slyness surgically removed ... Oprah Winfrey–approved chicken soup for the consumerist soul, a neverending crescendo of personal affirmation deaf to social conflict and context.") turned into a interesting exploration of the nature of taste, "coolness," cultural capital, sentimentality, and musical criticism without devolving into some ironic hipster switcheroo where Wilson (a music critic) becomes even more hip by championing the cause of someone as unhip as Celine Dion. My former self would have been inclined to guarantee that this is the best book about Celine Dion that you'll ever read, but now I'm hesitant. Maybe one of Celine's fans has written (or will write) a wonderful biography about her life. Maybe Celine herself will write a moving memoir. Who knows, right? I guess, for now, I'm hesitant to declare that anything is better than anything else. I'm sure I'll get over it soon enough, but for now I'll just say that this was a delightful little book that at least belongs on the same shelf as the best books about Celine Dion.

  4. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Senyru Review: Canuck critic comes to conclusion that Céline is sort of okay

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Austin

    The 33 1/3 series would seem to be pretty much bulletproof in terms of hipster cred. In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, OK Computer, Pink Moon, Rid of Me, Paul’s Boutique, Loveless, Meat is Murder… even if your own choices for an “essential/seminal albums” list are different, these titles all have a lot going for them. Older albums covered — Music From Big Pink, Forever Changes, Court and Spark, Dusty in Memphis — have for years been hailed by the new kids on the indie block as favorites. If Conor O The 33 1/3 series would seem to be pretty much bulletproof in terms of hipster cred. In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, OK Computer, Pink Moon, Rid of Me, Paul’s Boutique, Loveless, Meat is Murder… even if your own choices for an “essential/seminal albums” list are different, these titles all have a lot going for them. Older albums covered — Music From Big Pink, Forever Changes, Court and Spark, Dusty in Memphis — have for years been hailed by the new kids on the indie block as favorites. If Conor Oberst loves The Band and Calexico is covering Love, consider them vetted - and safe for display on your shelf. Even the 33 1/3 titles that would seem plum targets for the irony game — ABBA Gold, for one — have passed through the karaoke vortex and been certified cool. Stephin Merritt loves ABBA, so it’s okay. No need to call it a guilty pleasure anymore — that reflexive defense can be retired and you can just call it pleasure. But Celine Dion? And, more specifically, Let’s Talk About Love, her plutonium-selling mega release that has “that Titanic song” on it, the one that clobbered Elliott Smith at the Oscars? I can’t recall anyone name-checking Celine as an influence, likely because there isn’t anything to be influenced by in her music. It’s melodrama to the nth power, delivered by a voice so powerful it’s almost a freak of nature; the songs are without a shred of subtlety and slickly produced by a large committee of hitmakers. “Music critics” ignore her; with nothing to disassemble and examine, and nothing inventive to shed light on, she’s simply of no use to them. But here she is selling scads of CDs; her fans are devoted and there sure are a lot of them. Obviousness? The experience for her fans is much simpler, and they don’t worry such things; they just love the music. If you took an exit poll outside Dion’s recently wrapped four-year residency in Vegas (four years of sold out shows, by the way), it’s a fair guess not many of them know who Robert Christgau is, or why he might recommend they listen to a Pavement/Ornette Coleman/Daniel Johnston mixtape instead. Whether you do or don’t like Celine Dion’s music, Carl Wilson’s book is a terrific read; the subtitle on the cover (a nice pun on that “other” Celine), A Journey to the End of Taste, pretty much sums it up. Why do we like what we like? We all want to believe we have good taste, and to have our pals recognize that. “Taste,” writes Wilson, “is a means of distinguishing ourselves from others, the pursuit of distinction. In early twenty-first-century terms, for most people under fifty, distinction boils down to cool.” He’s drawing from a lot of sources here — Pierre Bourdieu, Immanuel Kant, Walt Whitman and Naomi Klein are just a few of the high profile eggheads he brings into the mix. To Wilson’s credit, he’s much more interested in the people who love Celine Dion’s music than the people who hate it, and that’s what drives the book. He’s not calling anyone wrong, just trying to get a bead on why we like what we like. What social factors reinforce it? Studies show that males keep sentimentalism at bay, we’re told, which is one reason why Dion’s bombastic heartstring-tuggers appeal to a predominantly female audience; she also has a large gay following. When Wilson attends a Celine Dion concert himself as part of his research, he admits the power and beauty of the music made him a bit misty eyed (”What was the point again of all that nasty, life-negating crap I like?” he wonders), and the fans he talks to aren’t nearly as culturally “limited” as he might have supposed. They just like what they like, and they don’t sweat the details. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty nice.

  6. 5 out of 5

    A

    I'm sorry, but no. Please please please leave this book on the shelf and instead seek out the 33-1/3 volume on ABBA Gold, one of my all-time favorite books. THAT is where you will find a whip-smart hipster critic using schmaltzy pop as the springboard for funny, impeccably argued, stunning intellectual flights of fancy about aesthetics, music, and society, all wrapped up with a bow of unapologetic love for all things pop culture (high and low). What you will find here is the opposite -- an utter I'm sorry, but no. Please please please leave this book on the shelf and instead seek out the 33-1/3 volume on ABBA Gold, one of my all-time favorite books. THAT is where you will find a whip-smart hipster critic using schmaltzy pop as the springboard for funny, impeccably argued, stunning intellectual flights of fancy about aesthetics, music, and society, all wrapped up with a bow of unapologetic love for all things pop culture (high and low). What you will find here is the opposite -- an utterly specious, rambling, unreadable piece of crap that reads like that time your stoner freshman-year roommate sat up all night raining Doritos dust all over the place thinking he finally had it all figured out because he sat through the first lecture of Intro Philosophy and learned how to spell "Adorno." An insult to the reader, 33-1/3, Celine Dion, Canada, the publishing industry, and humanity at large.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John Moran

    “Let's Talk About Love” is a studious, A-plus paper on the topic of “taste,” but it's also very dry, very quote-heavy, and very resistant (to use one of the author's, Carl Wilson's, own key words) to its own innate charms -- those charms being its personal touches: the book sparks to life in moments (like when Wilson flashes back to his ex-wife's performance of Buddy Holly's “Oh Boy” to express her feelings for her then-beau while in the throes of their infatuation; or when the author is besides “Let's Talk About Love” is a studious, A-plus paper on the topic of “taste,” but it's also very dry, very quote-heavy, and very resistant (to use one of the author's, Carl Wilson's, own key words) to its own innate charms -- those charms being its personal touches: the book sparks to life in moments (like when Wilson flashes back to his ex-wife's performance of Buddy Holly's “Oh Boy” to express her feelings for her then-beau while in the throes of their infatuation; or when the author is besides himself during a Celine Dion concert, next to a weeping fan behind sunglasses). The author is well-read; the book feels impeccably-researched – but, for all the sourced quotations being thrown at the wall, sometimes it feels like a “whatever sticks” approach – Wilson's own opinion gets lost amidst his citations. His sojourn to Las Vegas is promising – how he plans to interview Dion fans but finds himself too cowed to do so – but it never resolves itself in any dramatically satisfying way. At the end, he finds himself in a “can't we all just get along?” posture that is heartening, but not nearly as fun as the early stages of his argument, when he is demarcating the boundaries of why certain groups take exception to certain other groups' definitions of what defines “good taste” -- or, at least, “good times.”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Holy Crap. Have I really just spent the last 3 days convincing my friends, loved ones and neighborhood shop keepers how misunderstood and really amazing Celine Dion is?.Thanks to this fantastic book, I have. I have touched those things and they felt so good! This may be my favorite book ever written about music, at least one of my favorites. Carl Wilson manages to drop Fanon and Kant all over the place and not be remotely pretentious! His writing style and perspective about taste and perception Holy Crap. Have I really just spent the last 3 days convincing my friends, loved ones and neighborhood shop keepers how misunderstood and really amazing Celine Dion is?.Thanks to this fantastic book, I have. I have touched those things and they felt so good! This may be my favorite book ever written about music, at least one of my favorites. Carl Wilson manages to drop Fanon and Kant all over the place and not be remotely pretentious! His writing style and perspective about taste and perception are spot on for me. I truly believe that Wilson loves music and I feel his love in this book about something he hates.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    I don’t like talking about my taste in music very much. Not in conversation, anyway. The same goes for books and video games. I always feel as though I’ve been given a brief moment in which to explain myself, to justify my own choices in a kind of secret language which ends up revealing far more about my personality than I might wish other people to know. And perhaps I do want to reveal something, from time to time, but for the most part I want to express an opinion peculiar to the person to who I don’t like talking about my taste in music very much. Not in conversation, anyway. The same goes for books and video games. I always feel as though I’ve been given a brief moment in which to explain myself, to justify my own choices in a kind of secret language which ends up revealing far more about my personality than I might wish other people to know. And perhaps I do want to reveal something, from time to time, but for the most part I want to express an opinion peculiar to the person to whom I am talking. If a colleague at work asks what I’m listening to on my iPod, how can I possibly respond by telling them I’m listening to Ice Cube or Jethro Tull or Nine Inch Nails without them getting certain ideas about the kind of person I am? Granted, all of those make for relatively acceptable listening, but what about Céline Dion? Céline (whose name I will forever carefully accent after reading this book) makes for an interesting example of an immensely successful artist who has never been favoured by critics. To begin with, the author doesn’t even know anyone who likes her music, though he soon resolves that in a series of encounters both charming and slightly odd. One highlight is the fellow music journalist who points out that it was so common to hear Céline Dion blasting in the roughest parts of Jamaica that he knew to start running if he ever heard her ‘mawking over the airwaves’. The reason given? ‘“Bad man have fi play love tune fi show ‘dat them a lova too.”’ I found it hard while reading this to bring any of Dion’s hit songs to mind – beyond ‘My Heart Will Go On’, of course – and yet I felt like I knew her stuff pretty well, as though I’d absorbed it through the aether via some kind of osmosis. This might have been a bit unfair of me, like I’d allowed her to become a sort of pastiche of herself even before I’d actually listened to very much of the music. After all, this is supposedly a book about one of her albums (‘Let’s Talk About Love’) but the record itself barely gets a look in until relatively late in the text. The author is far more interested in Céline as a kind of cipher for everything the intended audience of his book would normally hate in pop music. He has a number of theories as to why she is so popular around the world. An early chapter describes her early career as a child star in Quebec where even then she was subject to much the same kinds of critical derision that would shadow her later and current career. He suggests that Dion comes to the world pop markets as a kind of aspirational outsider-upstart, going so far as to say that: ‘Céline Dion’s music and career are more understandable if she is added to the long line of ethnic “outsiders” who expressed emotions too outsized for most white American performers but in non-African-American codes, letting white audiences loosen up without crossing the “color line”.’ Is this going too far? It seems doubtful whether Dion ever encountered the same kinds of prejudice as the ‘outsiders’ the author cites. I wondered why it was necessary to establish the singer as an ‘outsider’ at all; perhaps this is the author’s old music critic training kicking in by re-positioning the ‘neglected’ artist as one unfairly forlorn by society. How can one be an outcast when they’ve made quite so much money? At what point does Dion become too popular to be a plausible representation of anything other than her own immense popularity? The book is at its best as a meditation on what defines our tastes. The author is that rare thing: a music critic dissatisfied with the force of his own convictions. The whole thing reeks of self-consciousness in a way that’s mostly good, though the author’s restless attempt to explain the origins of cultural taste do end up leading him down one or two blind alleyways (and at the end of one of them, with a wearying inevitability, lurks Jonah Lehrer and his squirting dopamine). In the end, what it seems to come down to is: we like what we like because of what we’re like. The whole notion of taste as something which arrives independently in our brains via some kind of abstract poetic inspiration – even the very idea that we can choose what we like to listen to – is broken down almost to the point of disintegration. This didn’t come as a particular surprise to me, but I was impressed by the extent to which the author seemed willing to question himself and implicate his profession in a kind of conspiracy against the public which intentionally divides audiences into marketable tribes which can be defined to an unsettling degree by class, income and race. The book only really began to lose me again very late on when it begins to try and wrap itself up in a kind of absolution for the author by developing an odd preoccupation with the word ‘democracy’: ‘For me, adulthood is turning out to be about becoming democratic…(Dion) stinks of democracy, mingled with the odors of designer perfumes and of dollars, Euros and Yen. Far more than most celebrities, she is plausible as a common person catapulted into uncommon status…’ Really? Even if one accepts that Dion is a common person catapulted into uncommon status, what part of her status exemplifies democracy? If all that’s meant is that she is democratic because she is popular, one could say the same of many other stars. But the author’s definition of ‘democracy’ turns out to be a rather odd one: ‘This is what I mean by democracy – not a limp open-mindedness, but actively grappling with people and things not like me, which brings with it the perilous question of what I am like. Democracy, that dangerous, paradoxical and mostly unattempted ideal, sees that the self is insufficient, dependent for definition on otherness, and chooses not to accept that but to celebrate it, to stake everything on it. Through democracy, which depends we meet strangers as equals, we perhaps become less strangers to ourselves.’ I wonder which democracies the author had in mind when he wrote the above, which countries where the electorate are encouraged to grapple with the unfamiliar people and concepts, or even to question their own beliefs in the manner described. Does America really meet strangers as equals – and if not, is that a failure of democracy or something else? If the individual self is inconsequential, doesn’t democracy end up enforcing tribalism rather than a relentless drive towards happy cooperation? *** One last confession: through the wonders of streaming music online, I listened to ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ while writing this review. I don’t know whether it was the book or what but I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. (And of course it turned out that I had heard a few of those songs before.) Sure, there’s schmaltz aplenty, but in retrospect I feel like once the author had decided to set Dion up as an archetype of ‘Bad Art’, they felt they had to give her music a real drubbing in order to justify that. But to be honest, I’ve heard worse. It’s totally fine to like Céline Dion! Probably.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    A warm and thoughtful analysis of cultural influences on Celine Dion, as well as the cultural influences that shape how we view her. I hate the subtitle to this edition, but everything else is pretty great. The original edition of Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, was recommended in Nick Hornby's More Baths, Less Talking. I wanted to read it, but lbr, not for the answers it promised. Like, I fully expected the answer to "Why do people hate Celine Dion?" to be "Because humans a A warm and thoughtful analysis of cultural influences on Celine Dion, as well as the cultural influences that shape how we view her. I hate the subtitle to this edition, but everything else is pretty great. The original edition of Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, was recommended in Nick Hornby's More Baths, Less Talking. I wanted to read it, but lbr, not for the answers it promised. Like, I fully expected the answer to "Why do people hate Celine Dion?" to be "Because humans are classist and sexist, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, haven't you met a human being before??" And that's all here, definitely. And of course Wilson explores the flipside, "Why do people love Celine Dion?", but he admittedly can't completely pierce through or communicate that joy when it's not his, when he comes to the appreciation he does only after study and argument and some letting down of his guard. My favorite parts of this book were Wilson putting Celine Dion in her cultural context and in our cultural consumption context, and his exploration of the history of schmaltz. That was A+ stuff there, and I was hanging on every word as I was learning more about things I hadn't known I hadn't known. And being a political theory nerd, Wilson's use of democracy as a lens for understanding our relationships with cultural consumption were also pretty exciting and thought-provoking. And Wilson, spoiler alert, advocates a generosity that I find heartening and that I connect with. My favorite passage of the book:You can't go on suspending judgment forever--that would be to forgo genuinely enjoying music, since you can't enjoy what you can't like. But a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all its messiness and private soul tremors--to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare. This kind of exchange takes place sometimes between critics on the Internet, and it would be fascinating to have more dialogic criticism: here is my story, what is yours? You might have to be ready, like Celine, to be laughed at. (Judge not, as the Bible sort of says, unless you're eager to be judged.) In these ways the embarrassment of having a taste, the reflexive disgust of distinction, the strangeness of our strangeness to one another, might get the airing they need. As Marx once wrote, "Shame is a revolutionary sentiment." Obviously, reforming the way we talk about music is on its own no way to fix social injustice or the degradation of public life--but if we're going to be talking anyway, we could at least stop making matters worse. All that said, failed art and (one hopes) great art do exist, and it is worth continuing to talk about which is which, however compromised the conversation might be. It is probably totally subjective whether you prefer Celine Dion or the White Stripes, and a case of social prejudice that Celine is less cool than that band's Jack White. But it seems fair to guess neither of them can rival the Beatles or Louis Armstrong--based, for example, on how broadly (one might say democratically) those artists appeal to people across taste divides. When we do make judgments, though, the trick would be to remember that they are contingent, hailing from one small point in time and in society. It's only a rough draft of art history: it always could be otherwise, and usually will be. The thrill is that as a rough draft, it is always up for revision, so we are constantly at risk of our minds being changed--the promise that lured us all to art in the first place. And because I'm as terrible of a human being as any, I admit that part of my motivation in reading this book was smugly seeking validation. I fully expected to have my own omnivorous ways of media consumption validated, to get pat on the back for not being a snob and for having outgrown being an insecure teenager fretting over their public self-identification. My attitude? I like Harlequin romances and country music