Whitney Houston, RIP: My Thoughts

Categories: Music

220px-Flickr_Whitney_Houston_performing_on_GMA_2009_4.jpg

I first saw Whitney Houston perform when she was a mere teen, though she exuded the professionalism and power of someone three times her age.

In a Central Park concert, her mother, Cissy Houston -- a great singer in her own right -- brought Whitney out as a guest star to do a number.

It was "Home," the weepy ballad from The Wiz.

"Oh no, she's bringing out her daughter," a lot of us were jadedly thinking.

And then Whitney blew it out of the park -- literally.

I've never seen such self-possession, lung power, and musical ability, especially in someone so young and seemingly impressionable.

Not that long later, I saw Whitney do a number in an all-star revue at a glittery disco.

Again, she was breathtaking, destroying all the competition with her stunning ability to dive into a song and pump it out to its fullest effect.

I'm usually wrong when I predict stardom for people, but in this case I was right on target when I thought, "If the business doesn't make this girl mega, they're dumber than dirt!"

And they did.

Arista Records head Clive Davis smoothed out the edges and sculpted "Nippy" into a first-class pop/R&B diva, with alternately bouncy and melodramatic material that she could sink her chops into -- and the videos were top-notch, too, showing off a radioactively appealing talent who could vamp, pout, and cut up like a seasoned performer.

I interviewed Whitney in 1985, when she first exploded, and found that she was not exactly overflowing with warmth and charm.

Far from the ingenue I'd imagined her to be, she seemed hard-edged, reticent, and a little tough.

Still, I cut her some slack. After all, she was still very young and must have been amazed at the machinery whirring around her. (And she had just come from the airport.)

And the machinery kept her career expanding with 1992's The Bodyguard, whose smash soundtrack album included the impossible-to-avoid (or -resist) version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You."

I loved her all-out yet textured and surprising renditions of songs like that, plus "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" (American Idol stars should play it and learn) and "All the Man I Need" and the also-impossible-to-avoid "The Greatest Love of All," which built and built until you thought the stage would explode.

The woman could sing, riff, modulate, jump an octave, drop down for a growl, and make it all seem effortless.

I was glad when she got a little edgier and incorporated a taste of hip-hop into her bounce.

And her "Star-Spangled Banner" -- though lip-synched -- is now so revered that I hear girl singers do it the way Whitney did it as if that's the way it was written!

But the lifestyle! The hard drugs! The marriage -- signed by the devil -- to Bobby Brown!

The reality show in which they both exploited their incoherence!

And then the "comeback album" that tried to convince us she'd gotten through the hard times when in reality it sounded like a cry for help!

When YouTube clips got out of Whitney singing live in Europe and sounding like she'd just gargled on razor blades, she went from the greatest singer in the world to a punchline, and that must have hurt more than her vocal cords.

And poor Bobbi Kristina. I've felt for her ever since reading the tabloid reports of what she's gone through, and even way before that. I mean, can you just imagine?

And now, Whitney has been found dead, and though it took longer than it did for Amy Winehouse, it's every bit as sad.

It's tragic when so much sheer talent gets sabotaged by so much self-lacerating behavior.

What a horrible loss.

Rest in peace, diva.


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54 comments
Stephen Whitley
Stephen Whitley

We should have all been nicer to Whitney...but most of all, she should have been nicer to herself...

bsomers
bsomers

If learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all, why is she dead?

I was never moved at all by her singing; loud, show offy, and slick beyond belief.  Gay and closeted Clive Davis just wanted hits, hits, hits and she obliged.  Why couldn't she sing songs with the quality of those Dionne sang in the 60s?  I guess the dumbing down of musical culture would not permit her to succeed with songs of that quality.

RIP, but I refuse to get hysterical over this woman.

latenitebump
latenitebump

whitney houston. 1963-2012. gone but not forgotten.

Musto
Musto

PS: The video I was in, for the group TV on the Radio, lost the Grammy to the Foo Fighters. Waaa!

Musto
Musto

On tonight's Grammys, LL Cool J reading a prayer to God on behalf of Whitney made me a little queasy, but Jennifer Hudson did a great job with the musical tribute, singing the heck out of "I Will Always Love You."

Topsyturvy8
Topsyturvy8

I'll miss Maya Rudolph's Whitney on SNL.  Shoop!

Michael Khalsa
Michael Khalsa

Thanks Michael.

This is a very sad loss. I for one cannot even read all the news stories they write about her. The only antidote is to listen to her music. What a voice.

Thankyou Whitney for your voice, your beauty and your beautiful music.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Soon to be a major motion picture:

"Tyler Perry IS Whitney Houston!"

