A Cube From All Sides
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.
to listen while you read. (it's The Sapphires - "Who Do You Love?")
Our colleague and friend Carl Wilson has written a book for the 33 1/3 series. It's called "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste" and it's about Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love. Well, about. It's about a lot of things, really. And in support of the book, Sean, Jordan and I, over the next three days, will be discussing what the book is "about" and what its themes mean to us and our own taste, as a way of letting you know how much we think this book is valuable, important, and just great fun. The book launch is on Wednesday, and so I'm starting today, because we feel this book is so good it deserves a hearty welcome.
So "Let's Talk About Love" (and when I say that from now on I mean the book, not the album) is about taste, at its core. The subtitle, "A Journey to the End of Taste" is a clue that this is not a regular installment in the 33 1/3 series (in which it is assumed going in that the author loves the album they're writing about). In this case, the author starts out pretty much hating the album, hating the artist, as much as any art can be hated. But the task at hand is to find out why. What reasons are there to hate Celine Dion? Perhaps there are many. Perhaps there are none. If there are none, then where does this hatred come from in the first place? These are fundamental philosophical questions of aesthetics, so to me they're not only important that they're answered (I feel the "task" of life, if you need one, is understanding as much as you can), they're exciting. Because they're mysteries I've thought about but never had an answer to, and I love it when someone comes up with some. And Carl not only comes up with answers, he writes passionately about them (and about the further questions that are raised, always new mysteries), and about how they've helped him to understand his own life, which only left me with the job of trying to understand mine.
In his book, Carl Wilson does what I wish I could do every day: he confronts his own perspective. He challenges his ideals, just to make sure they're fast, because without strong re-inforced opinions, you won't survive in a storm. It's like passing by the little crack in your living room wall on the way to the bathroom, but instead of just walking by and putting it out of your mind, kicking it as hard as you can. If nothing happens and the crack settles a little into place, you're fine, you've got strong walls, but if a chunk of the ceiling comes down, you had a problem there the whole time. In a very personal way, he confronts himself, and today I want to do the same, with something of a "taste biography".
The symptoms of my taste began in aesthetic experience as a kind of hidden treat, in naughty or forbidden material. Rap tapes with the logo were what I would listen to on low low volume in my bedroom, lying with my head next to the speaker. Most often it was House of Pain's Fine Malt Lyrics, until I received Pearl Jam's Ten on my tenth birthday (yes!) and that took over. But at this point (1994 or so) my taste took a strong deviation towards movies, so I can't ignore them (even if I stuck to my taste in music, it just veers into movie soundtracks anyway). Quentin Tarantino was the king of forbidden goods in my house. I kept VHS copies of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs in my desk drawer in my bedroom, far away from the family TV. And then by high school that impulse (to be shocked, stirred) transformed into desiring simply "talked about" work, since the thread got stale of just violence and sex, those weren't what I was after (well, I suppose exploitation wasn't what I was after, because I was certainly still interested in understanding sex and violence). For instance, I tried like some misguided collector to see all of the movies on the AFI "Top 100 movies of all time" list (still missing twenty or so).
This impulse, though it's become nameless, instinctual, unspoken, is still there. Be it music or movies or anything else, the most glowing endorsement someone can give for me to seek out a piece of art is to say, tensing, "it just made me so...." and then shuddering, or clenching their fists, or dropping their jaw. I am first and foremost drawn to things that have made people react. I believe I'm searching for something powerful, something with an idea in it, something that makes me react, and maybe even act. I think in an unconscious way, I long for a certain kind of hyper-effective propaganda. Something that will turn me into a soldier for a cause worthy of my devotion. I don't know what it would it would look or sound like (perhaps like Ravel's Bolero, or perhaps like Group Inerane if I could understand the lyrics*) but in a way the ultimate piece of art would be one where I didn't need to see or hear another piece after that. Like when someone says after an experience "Well, I can die happy," I suppose I must be looking for that to really come true. So maybe I should save this answer-song until I'm ready to face it, though if an artist came along that could alter my life completely, I'm sure I wouldn't be given prep time. I wonder if this artist has begun their career, maybe they're already dead, maybe they haven't been born, maybe they're reading this now.
