I remember being completely hypnotized by Whitney's videos back in 1985. I had zero interest in that kind of music but I had immense interest in her. I was so smitten that I started telling my friends that she was some kind of signal, some kind of harbinger of some new, X-Men-like race that would emerge from the ashes of humanity. That she was singing these frothy pop songs to reach as many people as possible and trip this switch in their brains and kick off the New Age.
Whitney's decline was tragic but her rise was breathtaking, a moment that caught everyone's attention, whether they cared for her brand of slick R&B or not. That wasn't the point.
The point was that everyone stopped for a moment to bask in her lean, graceful beauty, her infectious, megawatt smile and her stunning vocal range that made you stop and listen, no matter what your musical taste.
In ancient times, emperors would build temples to her all across the world, and roses would be thrown at her feet wherever she walked. Even the humblest cobbler or beggar would think that surely this was a goddess come down to Earth; Hathor, Aphrodite, Inanna.
Whitney descends the spiral staircase in "Greatest Love of All" video
But this is the modern world, where even a goddess is reduced to a commodity. I'm not sure exactly what brought Whitney Houston back down to earth, but I'm sure the unrelenting pressure of superstardom had a lot to do with it, when your every move is scripted, recorded, and critiqued. And in America we put these people up on pedestals, shine the light of interrogation on them and then eat them alive when they flinch.
In that world, you are faced with an itinerary that creates a need for the stimulants that the sharks swimming around you are all too happy to provide. The rise of the superstar paralleled the rise of cocaine culture and the crushing schedules of in-demand stars like Houston made the lure of the leaf all that more inviting.
The flipside of stardom is how it all becomes a grinding monotony, how the business always takes the art away from you and how an artist ends up having to support a large and often parasitical corporation; people whose livelihoods rely on keeping the machine running, whether the muse has flown or not. It's an ugly, ugly business. "Evil" might not be too strong a word. And the drugs often become the artist's only escape from the devils.
And there's another narrative at work here, something spoken in whispers (or louder, later) for many years. I had heard from people on the New York music scene even before Whitney became a superstar that she was not straight, that she'd often be seen walking arm in arm in the Village with a woman who'd later work as her assistant. Whether she was gay or bisexual seemed to be a favorite subject of debate and she later married singer Bobby Brown, an act which seem to seriously dim her luster.
But given the toxic homophobia that's become nearly a religion in some quarters since the rise of Hip Hop, I think the pressures of staying in the closet could be yet another millstone that brought this goddess crashing down to the shitpile the rest of us slog through. In the 21st Century, a person's sexuality shouldn't even be an issue, but it is.* And it will continue to be as long as the harsh realities of the post-industrial economy leave a constant need to find untermenschen to feel superior to.
I wish I could leave you with some benediction here, some happy ending. But I don't see one. I see a woman who embodied the very best of us --in such a fashion as to perhaps be not of us-- dragged down below us and then destroyed. I see The Man Who Fell To Earth play out in real time before our eyes once again. Karen Carpenter redux.
I see yet another point put up on the Archons' scoreboard. I see an artist who people across the world could all agree was something special taken away from us. The only hope is that the work will live on, and that that signal continues to be broadcast until enough receivers get switched on.
PS: I should add that Whitney Houston came to my attention at the same point time I started obsessing on Max Ernst, who we discussed in the previous post (my tastes have always been pretty eclectic). A strange and kind of disturbing sync for me.
UPDATE: The Jackals feast on the Lioness' bones.
It was business as usual less than three hours after the sudden death of pop icon Whitney Houston at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, as hundreds of high-profile celebrities worked the room at the annual Clive Davis Grammy party.I mean, it's perfect. The System destroyed a goddess and then partied atop her corpse. Take a good, long look at American culture, people. The cancer has subsumed the host. Research credit to SSFB member Chris Parker.
But in a suite just four floors above, police were conducting an investigation into the death of the Grammy-winning singer. While Houston’s body remained in the room, her teen daughter stood outside fighting with authorities to see the body. This while a "crime lab" van stood out among the black limousines and SUVs escorting celebrities to and from the event.
In light of the stark contrast between the tragedy of her death and the celebration at the star-studded soiree, for those in attendance at the party, the backlash is burgeoning.
Kim Kardashian (whose ex-boyfriend Ray J was Houston's on and off again beau, and reportedly in the hotel trying to gain access to the room) was photographed smiling alongside the likes of Jane Fonda and Britney Spears, while Diana Ross and Barry Gordy hammed it up for the cameras. Stars like Ne-Yo, Kelly Rowland, Sir Richard Branson, Mary J. Blige and Jon Voight also attended.
UPDATE: Paul Weston wrote: "Can't help feeling that this event is so near in time to the Madonna Superbowl "ceremony" that we are being invited to intuit a greater unity. FFS, if you had a dream that began with Isis Cleopatra Madonna on her throne and ended with Whitney dead underwater you'd know it was screaming meaning that needed to be understood but this actually happened. Come on Chris! Go for it!"
To which I responded: "Being invited is precisely the reason not to go for it." Where does it end up, after all? With Nikki Minaj's ridiculous performance and brainwashed dimwits tweeting that they'd "let Chris Brown beat them any day." And the meaning that I feel needs to be understood has already been spelled out in this piece.
*Yet another interesting lesson from the ancient world, ancient priestesses- who became the divas of their time in their roles as temple singers- were often forbidden to marry or to "know men." The Vestals were the most well-known of these, the direct parallel to modern nuns, but there are also the priestesses of Bast, well-known for their musical performances.
The priestesses of Inanna- goddess of music and dance- are another. Given the highly charged eroticism of their rites it's safe to assume these women were not celibate, even if forbidden to "know men." None of this impacted the role these women played in society or the adulation they received. Hard to imagine in these times when, as with religion, sexuality has become politics by proxy.
In the ancient world, gifts such as Whitney's would act as a signal that she was not meant for the kitchen and the nursery but to serve the people by using her talent to bring them closer to the gods. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the divas of the ancient world were predominantly lesbian.