Céline Dion: Behind the Fairytale, Ian Halperin

Boca Publications, 1997, 191 pages, C$9.95 mmpb, ISBN 0-9659583-0-2

Nowadays, it seems like every two-bit celebrity has a biography on bookstores’ shelves. Even being a celebrity isn’t a requirement any more; just being a megastar’s ex-girlfriend can now net you a fat publishing contract. But as ever, there are two very different kinds of biographies. Authorized, and not-so-authorized ones.

Authorized biographies are written by the celebrity, or most likely by a writer with bills to pay and the celebrity’s cooperation. However “honest” they claim to be, it’s no surprise that these authorized biographies end up painting a rather positive portrait of the star.

On the other hand, unauthorized biographies are usually perceived as being written by malicious, talentless money-grubbing hack without any ethics, scruples or restraints. Many fans, pundits and managers are quick to characterize unauthorized biographies as unmitigated lies on paper, and readers of these putrid pages as only slightly below unicellular slime.

They fail to mention that these biographies are much more interesting.

Céline Dion is, like me, a French-Canadian. It would be a common error to assume that given this shocking similarity, I would be a die-hard Dion fan.

Not quite. From a musical standpoint, Dion mostly sings ballads, which are definitely not my favourite kind of music. Furthermore, most importantly, I’ve never been too impressed by… ahem, let’s stay polite… the cognitive abilities of Miss Dion. As female signers so, I have much more respect for Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow or Lisa Loeb (who compose, write and sing, not to mention can hold their end of a conversation) that for the pretty voice that is Céline Dion. Dion is a pleasantly packaged set of vocal chords. Nothing more.

[Unrelated anecdote: There was a TITANIC special on French-Canadian TV at the end of 1997, where Dion and ditzy talk-show host Julie Snyder were interviewing an expert on the Titanic disaster. It was a lot like watching the protagonists of DUMB & DUMBER interviewing Einstein.]

The fascination of my fellow French-Canadians for “le clan Dion” is nothing short of mystifying for me. Why glorify a not-especially-pretty woman whose only talent is to sing? The gushing acceptance of her marriage to slimy manager René Angelil (almost thirty years his senior) still manages to creep me out. Is this how we want the world to perceive French-Canadians?

Now that I’ve come clean both on the subject of Céline Dion and unauthorized biographies, let me be honest enough to say that if you like going through trash, you will love Behind the Fairytale. It’s a collection of gossip, just-this-side-of-libelous assertion and veiled half-truths mixed with saucy innuendoes. I could have lived a few more years without knowing about Dion’s suicide attempts, anorexia, unhappy marriage, nervous breakdowns and raging nymphomania.

One the other hand, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the holier-than-church portrait of Dion that is spoon-fed to and by the media. I believe that there is more truth in this book, warts and all, than the official story. Halperin doesn’t quite establish himself as a credible journalist (he did co-author a book on the “assassination” of Kurt Cobain), but does not shies away from revealing his disgruntled sources, his personal favorable opinion of Dion (in the foreword) and that, in his opinion, the true villain of Dion’s life is manager/husband Angelil.

It is very unlikely that any fan of Dion will agree with Behind the Fairytale (just read the vitriolic comments on Amazon’s web site if you’re not convinced), so this biography will probably please most those readers not -yet- converted by the massive Sony/Angelil publicity machine. This is worth a look at the library (I couldn’t manage to buy such a book), if only to be able to see Behind the Fairytale.

Just remember: Trash can be fun, but at the end it’s still trash.

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