Posts Tagged ‘whitney houston’
Yesterday was a day full of tears across the sports world. It started during the first press conference from the new team owners at Dodgers stadium. Magic Johnson was asked what it meant for him to become the first African-American owner in Major League Baseball for the same Dodger team that brought Jackie Robinson in to break the color barrier. With voice cracking, he said, “I can’t even put in words how it is,” and they were tears of joy that were welling up in his eyes and mine as well watching at home.
Then much later in the day came the news of the death of Junior Seau and soon after it started trickling out that police were investigating it as a suicide and then I began watching the interviews with tearful teammates hours after that, still in disbelief.
Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston? They both died way too young as well, but with both of them, there was always this thought you had along the lines of, “Yeah, this is going to end badly.” I don’t think anyone had that sense with Junior Seau.
There was the one disappointing incident from 2010 when we learned of a domestic violence arrest, followed right after by the news that Seau had driven his car off an embankment in Carlsbad. It was a little hard to buy into the strange coincidence of the arrest and then Junior’s story of having fell asleep at the wheel just hours later, so that may have been warning sign there perhaps, but one which was (at least for me) overshadowed and then forgotten by larger picture of who Seau was.
Junior Seau was a Southern California legend, from his high school days in Oceanside, to his days up north in LA as a Trojan at USC and then down south to the thirteen years he played his heart out in San Diego as the cornerstone for Charger teams both good and bad.
He was a man who did so much for the community with his Seau Foundation, to hear that a man with that big of a heart could be dead of suicide at the age of 43, not from the typical self-inflicted gunshot to the head, but from a far more poetic and broken-hearted blast to the chest, it’s almost too much to fathom what could have lead him to that, although no doubt there will be post-mortem examinations of the brain and debate in the months to follow on the long-lasting effects of multiple concussions to players of the game.
We saw so many players speaking from their hearts yesterday about what kind of player Seau was and what he meant to them as a teammate and friend, but let me share with you the comments of two players who I think really said it well.
Jacob Hester never played with Junior Seau. In Hester’s rookie year as a Charger in 2008, Seau was finishing his final two years in the league over in New England, so when Hester tweeted this, he’s speaking not as a former teammate, but as a San Diegan:
Really sad news about Junior Seau. Very few players can be the soul of a city like he was in San Diego. One of the All time greats. #RIP
— Jacob Hester (@JacobHester22) May 2, 2012
Having lived in San Diego for over a year on two different occasions, I can tell you just how true that is. A lot of cities have their favorite sons, but Junior Seau went far beyond just being the most popular athlete in San Diego. Junior Seau was the soul, he was the identity of the entire city and the greater San Diego area.
When I first heard about it, I remember hitting Twitter up and scrolling back to see when the first tweet had come in and then I noticed some of the tweets that had come before the tragic news and it hit me really hard, reading people tweeting things like, “Discussing Biddness inside Seau’s” and “Mingling w/ great people at Seau’s join us!” In a strange way, it was those tweets that got to me as much as anything. It made me want to say, “Dude, that was your restaurant! All those people having a good time there and you owned that place, man! Damn, you owned the whole city, Junior! What the hell happened?”
Let me finish with an ESPN interview with Seau’s former teammate Marcellus Wiley. One of the things that can really get me choked up is to see a grown man of the big, tough, seemingly impervious to anything NFL-type breaking down with emotion, so be warned in clicking the link to the video of the full interview here as it may get to you as it did to me.
If you prefer to read, I provide a good portion of Wiley’s interview here:
When you know the man, I mean, everyone knows five-five as a player, hall of fame player, one of the greatest ever to do it, but when you got to know the man who exceeded that talent and that ability and that production, a greater person than he was as a player? Hard to believe, man, ’cause Junior Seau would do anything on that football field, which wasn’t surprising because I knew his reputation, I’m from Southern California, I grew up watching him at USC and then I was blessed to be his teammate in San Diego 2001, and to realize that this dude was a better person than that linebacker that I knew it just makes it unbelievable to know that this is the finality and this is the result.
