” …I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows.
If I fail, if I succeed
AT LEAST I’LL LIVE AS I BELIEVE.
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my DIGNITY.”
I formed morals around the words this woman sang to me. Understand where I come from before I even start.
I didn’t want to comment on Whitney. I don’t think there is anything else to say that hasn’t been said by every fan at this point. I felt as if my feeble little words about this woman will never matter; could never capture the greatness that IS Whitney Houston and her beautiful, God given talent. But I need to say something. I actually find myself unable to continue the posting cycle of nerdery before I acknowledge what she means to me. Perhaps it will help the hurty feeling I currently have at the core of my soul go away for a minute.
What cuts the deepest is that once again we find ourselves mourning a great talent that should still be here, appreciating and praising an artist the way we should have her entire career. Just as I find myself able to really address the Amy Winehouse situation and feel comfortable listening to Teena Marie sing again… we lose another powerful talent this earth (and my soul) really needed. Her death now forces me to take a step back and thoroughly evaluate what we as human beings tend to do with our most brightest stars; why we as people see another person is lost and in trouble we do not help them, but we aim a camera in their direct to record their spiraling downfall. Why we never focus on the talent that created this intense fame around this person, rather we focus on the negative drama they find themselves in as a direct result of said fame. And why it seems as if no one is helping these people get through their struggles.
So how did we get here again? Since people tend to have short memories, lets rewind to ’09/’10, a little after her divorce and shortly before her return to music… and let me attempt to explain from there. It hurts my soul to read/hear people say “Gee, I was waiting for Whitney to make her comeback.” Welp, if you had been paying attention or if you really cared (or maybe I’m just a fan who was cheering her on/stanning too hard), you’d be well aware of Whitney’s last album “I Look To You”, released in August 2009. An incredibly well executed album that had a lot of planning and push behind it, and with good reason. Her first completed project in almost 10 years, it would also be the first time we would hear her voice without the influence of drugs or Bobby Brown. Despite of the notable change in her instrument (which I would attribute to age as well as the drug use and general drama), her voice was still better than about 90% of singers out, and she had some well written, modern tunes that seem tailored to her and this newer, huskier toned WhitneyVoice. I liked it, actually. Bought it the first week it dropped on general music nerd principle. Liked it a lot, and was simply enthused to have her back in some capacity.
Even with the candid appearances on Oprah, the support and backing of Clive Davis and the 2.5 million (thats numbers nowadays) units moved I Look To You moved, some still people openly panned the album. Now I understand that music is subjective, but this is one of those times where it had nothing to do with the quality of the project or the tracks involved. A lot of feedback I read left me with the innate feeling that people were just mad at Whitney. After the constant appearances in the tabloids, tolerating of Bobby Brown, the total disregard of her gift and the notable absence of her voice in music, just one album wasn’t going to make up for the years of lost time. While I was just happy to have her back, some people wanted that OLD thing back and were very vocal about it. We all know that never happens, but I do know the amount of pressure that can put on someone, trying to relive an era that might be gone. The weight can be unbearable.
While the album itself was somewhat well received, it was her impending world tour throughout Europe that caused the rabble rousing to multiply exponentially. Supposedly smoking cigarettes throughout the tour, the vocal shortcomings people complained about were suddenly audible and live for all to hear. Even though the tour broke even financially, and filming on the new version of the Sparkle Movie had already begun, critics were incredibly harsh on her live show, and the Nothin But Love Tour never made it to the United States. This was a major turning point for Whitney, a point where you could see that struggle starting to show itself once again. Within a year of the tour being canceled, completing work on Sparkle and after taking months of negative criticism regarding the state of her voice, she entered rehab in May 2011 for what be the last time. The problem there? They only made her stay for 30 days. Such an insult to common sense; 30 days isn’t shit to 20 years of habits.
