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This must be a slow week for news, because I would have never believed that the death of Whitney Houston would be a four day story. Multiple stars, television commentators, talking heads, and even politicians have weighed in with their opinion of the deceased. Some of them are inflammatory, but most are forgettable. I myself do not understand this rush to canonize a recording artist who made as much news for her flaws than her strengths. But if there is room yet for one more analysis, I will now contribute my own.

Whitney Houston meant more to me in a far earlier place in her career than in her later life. A child of the ‘80s, her earliest hits played constantly on the local Top 40 radio station. I recall the songs of that era well. They were a large part of the soundtrack of my childhood, seemingly always playing in the background. I remember that my mother owned a silver Mercury Cougar, which regularly took me and a sister to school and across town.

It is that experience, riding along while listening to the radio, that I remember most and for which her material holds the most meaning. In contrast, the apex of her fame, in the early 1990’s, passed for me without much notice.

The year of her height as a star, 1994, I was far more interested in Nirvana and alternative music. If anything, I was openly contemptuous of Houston’s commercial pop. To this day, I have to say that I’m not much of a fan of hers and never really was. I can appreciate her vocal technique and powerful set of lungs much more than her musical output. Like many who live in the limelight, it was inevitable that her best days would someday reach an end. She died well past her prime and at an age where comebacks are far more difficult.  

Ten years later, the name Whitney Houston drifted back into my consciousness, but for a very different reason. I was living in Atlanta now. The couple had purchased a house and had chosen to settle in what had become a city that welcomed black professionals. Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown were constant sources of gossip, for all the wrong reasons. Most of the public disapproval focused on their allegedly poor parenting styles.

Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina was said to be treated as an afterthought. According to widely spread rumors, the child, who barely qualified as as teenager, was often sent to the mall by herself with a credit card. The implication of the speculation was that her parents were otherwise too busy with their own issues and problems. Two people who could barely set appropriate boundaries for themselves could not be reliably trusted to do the same with their daughter.

It is inevitable that upon the death of someone famous, we almost always grant the recently deceased sympathy and respect. While people like Bill O’Reilly who have made their name for being contrary and offensive might differ, most of us have commemorated this passing as a celebration of a person’s creative talents. Still, we do need to remember Whitney Houston’s life in its proper context. Her struggles with addiction caused a sharp decline in her own star.

An often defensive interview in 2002 with Diane Sawyer showed a troubled soul in a state of denial. Ex-husband Bobby Brown has charted a similar course. His own demons have stood in the way of his own once promising career, making him less famous for an especially thin recording career than for a pattern of erratic, outlandish behavior.

Celebrity provides us any number of cautionary tales. Whitney Houston’s death has been compared to that of other talented musicians, women whose personal problems and substance abuse caused them significant, long lasting problems. In the end, she, Whitney, was the person she harmed the most.

Statistics show that only 13% of the chemically addicted ever reach and then sustain full recovery. Usually, drug and alcohol problems disguise much larger issues. Whether Houston confronted these issues personally is unknown and may forever be so. I am more struck with the tragedy than eager to point fingers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greasy Grant, johnny wurster, x

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 12:17:53 PM PST

  •  On top of that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greasy Grant

    Wonderful voice.  No idea how to choose material.  RIP.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 12:21:14 PM PST

  •  She had one of the most beautiful voices out there (4+ / 0-)

    .I hope she can finally find some peace.

  •  Whitney was one of the top female voices... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greasy Grant, BusyinCA

    ...of the past fifty years.  No argument.

    To compare, I feel Michael Jackson hit his peak at I Want You Back with The Jackson Five -- an incredible, beautiful, powerful song - and slid downwards ever since.

  •  No matter what (10+ / 0-)

    she was somebody's daughter, mother, sister, aunt, friend.

    I am so pleased that the family opted for a private service in the church she grew up in rather than a mega circus.

    My prayers are with the family as they not only deal with their grief, but I pray they have the strength to deal with the speculations and theories that has everyone putting in their two cents.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 12:39:48 PM PST

  •  My thoughts on your last thoughts. (0+ / 0-)

    We do know this already, so I don't understand what point you are trying to make.

    While we may never know what underlying problems and issues Houston may have had, what I do find interesting is that what people tend to remember about fallen celebrities is often colored by their initial view of them.

    "No, I'm being judged against the ideal. Joe Biden has a saying: 'Don't judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative." --President Barack Obama, 12/11/11

    by smoothnmellow on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 01:26:29 PM PST

  •  A contrarian view (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    johnny wurster

    My condolences go out to her loved ones, particularly her daughter. I have no comments to make about her personal life, about which I know almost nothing, but she was a daughter, a niece, a wife, and a mother; her personal life touched many and I hope they find peace.

    That being said, I think she was one of the most destructive influences on pop/rock/soul in my lifetime. She took the signifiers of soul singing, particularly melisma, and turned them into pointless vocal gymnastics. She substituted bombast for subtlety and personality. (To this day I can't listen to the chorus of "I Will Always Love You" without hearing Carol Burnett doing her Tarzan yell.) And while it's not really fair to blame someone for her imitators, she did open the door for such horrible over-singers as Mariah Carey and about half the contestants on American Idol.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 01:34:53 PM PST

  •  i never cared for her music either (0+ / 0-)

    and i agreed with the critic in the SF examiner who described what she sang as "vapid suburban soul."  i never denied that she had a beautiful voice but my tastes tended to run more to acts with names like savage republic, the damned & throbbing gristle-i wasn't likely to be a whitney houston fan.

    however, in the last decade i found myself wondering how this woman, who, in the last 2 decades of the 20th century had been considered "america's sweetheart," who had one of the most wholesome reputations in the business had commenced on this (way too public) downward spiral.

    i'll admit, i watched an episode or 2 of her reality show with bobby brown because her erratic behavior was pretty fascinating.  but it also made me really uncomfortable because i could see that, at that point, she was a person in trouble and no one seemed to be able to do anything about it.

    i will say that it was probably a really big mistake to send her out on her european tour so soon after her recovery.

    hope springs eternal and DAMN is she getting tired!

    by alguien on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 01:36:15 PM PST

  •  Now, if only people will let her be dead. (0+ / 0-)

    I don't mean that in a "mean" way, but I get tired of the lives of celebrities constantly being reviewed, mostly by the media.  I had a husband die - he's still dead and no one tries to revive him or make a saint out of him.  Not that anyone is trying to do that with Ms. Houston - but, geez - let's let these poor tortured souls finally have some peace.

    There are such big problems in America - let's concentrate on solving those, not going over someone's troubled life, again, and again, and again!

    love the fetus, hate the child

    by Raggedy Ann on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 02:28:57 PM PST

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