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 engaged 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 Democracy.
So what do politics have to do with Celine Dion fans? Novoselic argues:
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).
Novoselic imagines 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 barricades….
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 fans.
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 "the 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.