The thing about Junior, it’s probably tough for people who don’t know him, is, and I heard Chris Berman say it best, he was a man still, but he was playing the game like he was just a little child, like a boy out there. That spirit he had, it was infectious. He really looked forward to playing the professional footbal game like we all did when we were seven, eight years old playing in the backyard or Pop Warner and Junior always kept that smile, always gregarious, always engaging, always calling everyone, ‘Buddy.’
And now I reflect and I’m like, “Junior, you always led the pack.” And he was the best teammate I’ve ever had with that level of ability. Never do you meet a superstar who is making sure that he’s trying to help the entire team before himself.
Junior would never let you see him sweat, never let you see his pain. And that was the toughest thing about it, because I just thought that was for football… But now I translate that to his personal life and I’m like – we were, we were there for you man and like, we knew you was a superstar, we knew you were a super person, but come out and tell us you needed us.
Junior did it his way, he did it the way where, if he was hurtin’, you knew it, but you wouldn’t see it, and it’s just so tough I think for everybody who’s around him to know that Junior had something he was dealing with. That everyone was in debt to this guy to help him in his time of need and that none of us were able to help him before this happened.
Bret Easton Ellis is such a suprisingly talented writer – surprising in the fact that you never know where his talents are going to take the reader, or what sort of hidden abilities as a writer he may reveal. Who else would come up with the insane dichotomy of a character who dispassionately narrates scenes of him performing the most gruesome torture imaginable leading straight into scattered chapters where the very same narrator shows us an unbelievable amount of passion about . . . the music of the 80s. The scattered chapters are as good as the writing of any music review you’ve ever read, and if the character of Patrick Bateman wasn’t so busy with the murder and mayham or making so much money on Wall Street, he could have his pick of writing music reviews anywhere in the nation.
With the passing of Whitney Houston today, I couldn’t help but think of how Bret, er . . . Patrick Bateman spent a chapter speaking of Whitney back when she had just two albums under her belt:
Whitney Houston burst onto the music scene in 1985 with her self-titled LP which had four number one hit singles on it, including “The Greatest Love of All,” “You Give Good Love” and “Saving All My Love for You,” plus it won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal performance by a female and two American Music Awards, one for best rhythm and blues single and another for best rhythm and blues video. She was also cited as best new artist of the year by Billboard and by Rolling Stone magazine. With all this hype one might expect the album to be an anticlimactic, lackluster affair, but the surprise is that Whitney Houston (Arista) is one of the warmest, most complex and altogether satisfying rhythm and blues records of the decade and Whitney herself has a voice that defies belief. From the elegant, beautiful photo of her on the cover of the album (in a gown by Giovanne De Maura) and its fairly sexy counterpart on the back (in a bathing suit by Norma Kamali) one knows that this isn’t going to be a blandly professional affair; the record is smooth but intense and Whitney’s voice leaps across so many boundaries and is so verssatile (though she’s mainly a jazz singer) that it’s hard to take in the album on a first listening. But you won’t want to. You’ll want to savor it over many.
It opens with “You Give Good Love” and “Thinking About You,” both produced and arranged by Kashif, and they emanate warm, lush jazz arrangements but with a contemporary synthesized beat and though they’re both really good songs, the album doesn’t get kicking until “Someone for Me” which was produced by Jermain Jackson, where Whitney sings longingly against a jazz-disco background and the difference between her longing and the sprightliness of the song is very moving. The ballad “Saving All My Love for You” is the sexiest, most romantic song on the record. It also has a killer saxophone solo by Tom Scott and one can hear the influences of sixties girl-group pop in it (it was cowritten by Gerry Goffin) but the sixties girl groups were never this emotional or sexy (or as well produced) as this song is. “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” is a glorious duet with Jermaine Jackson (who also produced it) and just one example of how sophisticated lyrically this album is. The last thing it suffers from is a paucity of decent lyrics which is what usually happens when a singer doesn’t write her own material and has to have her producer choose it. But Whitney and company have picked well here.
The dance single “How Will I Know” (my vote for best dance song of the 1980s) is a joyous ode to a girl’s nervousness about whether another guy is interested in her. It’s got a great keyboard riff and it’s the only track on the album produced by wunderkind producer Narada Michael Walden. My own personal favorite ballad (aside from “The Greatest Love of All” – her crowning achievement) is “All at Once” which is about how a young woman realizes all at once her lover is fading away from her and it’s accompanied by a gorgeous string arrangement. Even though nothing on the album sounds like filler, the only track that might come close is “Take Good Care of My Heart,” another duet with Jermaine Jackson. The problem is that it strays from the ablum’s jazz roots and seems too influenced by 1980s dance music.
