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THE DIVA DEBATE
DION THE PEON

In the beginning, to be honest, it wasn't Celine Dion's fault. My irritation with her began with "Titanic," that mess of a movie that couldn't figure out if it was a comedy or tragic drama or what -- and, over everything, featured Dion's heavily miked soprano belting "My Heart Will Go On."

Her voice was accompanied, of course, by those Irish penny whistles. How, I wondered, did "Titanic" become an Irish saga? Maybe the builder of the ship was from Ireland, but that was kind of a stretch. All I could think was that the Irish tie-in was to capitalize on the popularity of "Riverdance." What the heck, both shows had to do with water.

Anyway, we had these Irish pipes and this French-Canadian . . . chanteuse, I believe, is the preferred word. And they were everywhere.

A piano teacher friend told me that so great was his students' infatuation with "My Heart Will Go On" that he fed it to them in three different arrangements: beginning, intermediate and advanced. On every adult contemporary station, in every boutique and bookstore and bar, there was Celine Dion's voice, slip-sliding its way down those same high icy slopes, over and over and over.

Summer faded to autumn, and tucked in among that year's turkeys and squashes was a Christmas disc from Celine Dion. And the same thing happened! Those descending soprano swoops, hung like tinsel at the end of of every line, polished to a glittery gloss by ultra-sophisticated recording equipment. The woman had only one riff!

The trouble with pop stars: We have no choice but to listen to them. We hear these hits in restaurants, on hold on the phone, at gas pumps, everywhere.

No wonder there's no end to superstars' hubris. They feel free to do the same thing over and over. They own the world, jumping around in their glitzy little outfits with their tiny clip-on mikes.

They collaborate, outrageously, with opera singers, people who have the real vocal goods (look at Dion's duet with Luciano Pavarotti, "I Hate You Then I Love You"). They make TV appearances, exchanging quips with Billy Crystal or Barbara Walters, making phony pronouncements. (Dion on Tiger Woods: "He's not only the No. 1 golfer, he's the No. 1 human being.")

In between, they have the nerve to wrestle publicly with fame. Take this pious pronouncement by Dion on why she needs a vacation: "I want to cook at home, to picnic, to swim in my pool. I need time to be sick and time to recover, time to take a car and listen to music when I'm going nowhere."

To be fair, Dion has more dignity than many of her peers. She doesn't seek publicity with the wearying nerve of, say, Madonna. She even wears dumb hats. (It's one of the privileges of the French, wearing ugly clothes with elan.)

But with her repetitiveness, by her overblown voice, by her very being, she gets on my nerves.

Celine, we don't have a choice. We have to listen to you as we go about our daily business. And this can be a problem. Although you may sing "These Are Special Times," these aren't special times. These are the same old times, over and over.

With the world in the palm of your thin little hand, can't you at least learn a few new tricks?

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