Saturday, February 17, 2018
February 17-18, 2018: Learning to Love Mariah Carey
[For this year’s Valentine’s Day series, I wanted to share and briefly discuss a handful of my favorite songs, leading up to this special weekend post on a legendary singer/songwriter on whom my perspective has significantly and happily evolved. I’d love to hear about your favorite songs or artists in comments!]
On respecting, but not remaining too stagnantly settled on, personal tastes.
To say I don’t speak much Latin would be to significantly understate the case, but nonetheless one of the most recurring phrases in my conversations with my sons for many years now has been the Latin phrase “de gustibus, non est disputandum (there’s no arguing taste).” For one thing, it’s fun to say, and/or to refer to as the “windy bus” phrase. But for another, it’s a very effective shorthand for stopping many potential sibling or family arguments before they start. You like this particular food but your brother really doesn’t? Windy bus. You two think this song is incredibly annoying but your Dad kinda digs it? Windy bus. Of course we all can and do still argue for our own tastes and preferences and why they’re correct, but it’s also important to take a step back sometimes and remember that others’ tastes are no less (and no more, but that’s less immediately relevant to our own internal perspective I’d say) valid than our own.
Yet we can recognize the personal and indisputable nature of tastes without seeing them as either absolute or unchangeable, and I’ve recently encountered a striking illustration of the need to remain open about our own such preferences. Up until pretty recently, I would have said that I was quite sure that I wasn’t a Mariah Carey fan; it’s not that I had any particular problem with her music, but I didn’t believe it was of much interest to or did much of anything for me. Moreover, my perspective on Carey as both an artist and an individual was more or less in line with many of the popular narratives, which have for many years portrayed her as a diva, as self-centered to the extreme, as an unquestionably talented singer but one whose lifestyle and luxuries (and public failures at marriage, and so on) have overtaken those talents as the focus of the story.
Well those prominent narratives are wrong, and so was I. Over the last few months I’ve come to learn a great deal about Carey that I didn’t know (and had never before sought to learn), and much of what I’ve learned has both countered my misconceptions and added important layers to my sense of her life, career, and art. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot about Carey’s heritage and childhood, including her mixed-race identity and some of the many significant challenges that she and her family faced; while noen of those factors mean we can’t be critical of choices she makes in her life in 2018, they provide key contexts for understanding where she’s come from and who she is. And for another, I’ve had the chance to hear many more Carey songs, most of them album tracks that are not only not the most prominent pop singles, but that also reveal very different sides to both her content and style, the uses to which she puts her impressive voice and songwriting talents. For example there’s “Languishing” (2009), a moving and sad reflection on her relationship to her estranged sister. Or for another there’s “Close My Eyes” (1997; check out this powerhouse performance of it on Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show), a powerful set of images that link Carey’s childhood memories to her evolving sense of self in the present. Written and produced by Carey herself, as all her music has been, these songs embody an artist whose voice, art, career, and life go way beyond what I thought I knew just a short time ago. Maybe we can’t dispute tastes, but neither can we be too confident in them!
The annual anti-favorites series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Favorite songs or artists you’d share?