01 September 2009

Pop Life (Remix): I Will Always Love You, Whitney

Yesterday, my mom sent me a text message proclaiming her excitement for Whitney Houston's newest album, which was released yesterday.  In her "I'm fifty years old" text message shorthand, Ma said she loved every song on I Look to You, Nippy's first solo effort in years.  The reviews are mixed.  Though I haven't *technically* heard it, I'll just go ahead and say I love Whitney's new album, too.  I'll hold my tongue re: Akon's appearance.  (Alvin Seville does want his job back, though.)  I do think the latest single, "Million Dollar Bill" will make a killer house remix.  Maybe it's my mother's fault, maybe it's because I'm getting soft, but I'm rooting for Whitney.  I'm glad she's here.

A few years ago during Ms. Houston's nadir, I wrote a blog about her.  On this the first leg of her comeback and on the eve of her appearance on the divine's Ms. O's (you can't spell God without an o) season premiere--no jumping on the couch!--I want to return to what I said.  I've posted it below, with very few edits.

I think most of the stuff I said holds up.  Well, I hope it does.

(Note: I wrote this during my all my blog titles will be inspired by Prince period.)
What you putting in your nose?

Let me be clear: this entry is not a traincar on the dis Whitney Houston express. I've done my share of that over at fecundmellow, and on being bobby brown: the blog. Besides, my mother would put me on punishment if she found out that I was all up on the internet yet again talking smack about her girl, Ms. Houston. In this entry, I've no desire to express my sadness and concern over the soon to be dissolved Brown-Houston marriage; I've conquered that urge by simply choosing not to discuss it. Rather, this entry is more of a rumination on the re-emergence of a seemingly happier, healthier Whitney Houston who, it seems, has found a way to recover and rediscover what we assume is her old self.

Is that where all your money goes?

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email with the subject heading, "SHE'S [Whitney Houston] BAAAACK!" with instructions to pass the message along to moms. Since it was a forward, I scrolled down, curious about what others might have said about the pictures. Along with the typical comments such as, "Let's (continue to) pray for her," there was another that suggested that (the ever hard to define) "we" support Houston with the same energy and vigor we employed to further exacerbate her very public downfall. Though a slightly obvious observation (in a similar, albeit less significant vein as, "George Bush does not care about black people."), for whatever reason the message stuck with me, and over the next few days, I had a couple of conversations about both the pictures and the comments in the email.

The river of addiction flows.

During one discussion, a good friend said to me--as she'd said a few times before when we'd talked about Brenda's [my mom] favorite pop singer-- "I really think she's gonna be the Billie Holiday of our time." Hm.  Lugubriously sad, but potentially true. And though the photographs that comprised this mass email gave me a tremendous amount of hope that Houston will mount a comeback that makes Mariah Carey's look like a spoken word piece put next to anything from Gwendolyn Brooks' oeuvre (or any other legitimate poet for that matter...had to get that jab in somewhere), despite my extremely poor vision, on the horizon I see very clearly the possibility of another very public fall. It is, I imagine, quite lonely at the top, and even lonelier when you tumble from it.

And so I wonder: What must it be like to have no peer?

You think it's hot, but there won't be no water.

I believe that the following statement is (pretty much) true: Whitney Houston is the greatest voice of our time. Perhaps you don't like her pop music, or question some of her later material. Ok. I can understand that. Yet at the same time you can neither ignore nor deny the purity of her voice. In a time when young ingenues thrash their throats in an attempt to outrun each other, and when the greatest singers from decades past need to sit their asses down somewhere (don't make me name names: Aretha, Diana, Chaka...), Houston--when she had her shit together-- sang so effortlessly, so naturally you'd swear she was simply speaking to you with the ease of a conversational tone. Surely, there is a small group of modern day musicians who have left their fingerprints on our collective psyche, but in my estimation, Whitney Houston stands alone. And because of that, when it all fell down, I was saddened as I witnessed her very public struggle to simply do the thing she loves to do.

When the fire blows.

During one of the myriad of poignant moments that peppered the first and only season of the greatest reality tv show starring a famous person ever, Being Bobby Brown, the Brown-Houston clan sat eating near a pool at a hotel. Some folks gingerly approached the group and asked if they could have photographs. Though Brown very gladly took pictures with everyone, Houston sat at the table and adamantly refused. As Houston shook her head and turned her back to the group, the viewer heard Brown's voiceover, and he explained that he got and remains in the entertainment business for the love of the fans, while Houston got in the business simply because she loves to sing.

What if the one thing in the world that you loved to do the most, that you'd work all of your life if not to perfect, but at least to reach your potential, was accompanied with the side effect of having your every move documented and scrutinized? What if people thought they had the right to audaciously approach you and invade your private life whenever they chose, when all you wanted to do was the one thing you love? Could you love doing something enough to pay that price? Would you risk it?

Tell me, what's the matter with your world?

There are millions of people in the world who took/take drugs and exhibit other kinds of destructive behavior due to pressures not nearly as oppressive as being the best at something. I'm not attempting to disparage or belittle people's personal struggles and downfalls, nor am I in the game of ranking traumas. However, it seems to me that attempting to hang yourself because that B+ moves you from valedictorian to salutatorian by no means matches up to a coke binge that could have very well been inspired by the fact that the gift you've given the world, that thing which you're best at, is apparently insufficient.  The dearest part of you that you share is simply not enough.  Rather, fans and foes wish to devour every part of you to satisfy a quite temperamental appetite. I imagine you can find several other people who missed two free throws that cost their high school team the state championship. But who do you turn to when everything in your world sucks, and you're the only one in your league? I'd do drugs, too.

Everybody can't be on top.
And maybe--successful comeback or not--Houston will still be, in some way, the Billie Holiday of our time. However, instead of having to cope with the oppressive and obtrusive nature of, say, jim crow, Houston has had to deal with the increasingly invasive media and the people they ostensibly serve. More than that, both women have had to endure living very public lives in an environment, a society that devalues black women so much that it doesn't even bother being unforgiving. 

Life it ain't real funky, unless it's got that pop.

I cannot possibly sympathize with Ms. Houston, or the few others who have walked in similar shoes. Sympathy requires a kind of intellectual comprehension; on some level, it also demands some sort of condescension. So, all I can really do is continue to be a member of team Whitney. And since Brenda is my mama, it's sort of my birthright. 

We all got a space to fill.

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