Whitney Houston: Where does the responsibility lie?

Whitney Elizabeth Houston

April 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012

I’m a little pissed off now, so excuse me while I get my rant on.

Who was disappointed in the Grammy “tribute” to Whitney last night? Raise your hand.

Raise Your Hand Campaign by WorkSafe British Columbia

Yeah, me too.

I was disappointed because there were only two songs in tribute to her, along with a brief video spot in a 3.5 HOUR show.  Yes, I understand that there was minimal time to prepare but consider the following:

  • Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy party went on Saturday night, as scheduled.
  • Who amongst you doesn’t know the words to at least one of Whitney songs? Mmm hmm.
  •  Of course, memorization is only one part of it, there’s practice as well, but thanks to shows like American Idol we know that even a novice can learn a song and dance routine, in under 8 hrs.
  • Chris Brown, notably, performed TWO segments.
  • The Grammy’s awards are based on sales, for the most part. Whitney sold over 200 million albums in her lifetime.
  • Now, perhaps you can explain to me why they couldn’t put together a more encompassing and thoughtful tribute? I don’t know, maybe 5 songs, performed by different singers? Surely, they could have mastered at least that, a 1-1 ratio.

Surely, they could have allotted more time for it? I am sure Chris would have gladly given up one performance in Whitney’s honor? Or, how about shortening any one of the other performances?

More galling to me, was the absence of the illustrious Clive Davis. Don’t you think that he should have said something, in person, or via video, in honor of one of the artists who helped put him on the map?

Or, just a small speech that honored the totality of her person and spoke to the dangers of drug addiction? Even though we don’t know the “official” cause of death we know the incredible toll drugs had on her career. Truth.

Personally, I think it was a piss poor effort.

The reason it made me so angry is because it was like a tear drop in the ocean for music’s “biggest event”.  It was a tiny nod in stark contrast to the enormous scope of her influence and the effect she had so many of us. There is also the miniscule matter of the incalculable fortune that she made for the music industry and the fact that more people watched the Grammys this year since 1984. For those reasons I thought, “They could have done a damn sight better than that.”

If only that were all.

Most of the musicians I know liken the music industry to a cesspool, or a shark pit, because record companies exploit the talented (and not so talented) mercilessly for money. We’ve all heard the crazy stories about the lengths that artists will go to as they self-medicate, and the like, under the pressures of stardom.

Too many are seduced by the shifting mirage of celebrity and money, losing sight of themselves and falling prey to temptation. It’s a well known state of affairs but we don’t really pay attention until it happens to someone big like Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, or Whitney Houston. We treat it like an inevitability with cruel capriciousness of nature, avoidable and de rigueur.

We search for the Conrad Murray’s but ultimately, much as I revile him, wasn’t he a little fish in a very big pond?

When you look at the long list of celebrity’s who have lost this battle it becomes, to put it lightly, disconcerting.

Bashir Live spoke straight to the heart of the matter on his show today.

Is the music industry responsible?

Ruminate on that. Let it roll around your mind for a bit. You might be tempted to say no, and say it ultimately comes down to personal responsibility. Stop and ask yourself if your daughter, sister, brother, or mother had died and you knew that a close friend of hers opened the door to drug addiction would you be so understanding? I’m hazarding a guess NOT.

At a very minimum, I would argue for joint responsibility.

I’d also point out again the historical trend of celebrities whose lives have been cut short, or nearly destroyed by drug addiction.

Then, I’d ask you what you think about the fact that Sony boosted the price of Whitney’s music today. They had enough time for that. I’d ask how you feel that in an extremely tangible sense they profit off a human beings demise. Not for one, day, not for one month, but for years.

It bears thinking about. This is not based on the very human tendency to search for a scapegoat but a recognition that this is one of the ills of our society. It’s real and can be traced to the exploitative side of capitalism and our increasing shift towards consumerism without conscience. We should not turn a blind eye. I believe that the same calls for accountability that have become a rallying cry should apply to the corporate machine that is the music industry.

Here’s Celene Dion’s thoughts on Whitney and this issue.

If we are the machine that drives the music industry, are we not responsible as well?

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29 thoughts on “Whitney Houston: Where does the responsibility lie?”

  1. Lady, you had me ar rant! This was a thought provoking post in which you have passionately and effectively discussed how indeed Ms. Whitney did not receive the tribute that she deserved. I did not watch the Grammys but after reading your post, I’m glad I didn’t. It breaks my heart that a star such as her would not be honored with more artists singinng her songs during the event. I will not judge Whitney for her past drug use because, while I don’t believe in glorifying the dead, I also don’t want to remember this amazing star as just that, a user of drugs. Instead, I will remember her as the magnificent singer that she was and as the beautiful woman who took my breath away when she sang, “I will always love you.”