and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals! Unironically! And I like other things! If you dismiss me for that, it's your loss and your problem, I ain't fussed! I place value and experience joy in being able to enjoy a wide range of media! But Wilson ably discusses where our culture is re: omnivourism, too, and how that kind of taste and the belief of how it's reflective of me~~~ is just as sideeye-worthy. Jonathan Sterne's essay ("Giving Up on Giving Up on Good Taste") also made me consider my practices of exclusion and inclusion. That my own feelings of "My taste is uncontained! It's uncontainable!!" is just as socially constructed and maintained, and there's nothing to do for that except to continue following and finding my own connections and joys, to remember to be thoughtful and open to connection. The conclusions that Wilson and Sterne and the others draw might not be mind-blowing, but they still helped frame my own thoughts and were a kick in the pants to remember to be thoughtful and open and weirdly human. Humanly weird. Aside from Wilson's excellent half of the book, my favorites of the supplemental essays (Sterne's, Daphne A. Brook's "Let's Talk About Diana Ross" [which omg I hope she expands into its own book I want it I want it], and James Franco's "Acting In And Out of Context") look lucidly at the concepts of performance and self-consciousness and other-consciousness and internal connection as well as external connection. Which is Celine Dion as hell, frankly, and while I wish I had read the Wilson book earlier, I'm glad I did read this edition, with its additional voices--even if some were boring and added little value to the conversation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Celine Dion. What’s your response? Like me, it’s probably: ick. Right? Well, you’re not alone as nearly everyone seems to have this response to Dion mostly thanks to her obnoxious monster hit, My Heart Will Go On, from James Cameron’s Titanic that won an Oscar and sold bazillions of copies worldwide. But chances are you won’t have heard much of her music beyond that song, or know much about her as a person, and yet the response to Dion is still: ick. Why? That’s what Carl Wilson sets out to disco Celine Dion. What’s your response? Like me, it’s probably: ick. Right? Well, you’re not alone as nearly everyone seems to have this response to Dion mostly thanks to her obnoxious monster hit, My Heart Will Go On, from James Cameron’s Titanic that won an Oscar and sold bazillions of copies worldwide. But chances are you won’t have heard much of her music beyond that song, or know much about her as a person, and yet the response to Dion is still: ick. Why? That’s what Carl Wilson sets out to discover in his look at Dion’s album Let’s Talk About Love. But unlike the other books in the 33 ⅓ series, Dion’s album is barely touched upon as Wilson chooses instead to examine what “taste” is and how people form critical opinions in culture. What Wilson does in the book is definitely interesting and laudable but I found his conclusions to be a little obvious and his approach a bit too academic at times. He basically comes to chastise himself for being too much of a snob to exclude Dion and pop music in general because he perceives it to be schmaltzy and decides to be more inclusive of his cultural intake - which is fine, but isn’t an eye-opening revelation (not to me anyway as this is already my own personal approach to all things cultural) especially when that’s what you’d expect in a book that sets itself up the way it has. I appreciate the extensive research Wilson’s put into his book like informing the reader of Dion’s life and background, and putting her personality into the context of her Quebec upbringing - if nothing else, you’ll come away knowing a lot about Dion as a person. But did we really need an entire chapter on schmaltz? I understand why it was included but some of the topics here have only the most tenuous connection to the basic thesis that my attention was strained at times throughout. As relatively short as the book is - 160 pages - I feel if Wilson had tightened it up a bit, it’d be a more satisfying read that’d be as informative. But I did enjoy many sections of the book. I liked Wilson’s autobiographical notes such as his trip to Las Vegas to watch one of Dion’s last shows when she was a resident there and feeling momentarily touched by her singing, and that he wore headphones when listening to her music at home so his neighbours wouldn’t know he was listening to Celine Dion. Also as a huge Elliott Smith fan, I appreciated his anecdote about how Smith always defended Dion after meeting her at the Oscars (his song Miss Misery was nominated the same year as My Heart Will Go On and Smith performed it before Dion came out) saying that he may not like her music but he respected her as a person for coming up to him pre-show and showing him a basic level of courtesy that no-one else did at the ceremony. I think Wilson hit upon a really great idea with this book: take an album you have zero personal connection to and use it to examine music criticism itself, and for that alone it’s a standout in the excellent 33 ⅓ series. It’s just that at times it’s a little long-winded and it’s conclusions aren’t as inspired as the premise. If you want a thoughtful book that takes a nuanced look at music criticism and its faults, or an intellectual review of Dion’s seemingly bland songs, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste is worth a look.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    ATTENTION EVERYONE THIS IS NOT A JOKE: Please read this book. It is completely excellent in every way, and is possibly the best thing I have read since "Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs" and "Anna Karenina." (That was also not a joke.) Everything I believe about what it means to have musical opinions is talked about in here, with great intelligence, humor, and heart. DO IT! BUY IT! It makes an excellent holiday gift for hipster d-bags and also normal people.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Tedious tripe. I had my doubts about this book, initially because of the presence of halfwit Hornby. I should have trusted my doubts. It's one of those texts that spends inordinate amounts of time and agonising to reach dazzlingly trite conclusions. In this case, that just because you don't like Celine Dion it doesn't make her a bad person or her fans contemptible. Give the boy a medal!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    I haven't read any of the other selections in the 33 1/3 series, but have picked them up occasionally while browsing at bookstores. And from what I have glanced through generally seem like close readings of various canonical (or at least critic-approved) albums, some taking a more serious and scholarly approach, others with a bit more whimsy, but they always seem brimming with much enthusiasm, passion and love. Which is why Carl Wilson's entry on Let's Talk About Love, Céline Dion's massive, "My I haven't read any of the other selections in the 33 1/3 series, but have picked them up occasionally while browsing at bookstores. And from what I have glanced through generally seem like close readings of various canonical (or at least critic-approved) albums, some taking a more serious and scholarly approach, others with a bit more whimsy, but they always seem brimming with much enthusiasm, passion and love. Which is why Carl Wilson's entry on Let's Talk About Love, Céline Dion's massive, "My Heart Will Go On" adorned album that was practically ubiquitous in the late 1990's, stand out. Because as Wilson bluntly states about starting the process of writing this study: "as far as I knew, I had never even met anybody who liked Céline Dion" (emphasis his). This could have quite easily turned into an exercise in attempting to out-hipster the hipster, a "well, I see the value in this even though it has been practically branded as the definition of uncool" apologia, particularly as such a stance has become pretty common since the internet has supposedly democratized criticism and generally made hash of traditional lowbrow/highbrow distinctions (these are all topics Wilson analyzes at length). What I appreciated is that Wilson started out feeling utter "disdain" (his word, not mine) for the French-Canadian superstar, and in the last chapter he still can't really stand the album he has selected to write on, but his overwhelming reservations have taken on much more precision and nuance. What Wilson proves is that sometimes understanding what one doesn't like can be just as enlightening as knowing the things that makes one passionate. By embarking on this "journey to the end of taste," Wilson makes a number of really wonderful and unexpected observations along the way, particularly in his brief meditation on the history of sentimental and/or "schmaltzy" music, and about the adoration Céline elicits on an international scale, and how Céline's music has been re-appropriated in a wide variety of surprising contexts (ie: the female music critic in Jamaica tells Wilson that she always heard Dion "blasting at high volume whenever I passed through volatile and dangerous neighborhoods, so much so that it became a cue to me to walk, run or drive faster"). He also reveals how, of all things, Dion seems to inspire some really fascinating conversations about race and ethnicity. He discusses at length how a widely-reported verbal gaffe by the Magnetic Fields's Stephen Merritt when making a (incredibly problematic) distinction between the "'authentic'" sound expected from a white "'indie'" singer such as himself and the more studio-manipulated sound expected from "black music, like Céline Dion" (!!!) actually can be read as much more than an unfortunate slip of the tongue. In fact, the most memorable section of the entire study for me was actually Wilson's reading of Dion's infamous, unbelievable Hurricane Katrina breakdown on Larry King, and that it might not in fact be merely the jaw-dropping display of white privilege it at first appears to be, but actually something infinitely more complex in regards to identity, race, identification, sympathy and empathy. Wilson includes a lot of heavy-hitters in his analysis (Adorno, Kant, a number of sociologists and historians), and a chapter that provides the most accessible crash-course on Bourdieu I could ever hope to encounter. And it's just a lot of fun to read. For a deceptively small book (holding it in one's hands it's hard to believe it's actually over 150 pages long), it brings out infinite implications, many of which I'm now interested in ferreting out myself.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    It can be but not really tailored made for the Celine Dion fan, but this book is really about the nature of taste in pop(ular) music and it's a fascinating read because of it. Basically Wilson hates this particular album, but he wants to know why. So with that in thought and with an open mind he goes into the world of Dion as well as the fans and of course fellow music lovers who hate her music. The big moment for him was the Oscars where she won an award for the Titanic theme song. The author is It can be but not really tailored made for the Celine Dion fan, but this book is really about the nature of taste in pop(ular) music and it's a fascinating read because of it. Basically Wilson hates this particular album, but he wants to know why. So with that in thought and with an open mind he goes into the world of Dion as well as the fans and of course fellow music lovers who hate her music. The big moment for him was the Oscars where she won an award for the Titanic theme song. The author is a big fan of Elliott Smith, and the combination of seeing somehone he admires and a world (Celine Dion) that seemed so horrible in contrast made him write this particular book. One of the touching aspects of the book is when fans of Smith commented on him being on the same stage as a showbiz hack as Dion - but according to Smith, she was really a nice person who spoke to him before his performance and gave him encouragment and actually an emotional hug. So he was pissed off whenever he heard anyone putting down Celine Dion. And that is one of the great things about this book - it keeps an open mind about popular culture and the nature of taste and where that leads someone. One of the better 33 1/3 series books - that's for sure. And no, I don't want to buy a Celine Dion album, but I respect her for making her recordings. That's something! Down below are comments before I read the book. I think like most of the world, when the always interesting 33 1/3 series announced that they will be publishing something in their series on Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love" most rawk fans of the press probably went 'huh?' Which is an ok thing to do because things need to be shaked up - and this is for sure one of those moments of great 'huh?" But saying that this book has been getting great reviews, because the book is not only about the album and it's artist but also the nature of 'taste' in contemporary music. I looked at it quite quickly and it looks like it will be a great read. More longer (and real) review shortly.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Not merely a great 33 1/3 book, but a great and delightfully original work of criticism, period. How can we actually come to grips with this; the schmaltziest of albums from the most generally perceived tackiest of singers? Why do we hate music like this? What does that hatred say bout us? About our own insecurities of class, status and coolness? Wilson is brilliantly self-aware, ably explaining not merely his own aversion to Dion's music but also why her global appeal (she has sold 100,000,000 Not merely a great 33 1/3 book, but a great and delightfully original work of criticism, period. How can we actually come to grips with this; the schmaltziest of albums from the most generally perceived tackiest of singers? Why do we hate music like this? What does that hatred say bout us? About our own insecurities of class, status and coolness? Wilson is brilliantly self-aware, ably explaining not merely his own aversion to Dion's music but also why her global appeal (she has sold 100,000,000 albums world-wide to date, let's talk about CASH) and impoverished Quebecois upbringing don't really register with or resonate to an American musical culture that has essentially no way of identifying or even really grasping french-canadian identity. Beyond that, he just does a wonderful, erudite job of tearing into the entire concept of musical taste and distinction, and showing how fundamentally tenuous (and often ridiculous) our own musical preferences are, and how easily they play into our conceptions of ourselves as insiders/outsiders. This is a wonderfully original inquiry into the most intractable, most personal part of our own artistic sensibilities. Highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alastair