With all that explored and said, its not my place to take query into her life nor assume how any human being is feeling, because even the best assumptions are just that… nothing more than assumptions. No one will ever know her heart. I’m sure there were many factors behind her spiral back into the alcohol and drugs that took her talent in the first place. But something that basic human beings dont understand is that most creatively gifted people, especially musicians… are an emotional, highly sensitive people. In fact, it is that same sensitivity that gives an artist their abilities/genius sometimes. The problem with that gift is the curse that comes with it – an oversensitivity that can be destructive to your very soul, an inability to ignore the negative comments about your craft and somehow ignore the positivity you create, a horrid way of absorbing all of the negative while unintentionally denying all that is positive. A part of me truly believes the title I Look To You was INCREDIBLY literal for her, and she was making (what she thought was) a genuine effort to return to her music in some capacity. However, when her music was not as well received or just from her simply being a typical artist/musician and taking the all of the negative feedback to heart… it simply hit her soul in a why she wasn’t ready to handle. So she went back to what she knew best.
I tend to be harsh on addicts at times. Its not that I think them to be bad people, but I do believe in the end it simply comes down to choices – and in the end you HAVE to make the right choices if you don’t want to continue the cycle of being miserable. There is no drug that negates whatever pain you are running from – drugs continue to be a temporary solution to a long term problem that needs to be confronted. With that said, I know that there is much more to addiction than the eye can see, and nothing is ever THAT simple. I know people are haunted by thoughts and memories I could never imagine. Also, in the end, Whitney is a grown ass woman who made her own decisions. The attraction to the bad boys, the drugs, that kind of darkness you find yourself unintentionally running from… for some reason it was her choice for a long time. I’m not going to make excuses for her.
Nevertheless, there are some things that we need to address. Immediately. First off, we are submersed in a culture of enabling and excusing | denial and delusion that seemingly has some kind of permanent and coercive grasp on the entertainment industry. These “Rock Docs” and their access to prescription drugs, the hangers on who allow/assist a person in that type of lifestyle, people who ignore an obvious problem so as to hold on to the “Yes Man” positions they have. Its is a literal plague inside the music business and its about time we addressed it on a serious level, and that we make an effort to STOP IT. I know that people will do what they want to do in the end, but not being the real support a person needs in a moment of crisis is obviously not the way to go. We can also address how we vilify celebrities during their struggles in life, selling ragmags and getting hits on gossip blogs off of another human beings struggle, then attempt to celebrate them in death as if nothing ever happened (Michael Jackson/Amy Winehouse). The very consumption and destruction of a persons soul for profit. You know EXACTLY what the fuck I’m talking about.
Its about time we stop this bullshit now, please. How many more people have to die before we stop ignoring what this industry does to people or how fame can literally destroy a person? Our favorites are barely making it past 50. Something is amiss, always goes wrong, something always wears at their soul to the point where they just LEAVE. What are we doing to the ones we supposedly love most. In short, a very angry part of me really wishes that people, both those on a consumer and business/personal level, would have just shut the entire fuck up and just supported this bitch. Seriously. You see what happens when you don’t stand your ground, try to help someone in need, cheer them on when they clearly need it? And its the same damn sad story, over and over again, with slight variations in characters and plot-lines. Fock. This kind of talent doesn’t come around too often, if you haven’t started to notice.
You see, before the internet made musically gifted people a bit easier to find, you needed that industry to go out and search for talent in real life…. not easy, very expensive and sometimes fruitless. Nevertheless, Clive Davis managed to find Whitney singing in the early 80s, which led to the release of Whitney’s first album 25 years ago this week (Valentines Day 1986). Initially it was not a hit in terms of sales on ANY LEVEL, failing to move even a few thousand units on release. The project really didn’t really pick up until 6 months later, when Saving All My Love For You and You Give Good Love (by far, my favorite Whitney Houston song ever in this life; COMPLETELY underrated) were released as singles. People forget that it took a minute for the masses to realize Whitney had the voice of dreams and once they had it, it was literally like a feeding frenzy for music. For all the prepping and planning that went into her career, I don’t she was ever ready for the whirlwind she was pulled into. They never do.
