14 January 2009
A few things about Celine Dion.
So, here's the pick that ran in the Nashville Scene, which appeared exactly as I wrote it.
A big-ticket platinum superstar decides to play Nashville, and so little ink has been spilled? Does Celine Dion merit that little notice? We're talking about the woman who defined the sound of love for the Titanic age (incidentally, the age that ends when Revolutionary Road hits local theatres next weekend and all those Kate and Leo-inspired romances implode accordingly), a Québeçoise wonder whose "River Deep, Mountain High" on David Letterman made Phil Spector sit up and take notice, the voice who raises hipster hackles even while articulating the most secret fantasies of that secret place where MOR, easy listening, and Broadway lie and rut in fits of ecstasy and Junior High-pure simile… Her Vegas spectacle was a beautiful collision between Cirque du Soleil artsy and Sinatra-style big room showmanship, so God only knows what her Taking Chances tour will bring us when it settles into the Sommet Center; diva moments and big emotions, though, are a must, and color us all the more delighted for it.
Now here's the pick that ran in Metromix that I had done.
"A singer and occasional songwriter for more than three quarters of her life, it's hard to think of a time before there was Céline Dion. Just under two decades after her English-language breakthrough (the one-two punch of "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" and her featured solo on the charity recording "Voices That Care"), and (arguably) the world's most famous Canadian has been sitting, refined, at the top of her music, publishing, and fragrance empire."
So here's the unedited piece I submitted to Metromix. Note: this is not anyone's fault; I just didn't know it was only supposed to be 150 words. Oh well.
A singer and occasional songwriter for more than three quarters of her life, it's hard to think of a time before there was Céline Dion. Just under two decades after her English-language breakthrough (the one-two punch of "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" and her featured solo on the charity recording "Voices That Care"), and (arguably) the world's most famous Canadian has been sitting, refined, at the top of her music, publishing, and fragrance empire.
She could have gracefully retired after ruling the world for a good portion of the late 90s ("My Heart Will Go On" still dominating call-in request shows, karaoke throwdowns, and the live sets of Nashville's own avant-rock throatsinger The Mattoid), and she did take a step out of the limelight for two years to help her husband/manager/lifelong figure of mystery René Angélil recover from cancer and to give birth to her first child René-Charles.
There's never been a Québeçoise crossover on this level before (Two hundred million albums sold worldwide, still counting), and it's that veneer of otherness that has provided the forty year-old diva with a rather unique position amongst the world's big-ticket vocalists. It's impossible to imagine a Beyoncé, a Rihanna, or even a Barbra Streisand who'd make an international breakthrough with a song like "Ziggy (Un Garçon pas comme les Autres)," where the heroine pines for a distant gay boy (and sings, in its jawdropping video, in a locker room with many naked dudes), just as it seems impossible to approach Dion, the icon, in any ironic interpretation. Ana Gasteyer's inspired impression of the singer impressed Dion enough to have the SNL comedienne appear at her New York shows that year, and with a grace and winningly Gallic sense of humor, she simply absorbs criticism and refracts a sincere joy at the twists and turns of her life and career.
She is genuine even at her most artificial, a consummate entertainer as only the youngest of fourteen siblings could be, and gifted with a crystalline laser of a voice. A humanitarian (international spokeswoman for Cystic Fibrosis awareness, advocate for Hurricane Katrina refugees), global pop star (on the level of Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and her idol Barbra Streisand), and one of the few personalities who is equally at home with Max Martin's glistening Swedish pop ("That's The Way It Is") and Jim Steinman's Wagnerian rock epics ("It's All Coming Back To Me Now"), Dion is the opposite of auteur, diving into the heart of a song and reshaping herself to fit it.
Dion has that Karen Carpenter gift, able to soothe even when singing of unimaginable sadness, and it's this skill that has kept her safely adored in the Adult Contemporary set. Detours into lullabies (Miracle, her collaboration with artist Anne Geddes), chart-topping circuit collaborations with Tony Moran ("To Love You More") and Thunderpuss ("I Want You To Need Me")), R&B ("I'm Your Angel," with R. Kelly), and a rockier sound (last year's Taking Chances, with its collaborations with Linda Perry and Ben Moody) have found her stretching her legs, but she's always most at home with a beltable melody and a tale of some form of superhuman love.
Even the most skeptical of Dion detractors find themselves taken aback by much of her French-language material (particularly in her stirring takes on the songs of Luc Plamondon, Canada's most acclaimed French lyricist), with its dejected cynicism ("Le Monde est Stone"), tragic children ("Le Fils de Superman"), and dead-hearted tycoons ("Les Blues du Businessman"), and her 1998 album S'il Suffisaît d'Aimer stands as one of the classics of modern Francophone pop.
So now, her Taking Chances tour brings her to Nashville for the first time since her banner year of 1997, a decade-plus span that saw her "A New Day…" spectacle break countless Las Vegas attendance records, the birth of a child, cancer in the family, her beloved father's death, and a sea change in the economics of the music industry. Any one of those events could make or break another artist's presence in our collective consciousness; but there's a breezy consistency, a reassurance in Celine Dion. What with Springsteen's show last summer and now this appearance, it appears that the A-List acts are finally deciding to include Nashville in their itineraries again. As hearts do, so divas go on…
Celine Dion appears Tuesday, January 13th, at the Sommet Center.
And for those of y'all (meaning all of y'all) who want to see the video for Ziggy... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osiTZxgpxGY
It is doubtless NSFW.