How Celine Dion Changed My Life

1 Apr

Actually it wasn’t Celine Dion, it was Carl Wilson, but the rest of that no doubt arresting title is completely true: my life was changed, is changed and will hopefully never be the same thanks to Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson.

I recently reviewed this same book on 95Bfm’s Morning Glory show with the unrelentingly lovely Charlotte Ryan. To say that I received a slightly hostile reception would be to state the obvious, Celine Dion, the ostensible subject of this book, turns a hipsters heart cold.
After I’d done the review the station got a phone call (this isn’t uncommon by the way, often people will ring up to concur with Charlotte about a book I’ve just reviewed that she knows nothing about and she’ll smile and hand me the phone saying ‘I think this is for you’), this time however Charlotte fielded the call and listened politely, and I dare say somewhat in agreement, as a gentlemen told her in no uncertain terms that “Celine Dion was shit and we just had to accept it.”
Had I been on the receiving end of this seemingly undeniable news I would have calmly stated (and taken no joy in doing so) that he’d unfortunately and entirely missed the point.

The way you feel when you hear the music of Celine Dion (at least for those people likely to read a 33 & 1/3 book or in fact this blog), that feeling of panic like the electricity failed and you’re in an automated public toilet, is the very reason Wilson chose Dion as a subject for a book on taste.
He wanted to investigate why some people feel so viscerally ill about subjective arts that others adore. Celine Dion is one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time, she speaks to a fan base of millions, fans who are unapologetically sentimental about her oeuvre and as Wilson discovers, there is something deeply important about that.
It’s not my intention here to replicate the book in some facile blog manner but rather to encourage you to read it because, as I’ve pointed out but am yet to fully explain, it changed my life and how exceptional is that? When we, as humans, often feel so mired in our own unchangability in our fated foreverness that all our foibles and failures become stains that we convince ourselves we’ll never clean. Not true. Not when a book, a book by god! A small printed thing no bigger than a cd cover, in this case, and with a picture of Celine Dion on the front no less, can pick you up by the shirt sleeves and throw you back into the cause of bettering yourself.
Actually this exact thing happened to Nick Hornby.

I discovered Let’s Talk About Love by reading Nick Hornby’s article in The Believer magazine wherein he writes each month about what he’s been reading, in no particular order and with no particular relevance save its worth to him over the past months. Wilson’s addition to the 33 & 1/3 series was just such a book but with one critical distinction: in his overview Hornby insisted that you, his reader, read Wilson’s book because how, quite frankly, could you and he ever be on the same page again if you didn’t?
What does this mean? It means that Celine Dion, or rather Carl Wilson, also changed Nick Hornby’s life and I took this rather seriously, ordering myself a copy quick smart as I really enjoy Hornby’s reading habits and intended on continuing to find relevance in them. Thank you very much.
What I discovered therein was a deeply intelligent, clearly laid out investigation into the nature of taste; from the origin of terms such as ‘cultural capital’ to sentimentality being villainized resulting in actual feeling being relegated to behind closed doors to the real meaning of democracy as coming face to face with those most unlike you and in that awkwardness really seeing yourself.

The stripping away of ego that Wilson underwent in writing this book takes the form of a hand held out, beckoning you to take it not so much in urgency but in humble goodwill. The hegemony of our affiliations can often break our backs even as we think they’re holding us up.
It is with a new freedom that I read, look at art, interact with people ‘unlike’ myself and I have Celine Dion to thank for inspiring Carl Wilson to write one of the most elucidating and regenerative books of all time.

Buy it here:
Unity Books

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