Good post from Carl Wilson on the 33 1/3 Books blog – his central thought, that what’s “good” about music is “its ecology, its unintended consequences” is obviously one I agree with. I’ll be buying his Celine Dion book too, as will most of the cerebral wing of critland I’d guess!
Thinking about the book gives me a niggling feeling, though, which is odd because it’s a great idea for a book. But reading the blog helped me realise why. The utopian part of me wishes it was coming out as its own thing, not as a 33 1/3 publication. In some senses this is HUGELY unfair since I’ve not read it yet. But whatever the conclusions Wilson himself comes to – and he’s rightly treating them as spoilable material on his own blog, so I don’t know yet – the choice of this book for this series queers the pitch, creates a structural divide between Dion and all other music covered in the series. These other acts get their albums written about lovingly by fans, Celene’s is written about by a non-fan trying to convert themselves and explore ideas of taste. Celine Dion is a perfect subject for a book like that, and I think it’ll be a terrific book. But it unlevels the 33 1/3 playing field – it makes Celine a special case.
A thought experiment: in a parallel universe, there’s a 33 1/3 which has published a book on Let’s Talk About Love by a fan of Celine Dion, exactly like all the other releases in the series. That universe is doubtless also having resounding and angry conversations about what “good” and “taste” and “classic” means in a pop or rock or publishing context. Maybe less interesting ones than this universe will, maybe more, but starting from a basic assumption of potential common identity between fans of Celine and fans of, say, Neutral Milk Hotel; of, as Frank Kogan (who does enjoy Celine) puts it, “continuity” between Celine and other stuff. Which is what Wilson is talking about in his blog post, of course – so I’m sure his book does share that assumption. It’s just that the publishing context undermines that a little for me.
(I’ll follow up this when I’ve read the book, of course.)