    A remarkable book. At times even a beautiful book, with none of the cynicism that the premise (a non-Celine Dion fan writing about Celine Dion) or series (known for in-depth looks at respected albums, with varying levels of quality and pretension) would suggest. Wilson talks more around Celine than about her, using the topic as springboard for earnest, well-researched explorations of taste, subtlety, class, criticism, sentimentality and even some uncomfortable truths about his own life. He's a won A remarkable book. At times even a beautiful book, with none of the cynicism that the premise (a non-Celine Dion fan writing about Celine Dion) or series (known for in-depth looks at respected albums, with varying levels of quality and pretension) would suggest. Wilson talks more around Celine than about her, using the topic as springboard for earnest, well-researched explorations of taste, subtlety, class, criticism, sentimentality and even some uncomfortable truths about his own life. He's a wonderful wordsmith, summarising even the densest academic material into a compelling, intelligent and increasingly frequent string of epiphany moments. As much as we'd all like to consider ourselves open-minded people, I suspect it would be difficult for anyone to walk away from this without feeling unchanged or unchallenged for the better - and with a far better appreciation of work, like Celine's, that aspires to do neither.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mathers

    Yeah, Justin was right - this is a five star book if any of them are. Wilson covers an astonishing amount - why rockism is both stupid and natural, my problems with glibness (both in the sense that I do it too much and in the sense that I think it's a problem), sincerity, just a ton of stuff. This is a wonderful book, and the stuff Wilson comes up with near the end is the closest thing I've seen in print to a version of what I feel we should be trying to do with criticism. And he's Canadian!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I learned more from this 160 page book about aesthetics than I did in an entire class my senior year. AND I think I finally understood all those Kant readings from 1 page of this book. AKA, this book is freaking awesome. Rereading it again in October '09 due to sheer awesomeness that I have to remember.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Being not only Canadian, but a Quebec-born French Canadian myself, I can certainly match, if not exceed, Carl Wilson's distaste for Céline Dion. Growing up in Quebec in the early 2000s, it was difficult to miss her ubiquitous media presence: first, there was, of course, the sheer unavoidability of her nasal intonations at the Carrefour d'Argenteuil shopping mall, outside of La Crémière ice cream, at the local Wal-Mart, on the patios of the pubs downtown, and really anywhere else you could set up Being not only Canadian, but a Quebec-born French Canadian myself, I can certainly match, if not exceed, Carl Wilson's distaste for Céline Dion. Growing up in Quebec in the early 2000s, it was difficult to miss her ubiquitous media presence: first, there was, of course, the sheer unavoidability of her nasal intonations at the Carrefour d'Argenteuil shopping mall, outside of La Crémière ice cream, at the local Wal-Mart, on the patios of the pubs downtown, and really anywhere else you could set up a speakers. But then there were also the skits mocking her latest round of excesses on the Bye Bye variety comedy show every New Years, as well as her frequent appearances on the covers of 7 Jours, Paris Match, L'actualité and whatever other magazines my mother used to read to unwind. Even those among us who disliked her knew her life story and couldn't help but admire her, unofficial ambassador of Quebec to the rest of the world as she was. All this to say that my childhood was filled with quite enough unsolicited Céline that I would not ordinarily seek out more of her, least of all by reading a book dedicated to her 1997 album Let's Talk About Love which, unsurprisingly, I have never listened to (though I have, of course, been unwillingly subjected to some of the tracks on it, most notably the obnoxious and entirely inescapable Titanic theme song, "My Heart Will Go On" — presumably an ironic nod to the fact that the song was scientifically engineered by a team of sadists to make you wish that your heart would stop every time it comes on). I picked up Wilson's slender volume at the behest of a friend, who insisted that it was the best entry in Continuum's entire 33 1/3 series. Now I can neither confirm nor deny this, since of the 130-odd books currently available in the series, I have so far read only 4. However, I can safely say (1) that it is better than the other three I've read and (2) that it by far exceeded all of my expectations. Perhaps the reason for this is that Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste does not read like a volume in the 33 1/3 series at all — indeed, this is already suggested by its seemingly being the only one to have been granted a subtitle. All of the other books I have read in the series (on Radiohead's OK Computer, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and Gang of Four's Entertainment) have been about an album and has delved, in more or less detail, into the specific workings of the various tracks it contains, some focusing on the technical aspects of the recording process, others on lyrical content or affective experience. In contrast, Wilson's book merely uses Let's Talk About Love as a pretext to explore a thesis and to engage in a particular line of inquiry. In that sense, it transcends the often narrow focus of most books in the series. From the opening chapter, amusingly titled "Let's Talk About Hate", Wilson is forthright about his angle: like me, he does not merely harbour an intense distaste for Céline Dion, but is convinced that, in some sense he is right to do so — an attitude that makes him (and me!) "sound like a total asshole". But why do we feel this way? Is taste merely subjective, beauty lying solely, as the popular saying would have it, in the eye of the beholder? Or is it a reflection of our social milieu, a manner of increasing what Pierre Bourdieu called our cultural capital, thus distinguishing ourselves from less desirable (read: lower-class) groups of people? Then again, might there be, as Kant (as well as 20th Century intuitionists like G.E. Moore and Iris Murdoch) believed, an objective reality regarding such matters about which we could all come to a consensus given the right (read: bourgeois, upper-middle class) education or training? This is Wilson's question: what grounds his and my unshakable conviction that our preference for obscure acts like Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain is indicative of a better taste in music? "Much of this book,” Wilson writes, “is about reasonable people carting around cultural assumptions that make them assholes to millions of strangers" (p. 2). After this brief opening chapter, Wilson launches into his multifaceted analysis. His first step ("Let's Talk About Pop") is to enquire about the status of pop music itself, its status as a "guilty pleasure", and its dismissal by music critics who are more likely to fawn over Elliot Smith or Radiohead than Britney Spears or Lady Gaga. Wilson documents the revisionist tendency by which music disdained by the majority of critics is later "reclaimed" and retroactively endowed with aesthetic merit, citing heavy metal, disco, lounge, and prog-rock as some of the most salient examples. Given this trend, he asks, might it not be that critics are "wrong" about Céline, that posterity might discover in her depths unseen by us at the present time? And what if they do? If even Céline can be reclaimed, does the notion of taste dissolve into sheer relativism? "Maybe if hating Céline Dion is wrong, I don't want to be right" (p. 21). Next ("Let's Talk in French") is an impressively well documented look at the social and cultural context in which Céline's emerged: the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the rise of Quebec nationalism with its homegrown vedette (star) culture, the divide between pre-Revolution variety acts and Revolution-era chansonniers (singer-songwriters), the economic disaster brought on by the 1980 referendum, the resulting precariousness of Quebec's music industry, forcing the chanson and variety camps to work together, and finally, Céline's rise to prominence in this milieu as a "national hero". Nor is this context peripheral to the object of the book: Wilson astutely notes that many of the traits derided by critics of Céline — her commerciality, her over-the-top stage persona, her excessively showy singing style — need to be understood in light of her working-class Quebecois background, which simply does not register for most English-speaking North Americans: "If she fails most non-fans' authenticity tests, the trouble may be [...] that her personal touchstones are off the map" (p. 36). From here, Wilson goes on to examine critics' characterization of Céline as a "stealth operative of globalization" ("Let's Talk About World Domination"), to situate her music within immigrant North American musical traditions since of the 19th and 20th Centuries ("Let's Talk About Schmaltz"), and to explain the louder-is-always-better dynamic and "conspicuous overproduction" of her music in terms of a Catholic conception of virtuosity ("Let's Sing Really Loud"). His following two chapters, "Let's Talk About Taste" and "Let's Talk About Who's Got Bad Taste" function as a kind of crash course in philosophy of art, reading more like an excerpt from one of the better volumes in the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction series than a 33 1/3 book. Wilson moves effortless through Hume and Kant before dedicating an entire chapter to Bourdieu, presenting a balanced and nuanced assessment of his broadly Marxist analysis of taste. This also leads Wilson to engage in a positively fascinating breakdown of Céline's fanbase, whom he depicts as "the new petite bourgeoisie [...] gamely but not very suavely trying to adjust themselves to what they believed were the higher things" (p. 102). After a chapter dedicated to fan interviews ("Let's Talk With Some Fans") and another aiming to get at the roots of our collective discomfort with sentimentality ("Let's Talk About Our Feelings"), Wilson finally gets to the centrepiece of the book: having complete all of the intellectual exercises and on-the-ground research required to unlearn — or at least to bracket — his own prejudices, Wilson finally gives the album a listen ("Let's Talk About Let's Talk About Love"). Assuming the role of a critic reviewing a would-be 10th Anniversary rerelease, Wilson tries his best to lend the album a sympathetic, if not quite enthusiastic, ear: "When this album was first released I assumed that it was shallow, that it was beneath me. A decade later I don't see the advantage in holding yourself above things" (p. 148). Although Wilson cannot claim to have learned what it is like to be a Céline fan, he maintains that the exercise has at least confronted him with what is involved in not being a fan. He dedicates the final chapter, simply titled "Let's Talk About Love", to what he has learned. The first lesson is that he himself has a taste — a set of preferences that he projects in order to define himself, in order to set himself apart, and with which he wishes to be associated — a fact that manifests itself in his embarrassment at playing the record on repeat in his un-soundproofed apartment within earshot of his presumably discriminating neighbours: "It turns out that I am not so bothered by having strangers hear me have sex, compared to how embarrassed I am by hearing them have me play Let's Talk About Love over and over" (p. 135-136). Here, I cannot help but concur. The second is that, in some strange way, his journey has been a lesson in learning to love. There are many reasons to love a song, Wilson maintains: "You can love a song for what you take to be its depth, formal elegance and lasting value, the traditional parameters of purist art appreciation. But you can also love a song for its novelty, as a fresh variation on the same old thing, in which case you may love it only briefly. A rich taste life will include both, just as a rich erotic life includes infatuations and flings as well as long-term relationships, because they do different things to us. [...] You can also love a song for its datedness, for the social history its anachronism reveals. You can love a song for how its sentimentality gives a workout to the emotions. You can love it for its foreignness, for the glimpse it gives of human variability. You can love it for its exemplarity, for being the 'ultimate' disco floor filler or schmaltzy mother song. You can love it for representing a place, a community, or even an ideology [...]. You might love it for its popularity, for linking you to a crowd: being popular may not make it 'good', but it does make it a good, and a service, and you can listen to learn what it is doing for other people" (p. 152-154). And while I cannot claim that Céline's music does for me what it does for her fans, Wilson's book has certainly helped me to learn what it is that it does for them.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alanna Why