*though I think the most stirring song I've heard up to this point in my life is probably "Total Eclipse of the Heart", the good version. so maybe I'm destined to be a soldier of heartbreak.Posted by Dan at January 7, 2008 1:22 AM
The USA Today Pop Candy podcast did an interview w/ Carl Wilson a month or so ago; that's when I first learned about this book. I love the 33 1/3 series, and this one sounds very very interesting! The interview was really good too -- http://blogs.usatoday.com/popcandy/podcasts/index.html?loc=interstitialskip
Great idea for a series--and wonderful post. I'm with you, Dan: music with the spark of an idea that engages mind and heart, and *galvanizes*. The ideal comes along so infrequently, though...Posted by Amy at January 7, 2008 9:51 AM
Oops, I should clarify! By great idea for a series, I meant StG's three-part deal. Not the 33 1/3 series, which we all already know is greatPosted by Amy at January 7, 2008 9:56 AM
Lovely post, Dan. Battle on, soldier of heartbreak.Posted by beth at January 7, 2008 2:34 PM
I've read a few 33 1/3 books and was kind of baffled and skeptical that someone chose Celine Dion LTAL. But now, as you've explained, that is exactly what the book is about. Can't wait to hear what you have to say about it. Fantastic post!Posted by Dylan at January 7, 2008 2:50 PM
Wow, that was an excellent post and precisely what I've been thinking about for the past week or so.Posted by Linka at January 7, 2008 4:09 PM
It's funny, that's how I tell people about songs. "You have to hear this.. it's just... AHHH." Haha. Songs like that have staying power because you don't identify with them by a specific instance (oh this line makes me think of that guy and when he..), but rather with a feeling.. which I think is less fleeting.Posted by erika at January 7, 2008 5:43 PM
Carl Wilson confronts his own perspective not to make sure its fast, but to unsettle it. Admittedly, I have not yet read the book, but from what I've read on Zoilus and heard in interviews, it seems he left the project much less convinced of his so-called ideals. We must be honest with ourselves: we are not 'fortified.' There is nothing desirable about letting our walls settle.
I also hope that there are not any "fundamental" questions of aesthetics. The beauty of aesthetics (if I can be so 'cute') is that it makes it awfully difficult to be a fundamentalist.
You do mention that he raises more mysteries. I like that part.Posted by Julia T at January 7, 2008 8:16 PM
I can tell you like mysteries.
checking if you are right and checking if you are wrong are kind of the same thing to me. you say "there is nothing desirable about letting our walls settle" which is like 90% of what I said, but I would add, if they are flawed. you seem to think we can't ever hold on to anything. I disagree. I think the only way to build a philosophy is to start by assembling things we feel are right. I never said "Carl finds himself to be right". You should read the book to find that out.
also, fundamental - affecting or relating to the essential nature of something or the crucial point about an issue. a fundamental question is a "very important" question, and again, I guess we disagree because I feel there are very central questions to aesthetics. Maybe your problem is with "questions", I should say "fundamental mysteries".Posted by dan at January 7, 2008 10:48 PM
This makes me react. I just know there's some way to be original after I read these, but it's hard when you already describe what I feel so well. I'm getting this book as soon as a can. Thanks so much.Posted by Ariel at January 8, 2008 7:03 PM
OK, you got me, I'll order LTAL and while I'm at it, can I recommend John Cavanagh's excellent 33 1/3 book about the Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn? With all the coverage after Syd's death, I thought I'd read all that I needed about this album, but I was wrong.Posted by David B at January 9, 2008 4:53 AM
I picked up the book in New York and just finished reading it - excellent, certainly the best in the 33 1/3 series so far. I'll be giving away my copy tonight (to Mike Atkinson at http://www.troubled-diva.com/ because a) he's just had a birthday and b) he'll be very flattered to find that he's quoted at length in it) but I suspect I shall buy a second one in due course. A really thought provoking read. Having finished it, i dled Celine D's Titanic song because I had no recollection of it, despite having seen the movie. And, having just heard the song, I still have no recollection of it...Posted by David B at February 25, 2008 6:53 AM
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.Posted by Karen at April 12, 2014 7:42 AM
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about the authors
Sean Michaels lives in Montreal. His debut novel, Us Conductors, will be published by Random House Canada/Tin House Books in spring 2014. His work also occasionally appears at McSweeney's. Follow him on Twitter or reach him here.
Dan Beirne is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Email him here
Jordan Himelfarb lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Jordan's posts appear at Said the Gramophone only on the last Wednesday of every month. Email him here.
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