Monday, February 13, 2012

Mixed Feelings

Whitney Houston's death felt weird.

Obviously I was sad; hers was a tragic and needless death, but it is certainly not a new story (Elvis, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, the list goes on).  Still, it felt weird.

See, I liked Michael Jackson. I was sad when he died, but he seemed like a weak and pitiable kind of man, someone I wanted to help. The same could be said of many rock/pop stars that died too young. They all seemed vulnerable to a tragic, early death.

But I never pitied Whitney Houston.

I was about eight years old the first time I heard Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You." It was a transcendent moment for me. It wasn't just that her voice was beautiful, it seemed like the kind of voice that could knock over buildings. When Whitney sang, nothing could touch her. It was the kind of voice that commanded respect, even reverence. No critic in the world would have dared say, "Eh, Whitney Houston is alright..."

To be clear, I don't actually own any of her albums; she really isn't my style, to be honest. But that really doesn't matter, she's Whitney Houston. It is not about genre, its about pure talent and she's got it. She's got more of it than any vocalist I've ever heard.

The kind of talent that seems almost superhuman. My hero.

I was in my early teens when I found out that Whitney Houston had struggled with addiction most of her career. I actually didn't believe it. Some part of me believed that it was just malicious tabloid speculation. It seemed so prosaic for someone like Whitney Houston to struggle with drugs.

I ignored it for the most part and moved on. I grew out of listening to belters like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, preferring much more subtle, hip, indie-style artists. And Kelly Clarkson. But I still  found myself occasionally looking up videos of Whitney's performances on YouTube just to revisit those childhood moments of unadulterated awe.

So when I heard that she had died, while the adult part of my brain thought, "That's too bad, not surprising though," the 8 year old in me felt violated; superman isn't supposed to die.

This is maybe why, even after Jennifer Hudson's moving tribute at the Grammys, I feel like it's not good enough to be sad that Whitney Houston died. Being sad doesn't mean that some other hero is going to die after a life of drug and alcohol and drug abuse.

This isn't bewildering, there's a very simple correlation here. Drugs and alcohol kill people. Wild, fast-paced lifestyles kill people. Success, too often, kills people. And it makes me angry that we don't seem to take any responsibility for that.

So maybe a real tribute to Whitney Houston should have more to do with preventing another beautiful person, like Jennifer Hudson, from living the same kind of life. I don't know what that means and who is responsible for looking for this kind of change, maybe people like me.

But I know don't want to go through this again with another hero in 6 months.

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