Deaths | Music | Whitney Houston

Whitney Weathered, Weary, Gone: VIDEO

Picture 15
There's still no word on the cause of Whitney Houston's death this afternoon, but the LA Times has pretty thoroughly described the circumstances surrounding it. Whitney died in Los Angeles, in the Beverly Hilton. She was in town to attend a tribute to Clive Davis, and intended to join the revelries at Mr. Davis's pre-Grammy party this evening. She was found in her hotel room by a body guard, who called for paramedics at approximately 3:30 p.m. The paramedics performed CPR for 20 minutes, and Whitney was pronounced dead at 4:00 p.m. She is survived by her 19-year-old daughter, Bobbi; her mother, Cissy Houston; her cousin, Dione Warwick; her godmother, Aretha Franklin; several hundred million fans; many others.

Personal note: Since I heard about Whitney's death I've been thinking a lot about her botched comeback tour of 2010. It was called Nothing But Love, but from its disastrous first night it drew almost nothing but snark from the press. A typical notice, this one from the Evening Standard:

... that fabulous voice is utterly, utterly torn to shreds.

Where once she soared, now she wheezes and croaks, bludgeoning her perfect pop single I Wanna Dance (With Somebody Who Loves Me) into karaoke submission; stripping the moving My Love Is Your Love of all emotion and inflicting grisly carnage on I Will Always Love You (if she is late-period Judy Garland, this is her Over The Rainbow).

"My soprano friend doesn't wanna come tonight," she mumbled after missing yet another note. Neither did her contralto or mezzo-soprano “friends“.

(The reviewer ended by calling the night "heartbreaking," but it's hard not to detect a little glee in that last set of quotation marks. A lot of people wrote things like that, and it's a little queasy-making to think how many of them will be airing sweet sentiments in the coming days; sentiments which are now about six hours out from the last moment when they could have done some good.)

Anyway -- Whitney's singing came under a lot of fire in her last few years, but I hope it's not too early to hope for a critical reappraisal. In the 80's and 90's, Whitney's instrument was a natural marvel. She didn't have to do anything with it. She opened her mouth and there it was; making sounds bigger and better than any other sounds in the world. Interpretation? Nuance? Whitney's singing couldn't contain those things, because the songs she sang couldn't contain her magnificent voice. But on Whitney's last record, and in the concerts she gave to promote it, none of that was true. Singing "I Look To You," she wasn't just a voice. She barely had a voice. She was a woman. A little sad, more than a little tired, and -- if her endless, loopy onstage banter was any sign -- absolutely terrified that those natural gifts upon which she had built her career and identity had abandoned her forever. All of this came through in her singing. If music is judged by how much weight and wisdom and emotion can be supported by a single sung word (and I dig Patti Smith and Maria Callas, so I think it is), then in those last concerts Whitney made some of the most beautiful music of her life.

Watch Whitney sing "I Look To You" AFTER THE JUMP ...


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  1. It always makes me so angry and frustrated when critics take such delight in absolutely shitting on someone's performance. Even if someone is bad, do they have to delight so completely in kicking them while they are down? I don't think any good ever comes of such critiques. It makes you wonder how it may fuel the demons of some artists!

    Posted by: madmatty | Feb 11, 2012 11:54:21 PM

  2. She was beautiful! Her music was beautiful! Go rest with the angels Whitney.....

    Posted by: Andrew L. | Feb 12, 2012 12:08:35 AM

  3. Yours is the best tribute I've read yet about Whitney Houston. It's so sad and wrong that people rejoice and revel in tearing someone down. I think we're all guilty of that.

    But, in the future, I think the negative stories about Whitney will die down and we'll all remember her for being a BRILLIANT singer with the most incredible voice.

    She made a huge mark on the world and she will live on for decades through her beautiful music. She'll never be forgotten.

    Posted by: shle896shle | Feb 12, 2012 12:13:23 AM

  4. A lot of those "trainwreck" YouTube videos from the last tour had sustained bits of unnatural beauty (and I was no big WH fan).

    She was changing into a different and more mature singer, but that Dolly Parton song and her own flaws were like an albatross around her neck. Sad.

    Posted by: Name2 | Feb 12, 2012 12:13:49 AM

  5. BKT - Excellent, excellent post.

    Among artists I've enjoyed, there is Rosemary Clooney. Her "Sentimental Journey" album, with the voice so not up to par, is a favorite. She earned not being perfect.

    Whitney earned not being perfect. But in her last years, she was not paid her dues. Perhaps if she had been allowed to evolve into a different artist, we'd be telling a different tale today.

    Posted by: TJ | Feb 12, 2012 12:14:18 AM

  6. I think it is sad how a human being's worth is distilled down to their particular talent. Granted, Whitney did have a tremendous gift and she could have made healthier life choices. But despite her incredible talent she was still a human being who had merit and value beyond her singing ability.

    As gay men we get so used to objectifying each other that we end up doing the same to those we idolize. When they fail to be perfect or measure up to our high expectations we turn away or lash out, because their value lies in who they are to us--not in their inherent value as a fellow human dealing with many of the same frailties and imperfections we all have.

    The truth is nothing lasts forever, and someday all of us will be worn, weary and gone. Instead of crucifying those who are already there, make peace with your inevitable future by showing a little compassion.

    What goes around, comes around.

    I am very sad about Whitney's passing. ;( Rest in peace. Thank you for the music you brought to the world--and for the legacy of music you leave behind. You will be missed.