    Growing up, I always wanted to be a rock writer. I devoured criticism from a young age, from the extremely overrated (Lester Bangs) to the grossly underappreciated (Ellen Willis). I thought some musicians were Right (The Ramones, T. Rex, The Replacements) and that entire genres were Wrong (country, emo, disco). I was 12 years old. Fast forward to today, much less of a purist than I used to be and mercifully not As Punk. And yet, I still judge other people's taste - in everything, but especially i Growing up, I always wanted to be a rock writer. I devoured criticism from a young age, from the extremely overrated (Lester Bangs) to the grossly underappreciated (Ellen Willis). I thought some musicians were Right (The Ramones, T. Rex, The Replacements) and that entire genres were Wrong (country, emo, disco). I was 12 years old. Fast forward to today, much less of a purist than I used to be and mercifully not As Punk. And yet, I still judge other people's taste - in everything, but especially in music. For instance, one day at work last month, both my co-worker and boss played nothing but Celine Dion for the entire shift, enthusiastically singing along and dancing with all of their limbs. "We're French," they said. "She's our queen." I, on the other hand, wanted to die. So thank you, Carl Wilson, for explaining Celine to me. And for doing a really great job of summarizing Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste so that I never have to read it. And for reminding me that truly smart criticism lies in the binary beyond garbage and genius. My recovered snob heart will go on!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Craig Dickson

