Celine Dion and Cool

June 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm (Uncategorized)

So what is cool exactly? I read somewhere, but am now unable to remember where, the word derives from an African word meaning ‘in the know.’  However, the concept has been recorded as far back as Aristotle’s time. 

Today the word tends to mean any vague sense of approval:

“Hey, I’m going to the mall.”


But coolness is a bit more than that. If you think you’re cool, you’re probably not. Coolness doesn’t have to seek approval, it simply announces itself. Is it elitism? Sure. Is it desirable? Absolutely.

We all have our own stories of cool: Oh, I saw the Violent Femmes in Hamilton in 1983 at their first Canadian show. Oh, I heard of M.I.A. before all my Sri Lankan friends who now claim her. Yeah, I saw Wilco in a little club in Calgary before they hit it big. Oh, I used to like that band (before you heard of them that is…)

We’ve all experienced the feeling of when ‘our’ band makes it big.  That break-out hit when the masses catch on. There’s a pang of loss, as we realize our little secret crush is going to be loved by millions, who won’t really appreciate them like we do. Only one thing to do, denounce their new stuff and move on. The true tragedy of being a hipster is never being able to really appreciate a band because you always have to be ahead of the curve.

So yeah, I was a big fan of Celine Dion until she sold out and began to sing in English. OK, maybe that’s not true, but it does raise the a question about whether someone who is as popular as Dion can be cool. (Hey, early Elvis rules, OK?)

Like a lot of wanna-be hipsters, I sneer at Celine Dion: The schmaltz of her stuff, the weirdness of the Vegas Shtick, just how painfully skinny she is, the whole marrying her manager who’s older that her dad thing (it’s not the age difference, it’s the Stockholm Syndrome aspect that troubles me). And yet, millions disagree.  She’s unstoppable.

Anyone troubled by Dion might find solace in Carl Wilson’s book Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste,  a part of the 33third series. Carl Wilson writes for the Toronto Globe and Mail and publishes the Zoilus blog. (And no, I wasn’t cool when I discovered the book – I decided to read it after I saw actor James Franco mention it on the Oscar red carpet.)

 Wilson doesn’t like Dion. It’s clear from the first chapter where he describes the Oscar edition which pitted Dion against Elliot Smith for best song. Yet, he’s clearly fascinated by her (I have a similar feeling about Martha Stewart.)

In the book, Wilson explores Dion’s history. Her rise from small time singer, to the conqueror of Quebec, Canada and finally the globe. Consider the following:

  • When Sheila Copps visited China in 2000, Chinese officials asked her if she could arranged for Dion to tour China.  
  • When you visit Jamaica and you hear Dion blasting through the neighbourhood, run! Apparently, the badder the gangster, the more they love Dion.
  • When you travel to Afghanistan, bring some Dion merchandise for sale. Dion is number 1, and anything associated with her finds a buyer.

But within the book, there are fascinating discussions of culture, taste and what is cool. along with Wilson’s own appreciation of Dion.

 Near the end, Wilson writes:

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 that 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 judgements, 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.  

Agreed, but as a final snide aside, I’ll leave you with Dion’s version of AC/CD’s You shook me All Night Long. Any comments by me are entirely unnecessary 🙂


1 Comment

  1. New Links « Notes from Underground said,

    […] Carl Wilson’s blog. Covers Toronto music and other stuff. Author of an interesting book on Celine Dion.  […]

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