In a cynical age, it's too easy to dismiss the potential depth of surface sentimentality
I finally got around to reading Let's Talk About Love A Journey to the End of Taste, a meditation on aesthetic judgement wrapped around the music of Céline Dion. It's by former Globe and Mail music writer Carl Wilson. (The book was published in 2007 by Continuum.)
Blending pop culture, cultural history, music criticism with Wilson's eclectic sensibility, the book is a fascinating look at how highbrow, middlebrow and nobrow rub shoulders -- and look askance at each other -- in this day and age. Wilson tosses off meaningful observations along the way, moving on to the next without ever belabouring a point. The book is clever without the writer himself ever coming across as trying to be clever.
It's like having an interesting conversation with a friend whose opinions you respect.
Here's one of his many insights that I thought particularly potent, buried on page 131. This comes in a chapter where Wilson looks at our contemporary fear and loathing of anything sentimental.
"What self-conscious aesthetes such as Kundera, Merritt and I might be guilty of sentimentalizing is ambiguity, that shibboleth of our postidealistic age. Which can make us dupes of another kind, prone to taking surface complication and opacity for depth, and apt to overlook the complexity that may lie even within the sentimental on more patient, curious inspection. It's a fault endemic, I think, to us antireligionists who have turned for transcendent experience to art, and so react to what our reflexes tell us is bad art as if it were a kind of blasphemy."
There is so much to think about in that paragraph -- perhaps too much.
Here, in honour of the beauty of simple sentimentality is "Long Time Ago," from Aaron Copland's collection of Old American Songs. Somehow, this song has stayed with me through sentiment-soaked teenagehood, anti-sentimental young adulthood, into middle age. Here it is, sung unaffectedly by Thomas Hampson, in Salzburg, in 2001. The conductor is Dennis Russell Davies: