Celine Dion first captured my attention back in 1987. I was working in a department store in Laval on the north shore of Montreal Quebec. Celine and her mom could often be spotted shopping at the store, in those days, while being a Quebec celebrity she was wasn’t the huge paparazzi draw she is now, so it was common to spot her around town.
Celine’s album “Incognito” was stocked in the store’s music department and the record would play over the store’s speakers. It was the was the first record of Celine’s I bought and it would start a long love affair with her music and concerts. I knew she previously had a career in Quebec as a “young child” singer, I knew she sang that song “Une Colombe” for the Pope’s visit, but she was never really on my radar. “Incognito” was her first “adult” French album for Sony Records, only 8 songs long, normal for that time era but every song stood out, no filler in those days. One track that really got my attention was “Jour De Fievre”, it was different to the usual ballad type song she would sing, it had a type of gusto and grit in her voice with a dancy edge.
As fate would have it Celine was hired to advertise a commercial jingle for my workplace, does anybody remember “Montreal c’est ma ville mais Simpson c’est mon style”? To premiere the ad all of Simpson’s employees were invited to a special show at the Theatre St Denis in Montreal. I remember waiting in line to get in, while others just kind of sauntered in, I was the first to run up to the stage and got a seat in front row. She only sang 4 songs and premiered the new ad, but my jaw dropped at her voice. I was always cynical and under the impression that most artists got their voices fixed in the studio for their records, that nobody could sound that good but there she was just a few feet in front of me and she blew me away. I remember right after the show I went up to the stage, clutching her vinyl record I brought with me and asking the two guards if I could get an autograph. They oddly responded “Celine est dans sa douche”, “Celine is already in the shower”, so I left with no autograph but that would not be my last chance.
A few years later Celine premiered on English TV in Canada at the Juno’s singing “Have A Heart” an English translation of her song “Partout Je Te Vois” from her “Incognito” album, her performance was the talk of the show and this would launch her international English career.
In 1990 that song was featured on her first English album “Unison” but another song “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” would be the breakthrough. As a kid growing up I would spend my Sunday mornings listening to Casey Casem’s American Top 40, I wouldn’t leave the house till he got to #1. I knew how hard it was for a Canadian artist to have a top ten hit, let alone an unknown French Canadian. Despite loving “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” I never though she would succeed on her first try, but my jaw would drop again when the song cracked the top 40, then the top ten, all the way up to #4.
Not long after the album Unison was released, I was attending the international car show at the Montreal Olympic Stadium, I was supposed to meet up with some friends, they were late, I was bored but I always had my camera with me, an old SLR with film, no digital in those days. At one point I turned around and was shocked to see Celine at the Chrysler booth signing autographs, she was the spokesperson at the time but I had no idea she would be there. I knew I had to get a shot of her but I was so nervous, so I hesitated, at one point she got up to take a break and as she was walking out I got enough courage and asked if I could take her picture. I wasn’t sure the shot would come out, but to this day, while not being the sharpest picture I ever took it’s one of my favorites. She looks fabulous and glamourous, it’s not the most posed shot either, I snapped it pretty fast, not giving her much time to smile.
I did get her autograph and took another shot of her signing. I finally found my friends, I probably talked their heads off about seeing Celine and getting her picture, but none seemed as trilled as I was.
At this point I was transferred to work in Downtown Montreal for the Hudson’s Bay Department store. I worked as a greater, security guard at the front entrance. I remember one day this lady came up to me asking if I knew where the coat check was. She was wearing sunglasses and a kerchief was covering her hair but I thought there was something familiar about her, it wasn’t seconds later that a bunch of follow employees came up to me to ask what Celine wanted, it figures her biggest fan wouldn’t recognize her, it still makes me laugh to this day.
As her English career started soaring her French Recording career, would take a huge leap forward. Celine’s 1991 album “Dion Chante Plamondon” consisted of songs entirely written by well renowned French lyricist Luc Plamondon (Starmania). That album would make the French community around the world take notice and move her from just a pop singer to a serious interpreter of song. The album covered some of Plamondon’s most famous songs like “Les blues du businessman” and “Un garçon pas comme les autres (Ziggy)” a #2 hit in France, he also wrote 4 new songs for her including’ L’amour existe encore” which remains a huge favorite and considered one of his best.
Celine could have easily faded away as a one hit wonder in the USA, but as she was preparing her sophomore English album, Disney came to her with the opportunity of recording “Beauty & The Beast”. If you hadn’t heard of her before, there was no escaping the film and this song. The duet with Peabo Bryson climbed up to #9 on the Billboard charts and in 1993 won them a Grammy award for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal”
To launch the new album in Montreal, Celine would appear at another department store, this time Eaton’s for a signing session. I knew this was my chance, I had two 8 x 10 prints done of that fabulous picture I took of her at the car show. Along with my best friend, we waited in line. I not only got her to autograph that fabulous photo I took, but I gave her a copy, and this time I got my picture with Celine.