    "I was I'm free..." --Whitney Houston, "I Believe In You and Me"

    Posted by: Mark | Feb 12, 2012 12:30:36 AM

  7. I'm so sad about her passing. Thank you so much for sharing your talent. You will be missed.

    Posted by: Alfonso Matias Jr | Feb 12, 2012 12:43:30 AM

  8. "Whitney's instrument was a natural marvel. She didn't have to do anything with it. She opened her mouth and there it was; making sounds bigger and better than any other sounds in the world."

    Excellent words, Brandon. I wasn't a Whitney diehard, but damn, I adored her nonetheless. I think it's important to remember her voice, not her tragedies.

    Also important, Whitney is the first of this generations gay-adored Divas to pass. At only 48, she was young and was given -- and took-- the pass for a second chance.

    Rest In Peace, Whitney.

    Posted by: Kevin | Feb 12, 2012 12:56:42 AM

  9. also, just want to say kudos to Mark's comment.

    Posted by: Kevin | Feb 12, 2012 12:59:05 AM

  10. "Crack is Whack" -Whitney Houston. RIP Crack kills

    Posted by: Gonzo | Feb 12, 2012 1:42:25 AM

  11. For the record, her cousin's name is spelled Dionne.

    Posted by: Bakeley | Feb 12, 2012 2:11:14 AM

  12. Wonderful and cathartic post. Thank you for putting into words, the feelings of my heart.
    And what a wonderful song to post as well.

    May she rest in peace.

    Posted by: Secret Identity | Feb 12, 2012 2:20:33 AM

  13. No, I don't think we now get to vilify critics who were hard on her before she died. I'm sure they are all feeling bad enough. Let's just mourn the loss of pretty much the greatest voice of our generation.

    Posted by: hoganbcmj | Feb 12, 2012 2:24:24 AM

  14. Rest in peace Whitney. There will never be another such as you.

    Posted by: Dave | Feb 12, 2012 3:01:19 AM

  15. I don't blame the critic for telling it like it is, particularly with audience members paying over 100 pounds each.

    Posted by: Gurl | Feb 12, 2012 3:07:56 AM

  16. So talented and beautiful, yet so troubled and misguided. RIP.

    Posted by: Matt26 | Feb 12, 2012 3:42:22 AM

  17. Thanks Brandon.

    Posted by: ger | Feb 12, 2012 4:05:24 AM

  18. This read like an obituary in the form of a backhanded compliment.

    Yes, she struggled in her later years. She was not what she was at the end of her career (though the Callas comparison is entirely misplaced). But to discuss her life by emphasizing her failings with just a nod to what she once was - one of the most successful singers of all time - is distasteful, at best.

    Posted by: SKOC211 | Feb 12, 2012 4:06:20 AM

  19. I've been very, very tough on Whitney over the years, including on this blog--her abuse of melisma and "oversinging," her seeming contempt for her audiences, her waste of her talent, her flagrant narcissism & cruelty and self-involvement. However, seeing that clip last week of her singing the national anthem years ago reminded me of the young girl with the potential to make thrilling music on occasion. I take no pleasure in her passing, nor in her family's grief; a mother has lost her daughter, and a daughter her mother. Maybe now, at least, she has some peace from the demons which were clearly eating her way at her for so long--demons few realized the measure of. Godspeed.

    Posted by: Dback | Feb 12, 2012 4:12:31 AM

  20. RIP - beautiful One ... Now you are with the Angels .... Huge Hugs!!!

    Posted by: Bodhi | Feb 12, 2012 4:13:25 AM

  21. SKOC211: I think you misread. I would not compare Whitney Houston to Maria Callas. I do, however, believe that Maria Callas and Bob Dylan were probably the two greatest singers of the last century -- the former because she had a mutant voice and an enormous soul; the latter because he had a thoroughly mediocre voice but an enormous brain -- and I also believe that the best music is not necessarily comprised of the prettiest noises. Whitney turned out some fine music when she made pretty noise. For my money, she made much more affecting music when she could make pretty noises no longer. Tastes may differ. - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Feb 12, 2012 4:44:41 AM

  22. I think we all need to remember that nothing lasts forever. We all get old, our voices and looks aren't going to remain the same as in the past. Whitney's past work was so tremendous that it elevated her to icon status and that was certainly enough to carry her throughout the rest of her career. The true fans didn't care that her voice was not what is used to be, true fans are there to support her. You go to concerts and spend money to support the artist you love. I loved Whitney and I'm sad I won't hear new material but I am thankful that she was in my world for the time that she was. God Bless Whitney.

    Posted by: Anthony | Feb 12, 2012 4:58:31 AM

  23. one of my earliest realizations that i was gay is my brother making fun of me and calling me gay because i loved "it's not right, but it's okay" a lot. A LOT. and i still do.

    i'm very sad that Whitney is gone.


    Posted by: Matt | Feb 12, 2012 5:42:34 AM

  24. ...the media its means, be kind to her mistakes. I was a homeless teen...and her music was everywhere, now its a past soundtrack that will live in me. RIP

    Posted by: Bosie | Feb 12, 2012 5:57:37 AM

  25. Get a grip! "bigger and better than anything else in the world" MARY! Her voice was remarkable only for its remarkable like of colour and tone. She was a mere belter, nothing more. She couldnt have delivered an intelligent or subtle interpretation of a song if her life depended on it. Will soon be deservedly forgotten.

    Posted by: David | Feb 12, 2012 7:01:49 AM

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