    1. That’s because you are a closet romantic, Bella :). Lol just teasing you. Indeed, the tragedy of her life is that she gave joy to so many but her personal life and legacy are marred by her substance abuse problem. She had a phenomenal talent but in the end, she was just human…

  2. You people are just hysterical @Karyn & Jueseppi lol.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

    I am trying to be calm and productive today lol. Romantic and giddy seem out of reach. Is that the 40’s? Oh well lol. Wiil respond tomorrow in detail and thank you guys, as always, for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. I diddn’t get to see the tribute.. perhaps it airs later this week down here? Without seeing it though i can imagine what happened.. like all things of beauty and influence from the past a lot of people sweep them away quickly for todays latest fly by night sensation. Are we becoming a society without substance ?
    I was devestated to hear of Whitneys passing and yet, in my office half the young people in their 20’s barely knew who she was…
    I grew up listening to my nannas favourite old records.. perhaps this is not the way of now? Maybe we are facing a generation that will only ever recognise who they heard on MTV last week…
    Food for thought.
    RIP Whitney – a legend and a sad reminder of the fragility of the human race
    ^!^

    1. Hi Gypsy,

      You’ve raised an excellent point. I just don’t get it! How is that possible? I also grew up listening to my Mom’s favorite music and it gave me a foundation in music that I would otherwise have not had. It’s one of the reasons that I believe my ear is so eclectic and discerning. When we say real music that’s exactly what we mean. Music without all the special effects and gyrations, profanity and rump shaking and the saddening trend of “studio singers”. When they perform live all you can do is shake your head like REALLY. I’m sorry for them.

      Do you think this has something to do with the advent of the IPOD? Are people listening to music more alone so to speak? That may be part of it. Stereos are dirt cheap now and I wonder how much people really use the docking stations to play music and listen with their friends and family? Certainly, in many ways, music was more communal back in the day…

      So, yes, I agree with you. In many ways, that’s exactly what technology is creating, a society without substance and a generation with no memory.

      RIP Whitney.

  4. Amazing post, Coco. Leaves a lot to think about. I think your idea of having a few artists get up and each sing one of her songs would have been wonderful. Also, I agree that Don Cornelius and a Soul Train dance lineup should have been recognized in some way. I’m still saddened by the news but I sense there is a lot of anger out there too. Don’t really understand the anger. A performer gives everything they have and then we get mad when the pressure is too great and they resort to drugs. Doesn’t seem quite right.

    1. Thanks, Annie. Yeah, what’s up with that? I was BESIDES myself when Don Cornelius died :(. I watched Soul Train videos for hours after I heard, he was such a big part of my childhood. I wish I had an answer as to why people are so crazy. The anger being displayed is nonsensical. Undoubtedly, people feel that she wasted her life but that would be inaccurate. She simply lost her way as happens to many of us. The only thing is, she never found her way back…

  5. But Amy should have been as vilified. Her’s was the same crime without having a child in the middle of it. Her parents stated that they were waiting for this day as they had tried hard to save her and came to realize they could not. And there was an ex-husband in her story who gets all the blame for introducing Amy to the drug world. I thought there were some rumbling that she was trash and it was no great loss. I didn’t see the stuff you linked to until I clicked on your link.

    Yes, I did say pie but did I mention that it was Apple pie fresh out of the oven with vanilla ice cream on the side? I could not find any ice cream with cinnamon or caramel.

  6. May I also add that this exploitation is not limited to the music industry. In professional football, 60% of all retired players end up bankrupt, disabled, addicted to pain medication, or any combination of the three. 60% is a staggering amount, yet too little is done for these players, most of whom you’ve never even heard of. While the other 40% may maintain their wealth and live long, prosperous lives after the game, most do not. The owners and the league have a long track record of turning a blind eye and doing little to help these human beings who often break their bodies and minds to play the game, while making the league and the owners a staggering amount of money. I’ve heard estimates of $12 billion annually. Yes, the recent labor negotiations moved a larger percentage of these profits to the players, but thousands of retired players from the 50’s through the 90’s will never see a dime of that money, and the few who will receive compensation will receive enough to cover medical expenses and little more.

    Again, it goes back to your point about consumerism without conscience. The league is making a profit and plenty of men are willing to sacrifice themselves for the short-term glory of saying they’re a pro football player, so the general public ignores the toll the game takes on 60% of its workforce. To me, that’s the equivalent of what the record industry and Hollywood have done to their stars after the glory days have passed. I’m going to try to write my own blog about this very topic soon, but after seeing yours, I needed to chime in here.

