Saturday, February 18, 2012

A contrarian's view

Whitney Houston is dead. She has been dead a week now, and her "private funeral" was today in the church where she once sang in the gospel choir. I am sorry when someone dies, but I am sorrier that the sordid projectory of her life and career was not curtailed or turned to a more positive ending. I am wondering why CNN and many other cable outlets broadcast her funeral. Why the lighter magazines (PEOPLE, ENTERTAINMENT, and on down) continue to give this particular death such province.

Popular entertainment, which I have always loved, has its down sides. We have watched too many similar accounts of shooting then falling stars, and most of them have addiction at their base. Judy Garland and Elvis Presley, perhaps the greatest talents in this group, died much too young, riddled by drugs and simply worn out by their personal conflicts and the demands of the business and those who were supposed to be there for them. This old, and rather monotonous story has been seen in films from THE ROSE, a not too thinly disguised bio-pic of Janis Joplin to A STAR IS BORN, in which Garland starred not as the tragic star (that was her co-star James Mason) but as the plucky heroine. A cycle that includes Michael Jackson, Billie Holliday, and many jazz greats, film stars, and many more in show buisness (there's no business like...) will continue as long as the audience, the business, and the wannabes promote it.

Houston had a strong voice indeed, but to claim she is a once in a lifetime voice is nonsense. Actually, her top registers were grating, and like Celine Dion, she wore on many people. Her main legacy consists of the many apers like Mariah Carey and Beyonce and the so-called talent scout shows like AMERICAN IDOL and now THE VOICE. And what do these great new voices sound like? Loud, untrained, screeching at times, melodramatic--and those are the winners. Sorry to be so pessimistic about popular music these days, and Whitney Houston is only one example, but many yearn to hear intelligent lyrics, great melodies, and professional, heartfelt performances. They didn't die last Saturday. They have been gone a long while and we are the less for it. But at least we have the recordings and the films.

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