Arelis_thorpe
Arelis_thorpe

Like Whitney there will be no other.  Allthough there are many artist who are still alive and may be named divas in there own rights, but there are very few who can reach the high notes like she did. I am still in shock cannot get it out of my mind, like MJ it took me a while to get over it. There are many of you who may not have liked her but for me she was one of the greatest artist that i have known in my time.   My condolences goes out to her family and her daughter.  RIP Whitney.

Amy Wino Speaks!
Amy Wino Speaks!

so sad----i could have had her last snort of cocaine.

so sad---to die in a beverly hills hotel, after snorting through 100 million dollars of drugs.

but now she's in heaven----with all the cocaine she can snort for free!

you go girl!

Scruff712
Scruff712

Very well written, Michael. Unfortunately, Whitney's story reinterates two things: first, show business sucks and second, you can have everything and still have nothing.

billyjoe
billyjoe

Type "The Greatest Love of All" and "drag queens" in YouTube's search line, hit enter, and prepare yourself to relish a treasure trove of Whitney impersonations. My favorite is by Trina Nicole....with a shamefully low viewer number (less than 500 hits) considering the talent on display.

MartinNYID
MartinNYID

Madonna may have been the clown at the party, Whitney, (although not my favorite) provided a major context for the 80s and on.

This shit has got to stop, and it needs to begin with corporate Hollywood, corporate cable-MTV, and all the tabloids - sending delicate, talented human beings to their deaths by exploiting them and watching them destroy themselves. BE SURE: Corporania™ LOVES these things - they'll keep making money after the body gets cold.

I think there is a real human rights issue here, and I say where possible - enough.

DaddyPlugin
DaddyPlugin

Well written article, of course.  Whitney and Bobby are incredible singers. The real tragedy is society and the industrial plight. 

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Never really cottoned to her bombastic approach to what were essentially anthemic numbers. I always had the feeling that the songs were being made more significant thru sheer force of delivery - even I Will Always Love You sounded on the verge of turning into a Lloyd Webber showstopper, like decking out a sweet country granny in the latest Fashion Week duds. But I did give a listen to some of her songs once more, and while most of the material's still crap, she does give it her best possible shot every time. I'm afraid she won't be remembered much beyond having a terrific voice, and in pop music (where no-voice talents like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are already being immortalized in their lifetime) the long list of how badly she was handled started with the choice of songs for her to attack. Dionne Warwick was a cousin who already had a whole history of mixed-quality material - that could have been a really useful starting point for her. And now all that's just too late. Fare thee well, WH, and thanks for the beautiful tribute, MM.

Gregorama
Gregorama

Did anyone hear Larry King tonight on CNN, soon after they'd announced the Whitney Houston news?  On the "Piers Morgan" show, which lasted all of Saturday night, a call-in tribute to Whitney from people who knew her.  They found Larry in Beverly Hills, attending a pre-Grammy party in the very hotel from which Houston's body hadn't even yet been removed!  They propped him in front of a mic for a phone-in with Piers Morgan, who greeted Larry somberly.  Larry, as if it were New Year's Eve and without a care in the world, said to Piers, "So...are you coming to the party?"  Piers said a clearly disgusted, "Uh, NO...I was hoping you could talk about Whitney Houston".  Larry switched gears and said the party was "cerebrical....er...surreal...um...".  Swear to god, they just cut him off and switched to Jermaine Jackson in Istanbul, who was a bit more cogent.  It was lots of embarassing.

Babs Boone
Babs Boone

Lady Bunny's gonna have to finally cut "I Will Always Smoke You" from her act

Quills
Quills

Thank you for mentioning "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" a knockout performance if there ever was one. Also loved "All at Once" and "My Name Is Not Susan" and so many others.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Whitney was a distinct, unique talent.

But this is a story that goes back through generations of performers.

Just fill in your favorite diva or idol.

Ultimately, they are victims of themselves.

Rhesus
Rhesus

Bobby said Whitney's the one who dragged HIM into drugs. Of course consider the source, but still, he might have a point.

Gregorama
Gregorama

Beautifully said....her brilliance as a singer was matched in scale only by the tragedy of her fall.  We can only hope that during this lifetime a performer of her magnitude will appear again.  It's just a sad, sad story.  The talking heads (most prominently Simon Cowell on CNN tonight) are already practically seeking a warrant for the arrest of Bobby Brown for murdering her.  It would probably be a good idea for him to keep a low profile in the coming weeks.  It just seems that the "common wisdom" is that it was he who took her and ruined her.  But as you point out in your tribute, she never was the sweet, beautiful waif that the public wanted her to be.  Inner-city Newark doesn't breed a whole lot of those.  In any case, she left a musical legacy like no other.  If someone who'd never heard of her before asked me what all the fuss was about, I'd tell them to listen to, "I Have Nothing".  Case closed.  She was one for the ages, right up there with Garland, Streisand et. al.  No doubt about that.