    1. Alex,

      It’s no great secret that I’m not a sports girl so I had no idea about the ills of the the football industry. It’s a damn shame. You know, everyday I have more and more respect for Dave Chapelle. I understand why he took the money and ran. Crazy rumors aside, I think he took his sanity in his hands and escaped from the vampiric effects of fame and money while he had a chance. Can you blame him?

      I really begin to wonder how capitalism can be reigned in to serve the masses and not the few. Is such a thing even possible?

      Looking forward to your post.

      Peace

  7. I am disappointed that Don Cornelius did not get more of a tribute. There should have been a Soul Train Line on stage. I remember watching Soul Train as a whiter than white kid in the middle of the country, listening to music that I did not hear anywhere else. He should have gotten more.

    As sad as I am over Whitney’s death, I am really really angry at her. I am angry that she wasted the talent of a lifetime. I am angry that she wanted a part of that lifestyle and could not walk away from it. I am angry that one of the greatest voices was ruined by drug use. Where does that leave Bobbi Christina, what kind of parent does this to their child? But in the end, the responsibility lies with Whitney just as it did for Amy Winehouse. This is not a black or white thing, this is a human thing.

    While the record industry can be partly held to blame because they do over-work a person (Remember when one of the Backstreet Boys was pushed to come back early to performing after his heart surgery?), you have to be the one who says no. You have to be responsible to your talent, your health and your family. When someone displays the type of behavior that she did over the last ten years of her life, well, sorry but it is really hard for me to respect that person. And yes, I do feel that way about Amy Winehouse as well.

    1. During the tribute to the people who died since the last Grammy’s…Don Cornelius was not even mentioned, His photo was missing from those who passed away in the last year. That was an obvious snub, immediately following that tribute, LLCool mentioned his name….that was very obvious that the control room told him to do that..

      1. You are so right, J. I was too honed in on Whitney to notice. That makes no sense either. Isn’t that just another example of how the industry exploits people for their own gain. When their earning potential is diminished they are quickly forgotten.

    2. Karyn,

      I can’t say that I respected Whitney over the last ten years of her life. I didn’t respect her personage as much as I respected her talent. Nonetheless, I recognized and had empathy for her very human weakness. Drug abuse is a disease, a scourge upon our society. We can trace the line all the way back to the shadowy individuals who make millions off exploiting communities for material gain while authorities turn a blind eye. We can also berate the system that doesn’t do enough to assist individuals who fall victim to this abuse. Taxpayers pay a huge burden for this problem which seems to be running rampant, but I digress.

      I am not angry with Whitney, Amy Winehouse, John Belushi, Michael Jackson or Heath Ledger. I am simply sad that they fell into a trap and could not find their way back. Drug addiction is a beast and once it gets it’s tentacles into you it is very hard to fight it’s way off. I recognize that, for a variety of reasons, not everyone can overcome it. I lost my uncle to drug abuse at 12, you see.

      I agree with you that the fault is shared, personally, collectively and with the industry. I feel for every young person who is ill equipped to deal with fame, money and temptation who falls victim. Too often, they lack the maturity and sense of self to withstand temptation. Collectively and individually it is a tragic loss.

      1. I grew up with a mother who had all of the personality traits of a drunk as she grew up with one. My mom did not drink but she did all of the adult children of alcholic tricks. The quick mood changes, the depression, holding back on crap, changing of rules. It is not fun.

        As for Whitney, I imitated her vocal moves, along with a few others, over the years. I sing and direct the choir at church and plan to do “I look to you” at some point.

        I also know from watching others how hard it is to quit an addictive substance as well as the drama of the lifestyle. In that aspect, I do not respect Whitney. You have to step up when you have a child, you have to be there for them. How sad that the child she called her greatest inspiration was not enough to make her stop.

        I just hope that Bobbi Christina does not leave it on her heart that she did not do enough to save her mother. No child of an addicted parent should have to live with that guilt.

  8. Great post. You’ve given me a lot to think about, that’s for sure. And about Clive Davis; he’s a pig. And has been one for a long time. He did all he could to exploit Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofill back in the day. I have no idea why Alicia Keys still deals with him.

  9. Thanks for this…truth can be difficult to face at times, yet, here it is. Well I won’t be contributing to their sales for my collection of her recordings started many years ago and my playlists were devised long before her death.

      1. Absolutely, and as always, it goes back to race. When Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning…she was not vilified in the media as Ms. Houston is being vilified.

      2. We were just discussing this the other day, Karyn. Some of the crazy comments you see on the Net are nothing short of nauseating. I call them the Cyber Psychos. They seem to thrive on the white space and anonymity, jet in, drop hatred and bile, then disappear. As much as I love the Net, it’s disheartening to see the uglier side of humanity.

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