    This was really good, an investigation into the meaning of taste and aesthetics where the author, an urbane and hip music critic examines his own prejudices by diving deep into Céline Dion's 1997 album 'Let's Talk About Love'. This is a short (~150 pages) but wide ranging book that covers Dion's background and biography, the Quebecoise traditions she came from, and moves into a really powerful examination of the concept of cool (via Pierre Bourdieu). The book looks at what taste really is and how This was really good, an investigation into the meaning of taste and aesthetics where the author, an urbane and hip music critic examines his own prejudices by diving deep into Céline Dion's 1997 album 'Let's Talk About Love'. This is a short (~150 pages) but wide ranging book that covers Dion's background and biography, the Quebecoise traditions she came from, and moves into a really powerful examination of the concept of cool (via Pierre Bourdieu). The book looks at what taste really is and how it operates socially, without reducing everything to a social constructivist or relativist standpoint. Eye-opening and empathetic, as well as honestly and engagingly written, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in pop culture who has ever derisively looked down on people who enjoy something you dislike. So everyone.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    When I read the Neil Young "Harvest" 33 1/3, I found myself listening to Neil Young constantly... that doesn't happen with this read, at least for me. I think this is the better book. This book made me think about how Carl Wilson thinks about Celine Dion, it gives you a lense into a person's view of music as opposed to just history/backstory about an album. This had the most feeling and personality of the 33 1/3's I have read so far. FFO: Elliott Smith