The vocal range, power and projection of an opera singer, but enough talent and control to apply said power to the awesomest of pop songs. Houston had balance of two important things in singing: a chest voice for the ages and the ability to project emotion into anything placed in front of her. She (and Clive Davis) also had a knack for picking the right songs to record, and the ability to evoke feeling into the very words of whatever she sang. She literally was the African American Barbara Streisand. Her voice was not a joke on ANY level. I don’t know how she could sing so passionately and convincingly of a love I’m not too sure she ever had a chance to experience herself.
And when we talk songs, not just those irritating 80s one-hit wonder tunes you wonder how you fell in love with 20 years after the fact, nope. She had catchy and witty pop songs that FORCED you to sing with her, along with belting out some of the most powerful ballads we’ll ever hear. That’s hard to do, kids. And while they started to take the petty pot-shots at the fact that Whitney did not write the majority of her music or that her records lacked “soul,” the 300+ plus awards she ended up winning over her lifetime proved nay-sayers different.
Even if you stripped Houston of her voice, she already had an established career in a whole other industry: Fashion. Naturally slim, fit and hitting 5’9 at the age of 14, Whitney’s first career originated in fashion and modeling, and was one of the first African American females to ever grace the cover of Seventeen magazine in 1981. Whitney had a successful and stable career as a teen before music even came to pass as an option. Once family members Dionne Warwick and her friend Gladys Knight found their niece had serious vocal talent that she intended to use, it was only a matter of time before Houston teamed up with the best producers in the business for proper training. In no time, the God-daughter of Aretha Franklin quickly graduated from regular pop singer to world renown star, elevated to a celebrity status that most musicians can only dream of. With her background singing in her church, her highly notable family members and her certification in modeling, she became a role models for girls of all colors in the 1980s. She wasn’t just some drugged up ‘crack whore’ as some would portray her to be. She was the real deal.
Regardless of the tailspin that ensued, despite all the years of drama and my own occasional frustration with it all (I will never know what she was trying to prove with that whole Bobby thing, Lord help me), I was always a fan of Whitney Houston, and I always will be. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge my mothers vinyl collection on her, or acted as if I do not own a large amount of her physical CDs myself. She was that first major “pop star” I ever fell in love with. She (along with Anita, Sade, Phyllis and others) gave me first insight on what love should and shouldn’t be, what real singers should actually sound like, what great talent could grow into… and what you shouldn’t do.
If you were born before 1985, you probably had a favorite Whitney song, probably sang Greatest Love Of All in a school assembly, or your parents had a copy of The Bodyguard more than likely. Despite the stuggles and the useless bullshit, she was a major influence in pop music and in my nerdy, music based world. Even though I never met this woman, a music nerd somehow develops some kind of personal relationship with their music over time. She was also born exactly 2 days before me, it didn’t take much for me to attach to the idea of Whitney. And just like the end of any long term relationship, it hurts. Especially since we all kind of felt it wasn’t going to end like this. My heart really hurts. Not just for the loss of a daughter for the legendary Cissy Houston and a mother for Bobbi Kristina (pray for that little girl). But simply because of the struggles she went through in this life, and how badly I just wanted her to be happy.
What I want for Whitney now is what I wanted for her in life, and so many others like her… I want her to have complete peace. Or as close as you can get to it.
God Bless the entire Houston Family, and Bobby Brown.
I’m going to go listen to You Give Good Love and her 1989 performance at Madison Square Garden now. In LARGE amounts.
I know I’m being extremely emotional no one is reading this shit. But I never said anything about Amy, about Michael. Looks like it all came out at once, over a 5 day period. I had to get it out of my soul, I am sorry. I talk way too much and will be shutting the entire fuck up now.
Back to normal posting tomorrow.