Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste
There may be no more impenetrable roadblock to the enjoyment and evaluation of music (and art generally) than the matter of taste. Yet while it’s always lurking about even when it goes unmentioned — call it the Taste Card — it’s rarely interrogated with the rigor it deserves, or at all. It’s high time we had a national conversation about taste.
The Taste Card is usually played in one of a couple ways. First, there’s the My-Taste-Is-Better-Than-Your-Taste Card. These players believe there are only two kinds of music — good and bad — and, thanks to their superior aesthetic refinement, they can tell the difference. They will be pleased to tell you the difference, too, particularly if your evaluations don’t jive with theirs.
At the other end of the spectrum is the There’s-No-Accounting-For-Taste Card. These folks also think there are but two kinds of music — the music they like and the music they don’t like — and, really now, who in the world can say why these preferences shake out the way they do? Their friends all like and dislike the same music, for the most part, but that’s only a coincidence — what else could it be? — so everybody just chill.
Real people, of course, resist any strict compliance to either of these extremes but instead combine ever-shifting gradations of the two. Still, in our individual senses of just how taste works, we all lean one way or the other. Carl Wilson, for instance, by trade and by temperament, fits more firmly into the former profile; he’s a critic for the Toronto Globe And Mail and runs the music site zoilus.com. More telling still, Wilson shows in his Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste that to a large degree we can account for taste, and that we should.
Let’s Talk About Love is part of the 33 1/3 series of small books devoted to the making and significance of long-canonized recordings (There’s A Riot Going On, Highway 61 Revisited, etc.) or, less often, albums that perhaps should be canonized (Abba Gold? Yes!). Wilson’s contribution, though, foils any expectations we bring to the series in at least two ways. First, he selected an album he doesn’t like — Celine Dion’s megaplatinum Let’s Talk About Love, the one with that Titanic song — and second, he doesn’t even write about the album so much as he uses it to ask an essential critical question: How can it be that he and all of his friends are so all-fire certain that Dion makes bad music, while tens and tens of millions of others all over the globe are devoted to that same music?
Wilson does a great job of laying out Dion’s working-class French Canadian roots and their impact on her music. But mostly, he essays (with assists from philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant and from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, among others) how it is we develop taste and the role that development plays in fashioning our social identities. Declaring “I like this” is, after all, just another of way of saying “I am this sort of person” and, no less key, “I am not that sort of person.”
Wilson wonders “if anyone’s tastes stand on solid ground, starting with mine,” and the ensuing examination of his own largely indie-rock aesthetic is, by turns, enlightening (check out his discussion of “schmaltz,” for instance), withering (“punk rock is anger’s schmaltz”) and unexpectedly moving. In just 160 pocket-sized pages, Wilson reminds artistic evaluation is never so simple as a declaration of “good” or “bad” and always portends more than an expression of mere likes or dislikes. In Let’s Talk About Love, Wilson suggests that maybe the conversation we could have about how we reach those conclusions is far more important than the conclusions themselves.