In April of 1993 Celine played 6 nights at the Montreal Forum, I saw her not once but twice. I already had a ticket for the 6th of April, but as I left work downtown on the opening night of her shows I passed by the concert forum. There were scalpers as usual selling tickets, I hate scalpers and as a rule I never buy from them, but it was 5 minutes to show time and they didn’t seem to be able to sell all their tickets, I got a ticket for under the value, I paid $25 for a $35 ticket and for once cheated the scalpers who sell for ridiculous high prices and in those days scalpers were actually breaking the law.
From this point there was no stopping Celine. Her next album “The Colour Of My Love” produced her first #1 Billboard Hot 100 Hit, “The Power Of Love”. The song was a cover but neither it’s originator Jennifer Rush (who had a #1 in the UK with the song) or others like Laura Branigan or Air Supply could make it in the States. On the 30th of March 1994 I saw one of her 6 concert nights at the Theatre Du Forum.
In French Celine would record the album that would become her opus and benchmark. Simply title D’Eux, a play on words meaning “Two”, “Them”, “About Them” or “From Them”. The album was mostly written by French singer songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, and went on to become the biggest selling albums in French history. It’s hard to explain the difference between Celine’s French and English repertoire, but most fans consider her French music of a higher art. Her English albums are usually written and produced with a huge committee of people while albums like D’Eux are more of a concept album, one or 2 people and tightly produced.
The music has less of a standard middle of the road, pop chart appeal, the big epic type ballad with the huge soaring voice in every song is not present. In French they seem to restrain her voice and use it where it is necessary in the song, the lyrics are pure poetry. Listing to it today songs like “Pour que tu m’aimes encore”, or my favorite “Destin” are not dated but remain classics. In 1998 Jean Jacques and Celine would repeat this feat with her next French album “S’il Suffisat D’aimer” meaning “If Loving Were Enough”, the title track along with others would become classics that she still sings today.
If D’Eux was her French opus, her next album “Falling Into You” would be her English one. The first single, the Diane Warren written tune “Because You Loved” was already #1 on the Billboard Charts. I remember buying the CD, coming home and again my jaw dropping again as I heard “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” from the first note of the song I was hooked with this fantastic Jim Steinman jem, it’s still my favorite English song of hers. Not only would it become one of her biggest selling albums but it won two Grammy’s including the coveted “Album of the Year Award” beating out Mariah Carey’s fabulous “Daydream” album. In 1996 my best friend and I would see her “Falling Into You” tour at the newly built Molson Center now the Bell Center, for a sold out show.
Many casual fans seem to only remember the next song and she is forever positively or negatively attached to it. Nothing was bigger than Titanic Movie and “My Heat Will Go On”. Her album “Let’s Talk About Love” sold over 31 million copies around the world going diamond status in Canada and selling over 10 million in the US. While she hasn’t surpassed these sales with her more recent outputs she still releases fabulous records and plays to sold out shows.
There’s one last thing that I need to say about Celine and the music industry. I’ve noticed over the years that sadly many huge megastars and certain musical genres, are easy targets for backlashes. The “Disco Sucks” era with the BeeGee’s, along with the infamous burning of disco albums at the Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1979 is one prime example, Celine while not as severe, is another example. I get friends and family members going “ick” or “yuck”, “Why would you spend your money on her or go to her shows”. My boss calls her a freak. Speaking of work, we play music in the store, we are allowed to bring our own CD’s and playlist, but I am forbidden to play Celine. I once made a holiday mix on my Ipod, I just dumped all the Christmas songs together, when by accident one of her songs came on and I was given the dirtiest of looks and told to take it off. We’ve played the gamut at work from jazz, country, rock, Taylor Swift to even Led Zeppelin.
I’ve never understood this phenomenon. I can understand not liking certain music genres or songs, I do too, but why this type of angry distain? Isn’t there enough hate in this world? It seems to be more than just her music, but why? Celine doesn’t do anything crazy or horrible, she isn’t into drugs, or crazy partying, she hasn’t broken the law or been to jail, yet these clean cut artists are always ridiculed and considered less than their contemporaries. Some people don’t seem to like her personality but I think she is fabulous, always funny, down to earth in interviews although sometimes too truthful, she works hard to put on a great show, she doesn’t seem to be a diva (in the bad sense), and she seems to treat her company of workers very well. Yes her life story is very much public and always out here, but the recent passing of her beloved Rene and that hardship only makes her more human and relatable in my opinion.
I love Celine, I love her music and nobody can take that away from me. Because of life’s circumstances, The “Falling Into You” tour was the last time I saw her in concert, it’s been twenty years. This August we will meet again at the Bell Center in Montreal, a long time waiting.