Mepnyc1
Mepnyc1

Sad.

And a closeted lesbian. Tragic in so many ways.

Jonesr9114
Jonesr9114

I was singing the greatest love of all is learning to love yourself. A Whitney Houston song before I heard the news of her untimely death. R I P Whitney!!

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

A roundabout reply, but here goes: by the time WH emerged, even Dionne's own material had declined significantly. Still occasionally better than Whitney's - but that may have been a function of her longevity and reputation. I prefer to cling to the fantasy that Whitney could have turned herself around and finally become the damaged deep-soul diva that she clearly had the potential for, with no other choice except to rely on the best available songbook material. Looks like we'll never really have a Billie Holiday in our lifetime after all.

Gregorama
Gregorama

ROBBERY!  FUCKERS!!  KANYE???

COCAINE CARTEL
COCAINE CARTEL

thank you whitney for being a crack ho who helped a lot of mexican drug dealers, yo!

MattB
MattB

oh, you cad, SD

COCAINE CARTEL
COCAINE CARTEL

we all love whitney for spending millions of dollars on....COCAINE!

Gregorama
Gregorama

You're neither clever nor funny, and parading your borderline literacy for all to see is just embarassing.  SILENCE=SOLACE.  STFU, por favor?

Amy Wino Speaks
Amy Wino Speaks

Witney liked to suck back a couple beers with her cocaine!

crack is whack!

party on, dude!

Amy Wino speaks
Amy Wino speaks

Crack is whack!

and you, my favorite martin, not....is full of shit.

witney spent all her money on nose candy.

ya gotta fight for your right.....to parttttyyyy

Amy Wino Speaks
Amy Wino Speaks

real tragedy is poor idiots pitying a rich and famous crack ho.

crack is whack.

Amy Wino Speaks
Amy Wino Speaks

boring....!

crack is whack, you fool.

beverly hills hotels rock for the rich----yeah!

Muscato
Muscato

If nothing else, that marks the first time in recorded history in which the phrases "Jermaine Jackson" and "more cogent" have been used together, at least with him as the subject...

Amy Wino Speaks
Amy Wino Speaks

embarassing is whitney the crack ho dying from all her nose candy.

crack = whack.

smart tee
smart tee

aaaand you believe that? ha!

Gcndc
Gcndc

I don't think that Bobby Brown should be blamed. Whitney got just what she wanted from him.   She could have had anyone, she choose the person that would give her what she needed.  And that was someone she could share her addictions with. 

Amy Wino Speaks
Amy Wino Speaks

witney's brillance as a crack ho was only matched by the poor slobs pitying somebody rich and famous.

cocaine----it's a hella of a drug.

she should have done heroin instead.

Amy Wino speaks!
Amy Wino speaks!

even more beautiful is....CRACK IS WHACK.

witney the crack ho poet.

Musto
Musto

Kanye boycotted the event because he and Jay-Z weren't up for Album of the Year, so he wasn't there to run onstage and defend me!

COCAINE CARTEL
COCAINE CARTEL

Dat's right!

Every drug dealer in Tijuana is weeping over Whitney, our biggest customer, being dead.

R.I.P. you beautiful crack ho, you.

MartinNYID
MartinNYID

did your mother have any children that lived? anonymous idiot. quit spamming Musto's blog.

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Sweetie, it's 2011. Believe it or not, it's trolls who are boring. Especially the ones who think they're cool by riding on the truly cool.

Gregorama
Gregorama

What could be more pathetic than someone replying to their own anonymous postings under ANOTHER anonymous alias? It's very easy to trace, you know, that you are the same wacko.  Amy/Cocaine,  shouldn't you be feeding your 14 cats?  Or are you busy playing 'Dungeons and Dragons' with your imaginary "friends"?  Stop wasting everyone's time, turn off your dial-up connection and go back to your comic book collection. 

MartinNYID
MartinNYID

oh so funny. ha! OMG. you are so original! and your nickname? brilliant. oh just brilliant. *burp*

COCAINE CARTEL
COCAINE CARTEL

You tell that Wino.

Tomorrow will be a national holiday in Mexico, cause lots of dealers are now out of business with such a beautiful crack ho being dead.

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