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Fun, fascinating read. What defines “good taste”? Why do we gravitate towards the music we do and what social currency does it give it us? What makes something a guilty pleasure instead of music you are proud to admit you enjoy? So thorough and well written with a lot of dry wit and heart. I’m proudly admitting, here and now, that I’m about to delve into Celine Dion’s entire catalogue and I feel almost zero shame.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jack Tomascak

    Really solid distillation of taste, given a nearly-universal framing. More accessible than your standard-order Bourdieu but not lacking in thoroughness... eager to tackle the essays from the expanded edition at some point!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    Fun but not substantive enough. Wilson's cursory examinations of taste--that no one's preferences are formed in a vacuum but that we use taste to align ourselves with and distance ourselves from certain socioeconomic groupings--should be apparent without needing research results. More interesting is the information about the effect on dopamine levels when we encounter new music and the payoff when our brains resolve more difficult listening into what we identify as music. However, that was taken Fun but not substantive enough. Wilson's cursory examinations of taste--that no one's preferences are formed in a vacuum but that we use taste to align ourselves with and distance ourselves from certain socioeconomic groupings--should be apparent without needing research results. More interesting is the information about the effect on dopamine levels when we encounter new music and the payoff when our brains resolve more difficult listening into what we identify as music. However, that was taken from Proust Was a Neuroscientist so maybe I should just read that. As for Celine's music, a compelling case for its aesthetic value was not made. I tried listening to every song cited in the book with as gaping-open a mind as I could muster, but was unable to finish any of them because they're so violently boring. Music engineered to appeal to as wide an audience as possible will only be perceived as limp treacle to my challenge-seeking brain.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Seigler

    Another re-read (a running theme of this time in our history, perhaps), this is Carl Wilson's great exploration of what "taste" means and why some people have "bad taste." It's perhaps hard to remember how universal Celine Dion was at the close of the Nineties, when "My Heart Will Go On" was every-damn-where and her enthusiastic, bombastic style of singing drowned out anyone else trying to make a living at the time (hyperbole, but still). Wilson, using the perhaps low-hanging-fruit of her 1997 a Another re-read (a running theme of this time in our history, perhaps), this is Carl Wilson's great exploration of what "taste" means and why some people have "bad taste." It's perhaps hard to remember how universal Celine Dion was at the close of the Nineties, when "My Heart Will Go On" was every-damn-where and her enthusiastic, bombastic style of singing drowned out anyone else trying to make a living at the time (hyperbole, but still). Wilson, using the perhaps low-hanging-fruit of her 1997 album "Let's Talk About Love," sets out to discuss what makes us listen to certain artists over others, and whether it's more a reflection of us than it is of the artists we claim to loath or love. It's a fun, fascinating read, and I have to say that I agree with him that, to some extent, it's all a matter of perspective. There are some great essays by other artists in this edition (an expansion upon the original 33 1/3 version), but the primary text is what sells it for me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Josh Borders

    Really lovely, short book on how personal taste is formed in individuals, using Celine Dion's album of the same name as a framing device. Is taste a function of one's upbringing? Is there something innate about the things we like and dislike? Does anyone know? If nothing else, this book taught me much about Celine and Quebec.

