The co-founder and former bassist for the band
Nirvana, Krist Novoselic, has kind words for Celine Dion fans
over at Time. It’s a contribution to
a new, expanded edition of a 2007 book praising the Quebecois
songbird’s massive 1997 album, Let’s Talk About Love.
Novoselic has spent much of his post-Nirvana days
in political activity that’s pretty wide-ranging. He has
always struck me as a genial, good guy, if a bit crunchy-prog for
my tastes. He’s donated both to Barack Obama and Ron Paul and is
the frontman for an organization that pushes proportional voting as
a fix to what ails democracy. In 2004, he published a book
called Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix This Broken
So what do politics have to do with Celine Dion fans?
Subversion is a cool look, but without action it is
nothing more than a pose. Of course some hipster can kick around
Céline Dion, but this kind of thing is too easy in the course of
the care and feeding of a smug self-image.
OK, fair enough, though that’s
a reminder that Nirvana and its fans tended to take themselves way
too seriously. Earlier iterations of punk (the Ramones, say) tended
to love what they loved without apology or worrying overly much as
to whether they were following a script.
All too often, I think, post-punk figures were way too
earnest all the time. They took the world way too
cereal (interestingly, The Foo Fighters, the band founded
by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, is all the more entertaining
and accomplished for not taking itself too seriously).
the modal Dion fan thus:
The people who attend [legislative and policy] hearings
are mainstream types who probably listen to Céline Dion – hardly
the kind of subversive music that primes storming the
Organizing requires submission to a group, not subversion.
Remember that another term for “band” is “group”: The band works
together to make its sound. With political association, instead of
drums and guitars, the group elects officers and passes action
resolutions, all while following the rules of Robert’s
Rules of Order….The truth is that someone with a self-image
as a subversive needs to work with a mainstreamer Céline Dion fan
to meet reform goals. That doesn’t mean you have to listen to
Dion’s songs or that they need to embrace your own subculture. But
you do have to listen and work with others –
just like a good band does….
After the music and crowds leave, who’s going to be there
to clean up the glass and splintered furniture and start holding
meetings regarding the people’s business? The answer will always be
found among the kinds of folks willing to spend long hours in
meetings, and most of those people are more like Céline Dion
Am I wrong to find his POV here pretty insulting to Celine Dion
fans and wildly off-base about how bands operate, too?
His idyll of rock band as utopian democracy is not at all
compelling. From the Beatles to the Stones to the Who to Talking
Heads to the Go-Gos to you name it, rock groups are notorious for
brutal internal tyranny. It’s a rare crew indeed where everyone has
an equal say and the music still comes out sounding good.
As to the larger point about
politics, I get what Novoselic is saying: Reform isn’t simply about
tossing grenades and tearing stuff up. It’s about following
through. But does he really have to “other” Celine Dion fans to
make that point? The notion of subversives vs.
mainstreamers seems incredibly out of date. That’s in
large part thanks precisely to bands such as Nirvana—and so many
other performers in the rock
‘n’ roll circus—that ushered in a thoroughly post-mainstream
age. After Sigue Sigue
Sputnik, the deluge! and all that. Because of
large- and small-scale shifts in technology and social mores, we
live in a robust age of plenitude,
mutation, and DIYism. When Novoselic invokes his olde-tyme
binary, he might as well be talking about the Jets and the Sharks
from West Side Story.
Ironically, the original version of the book to which Novoselic
is contributing is subtitled “Why other people have such bad
taste.” Carl Wilson’s 2007 volume is a terrific read precisely
because it blows apart taste as a meaningful cultural
category and replaces it instead with an appreciation for how fans
process their objects of desire and how they speak through them
(some of us at Reason are fond of talking about this as
expressive view of culture“). It’s a much richer understanding
of how culture operates and one that dispenses with tired old
Mandarin ways of separating culture into categories—high/low,
uplifting/degenerate, good/bad, etc.—designed to end conversations
rather than promote them.