So when I posted my opinions a few days back about Eye's Fall Book Guide, David Barker from 33 1/3 reached out and asked if I'd like to read the first two chapters of Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love. Always willing to eat my words, of course, I said yes.
Now let me digress for a moment. First off, I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but when I do I like it to act like fiction, which means I read a lot of popular, bestselling authors like Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger, with a little Simon Winchester thrown in for good measure. So maybe I wasn't the best person to be critical of Eye's choices in the first place because I don't read a lot books that aren't make believe. Secondly, while I enjoy music, I would not consider myself in the slightest to be an aficionado in any way shape or form. Without my RRHB, I wouldn't have heard of half of the music that I listen to on a regular basis.
So keeping those two faults decidedly in mind, I also want to make note of a scene in The Departed, which I've now seen about a dozen times. Not for its music (even though the soundtrack is quite exceptional), but for its intent. Matt Damn and Vera Farmiga are having dinner, it's their first date, and he's ribbing her about head-shrinking a bunch of "Mick cops" who keep all their feelings bottled up inside, knowing, as he does, what Freud says about the Irish. He laughs, and I'm paraphrasing, of course, and says something like, 'They're impervious to therapy.' When he asks her with a grin on his face why she counsels them, she replies, 'Because some people do get better.' And at that moment all the kidding stops and he says something along the lines of being unable to make fun of something that truthful.
There's a point in here, I promise.
So, about Carl Wilson's book, I said something along the lines of the whole project making me want to roll my eyes and feeling like it's a giant F U to pop music lovers everywhere. But that's not the case at all. And now remember, I've only read the first two chapters, but so far it's an intelligent, well-written, deeply thoughtful book easily on par in tone with any of those nonfiction superstars I've noted above. And, for me, the Colin Sullivan (Damon's character) moment came within the first few pages. The book starts off recounting the 1998 Academy Awards when Titanic blew its giant steam over the box office, the world, the universe, and you couldn't take a step outside your house without hearing the weeping strains of that damn theme song by Dion.
But what I didn't realize, having only started watching the Oscars over the last few years, was that Elliott Smith performed that year too. Nominated for Best Song for Good Will Hunting, Wilson explains that this moment was when his necessary dislike of Dion turned, in his words, "personal." Even beyond Smith's obvious discomfort with the show, his reluctance to perform, and his odd attire, Wilson notes that one of the hardest parts about the night to understand was Smith's own feelings towards Dion, how he defended her regularly and always described her as a 'really nice person.'
It's within this framework that Wilson himself sets out to explore the record he despised moments ago with an open mind. I can't find any fault with this, my own reverence for Elliot Smith making any further criticism, however warranted or not, impossible. In short, I can't tease him any longer. And there's an ease to his writing that finds the strains of this odd coupling and threads them through any number of discourses, from music criticism to pop culture itself, to try and truly understand what it is about the human condition that creates an Oprah-defended, chest-thumping, French Canadian superstar.
In short, I'm more than willing to admit how very wrong I was to be so flippant about the book in the first place. If only for Elliott Smith.