  29. 5 out of 5

    SSShafiq

    For a book I randomly picked up from Goodreads I am surprised at how much I enjoyed this and how much it made me think. Plus, I listed to Ashes on repeat, which I've decided is a great thing. Despite the clever subtitle of the book, which made me think that this would an antagonistic read, this book is rather “about the inherent sociability of taste, the way we in isolation of taste, the way we cant in isolation understand our own aesthetics and therefore our own humanity, but can only make them For a book I randomly picked up from Goodreads I am surprised at how much I enjoyed this and how much it made me think. Plus, I listed to Ashes on repeat, which I've decided is a great thing. Despite the clever subtitle of the book, which made me think that this would an antagonistic read, this book is rather “about the inherent sociability of taste, the way we in isolation of taste, the way we cant in isolation understand our own aesthetics and therefore our own humanity, but can only make them our own when we share and compare.” (pg. 168 of 2014 edition). Surprisingly, this book is less about Céline; Let's Talk About Love is barely mentioned. It is a jumping point for a wider exploration of how we interact with music. Worth reading but take your time and if you can, look up some of the music referenced. I enjoyed that a lot, though it took me a while to get through the book. I read the expanded 2014 edition which includes the original 2007 text as well as new essays published in response and expansion of the original text. If you have a choice, pick this expanded edition as it adds quite a bit to the context of the book. Thank you public library for carrying this since, upfront, I can say that this is an engaging read which makes one think about how our tastes are formed and what they say about us. This is also a very Canadian text – not only in that the subject and the author is Canadian – but the inherent premise to take the other people’s tastes and opinions respectfully and seriously. It’s not enough to find a common love and empathy with others but sympathy. This is odd in the context of modern progressive culture until you realise that you cannot share a common love with everyone. The book argues that you wouldn’t want try to empathise with everyone since that is impossible and, therefore, is a false stance; nonetheless, you can listen and try to understand. To me, this is a particularly Canadian perspective – people would call it polite but I call it a celebration of difference without forcing integration. (Yes, I have a Canadian bias – what did you expect?!). The original 2007 text has various chapter exploring different aspects of how we consume music, some of which are directly related to provided Céline Dion's music context. One of the things I learnt was that the correct spelling is Céline, not Celine. She is Québécois (hopefully I got all the accents right) and not American. I understand now what this means but didn’t when I first heard her a lifetime ago. The new essays in the 2014 text were also generally strong. As with any collection there were a couple I didn't like or understand but in the spirit of Céline and finding common ground, let me mention the standouts for me: If the girls were all transported by Ann Powers. This expands on the themes of the “feminine” and “domestic” which made me want to go hug my mom who has a MA in Literature and bought me books for my birthday which I still have. The Easiest thing to forget by Mart Gaitskill who offered a critique of the original book. One of my favourites, this essay was very direct and made me stop. It was a little uncomfortable too, but the clearest statement of why we need to be all a little more human. Compared to What? by Jason King who argues for the need to avoid cultural relativism. I didn’t understand some of his references but I agreed with him for the most part. His appeal to apply some standards to art and avoid giving a pass to everything based on taste was interesting to think about especially today. Children of the Corn by Sukdev Sandhun who puts Céline Dion into an immigrant and international context. The Indian film references and the yearning expressed in those songs really got to me. This is why I love ballads - some of it doesn’t translate but exquisite sadness and longing connects us all and Céline is a good proponent of that tradition. I'll end here with a strong recommendation again to read this. ---- PS. Bitch, I'm Celine and Celine is Amazing!! make for good soundtracks to this book as well. Cause they work for Céline - you know they do. Give in!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Patron

    My reading record isn't accurate at all anymore, but quite frankly I'm not even sure I even give a damn. So, just to be clear: I'm not actually reading all these books in a day unless I state otherwise, alright? Even I'm not that crazy! I'd classify myself in a variety of cultural, social and psychological categories, some of which would include the terms 'pop music enthusiast', 'sentimentality apologetic', and 'blatant queer'. Despite this, I generally act as cold as rock critics usually do tow My reading record isn't accurate at all anymore, but quite frankly I'm not even sure I even give a damn. So, just to be clear: I'm not actually reading all these books in a day unless I state otherwise, alright? Even I'm not that crazy! I'd classify myself in a variety of cultural, social and psychological categories, some of which would include the terms 'pop music enthusiast', 'sentimentality apologetic', and 'blatant queer'. Despite this, I generally act as cold as rock critics usually do towards Celine Dion's music, although I've never given her much thought. I'm a devotee of Mariah Carey and a huge respecter of Whitney Houston, and I've kind of always boxed Dion into a place where I see her as an inferior, overbearingly white version of those two. I've listened to Falling Into You once, and, believe me, that was not an exercise I enjoyed or even willingly participated in! I've softened a bit to Celine ever since I've had it in me to admit to myself that I genuinely enjoy My Heart Will Go On, but I've never ever thought she was worthy of praise compared to several other of her fellow divas. Yet, something about A Journey to the End of Taste intrigued me when I spotted it constantly as I pursued lists of quality books about pop music that I'd started pursuing. See, I've been in the middle of a social constructionist phase for a long time, and the thought of our music preferences being influenced by our social backgrounds in ways beyond our imagination not only made sense to me, but also...aroused me. It...it tickled my postmodernist senses. The post-structuralist in me started to...okay, fuck, look, this is pretentious. I'm just a huge sociology nerd, alright? I've been very interested in pop music history for a long time, and the thought of combining it with an intellectual examination of where taste comes from just made me grin. So, that's how I ended up reading almost two hundred pages about a Celine Dion album. Does that satisfy you folks?! Are you happy now?! Spare me, people! I'll probably expand a little on this section in a bit for reasons that are currently confidential, but, essentially, A Journey to the End of Taste takes you to weird places. Carl Wilson connects Celine Dion with Quebec separatism, Kantian thought, aesthetic philosophy, and sociological theories by none other than Pierre Bourdieu (who's MY number one French academic, Foucault be damned). The strange thing about this is that all of this works, and that this book'll end up educating you about things you'd probably never ever consider reading about otherwise. And it does all this through the pretense of being a book about one of the most loathed albums of 1997! To be honest, though, this isn't really a treatise about the objective quality of Celine's music (if such a concept even exists) or an exploration of the musical elements of Let's Talk About Love. Instead, it's a sort of pop thesis about how artistic preferences are less individualistic then they appear to be, and for a book that happens to be in a less-than-positively received series, it's surprisingly good at doing its job. Those with even the slightest interest in media criticism and the intersection of the social sciences and arts should definitely pick A Journey to the End of Taste up. It's brief, but it's educational, and it'll probably encourage you to examine the music you listen to and the stuff you consume yourself. That's a scary concept, but it's also exciting!

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