But Whitney’s talent is restored with the overwhelming “The Greatest Love of All,” one of the best, most powerful songs ever written about self-preservation and dignity. From the first line (Michael Masser and Linda Creed are credited as the writers) to the last, it’s a state-of-the-art ballad about believing in yourself. It’s a powerful statement and one that Whitney sings with a grandeur that approaches the sublime. Its universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late for us to better ourselves, to act kinder. Since it’s impossible in the world we live in to empathize with others, we can always empathize with ourselves. It’s an important message, crucial really, and it’s beautifully stated on this album.
Her second effort, Whitney (Arista; 1987), had four number one singles, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “So Emotional,” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” and was mostly produced by Narada Michael Walden and though it’s not as serious an effort as Whitney Houston it’s hardly a victim of Sophomore Slump. It stars off with the bouncy, danceable “I wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” which is in the same vein as the last album’s irrepressible “How Will I Know.” This is followed by the sensuous “Just the Lonely Talking Again” and it reflects the serious jazz influence that permeated the first album and one can also sense a newfound artistic maturity in Whitney’s voice – she did all the vocal arrangements on this album – and this is all very evident on “Love Will Save the Day” which is the most ambitious song Whitney’s yet performed. It was produced by Jellybean Benitez and it pulsates with an uptempo intensity and like most of the songs on this album it reflects a grownup’s awareness of the world we all live in. She sings and we believe it. This is quite a change from the softer, little-girl-lost image that was so appealing on the first album.
She projects an even more adult image on the Michael Masser-produced “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” a song about meeting up with a long-lost lover and letting him know your feelings about the past affair, and it’s Whitney at her most poetic. And as on most of the ballads there’s a gorgeous string arrangement. “So Emotional” is in the same vein as “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” but it’s even more rock-influenced and, like all the songs on Whitney, played by a terrific backup studio band with Marada on drum machine, Wolter Afanasieff on the synthesizer and synth bass, Corrado Rustici on synth guitar, and someone listed as Bongo Bob on percussion programming and drum sampling. “Where You Are” is the only song on the album produced by Kashif and it bears his indelible imprint of professionalism – it has a smooth, gleaming sound and sheen to it with a funky sax solo by Vincent Henry. It sounded like a hit single to me (but then all the songs on the album do) and I wondered why it wasn’t released as one.
“Love Is a Contact Sport” is the album’s real surprise – a big-sounding, bold, sexy number that, in terms of production, is the album’s centerpiece, and it has great lyrics along with a good beat. It’s one of my favorites. On “You’re Still My Man” you can hear how clearly Whitney’s voice is like an instrument – a flawless, warm machine that almost overpowers the sentiment of her music, but the lyrics and the melodies are too distinctive, too strong to let any singer, even one of Whitney’s caliber, overshadow them. “For the Love of You” shows off Narada’s brilliant drum programming capabilities and its jazzy modern feel harks back not only to purveyors of modern jazz like Michael Jackson and Sade but also to other artists, like Miles Davis, Paul Butterfield and Bobby McFerrin.
“Where Do Broken Hearts Go” is the album’s most powerful emotional statement of innocence lost and trying to regain the safety of childhood. Her voice is as lovely and controlled as it ever has been and it leads up to “I Know Him So Well,” the most moving moment on the record because it’s first and foremost a duet with her mother, Cissy. It’s a ballad about . . . who? – a lover shared? a long-lost father? – with a combination of longing, regret, determination and beauty that ends the album on a graceful, perfect note. We can expect new things from Whitney (she made a stunning gift to the 1988 Olympics with the ballad “One Moment in Time”) but even if we didn’t she would remain the most exciting and original black jazz voice of her generation.
A lot of hate is being directed at Bobby Brown today, as if he’s the one to blame for Whitney’s downfall. Listen, Whitney would not have made the choices she did if this former choir girl with the perfect voice wasn’t bored to death with living the perfect life. She was looking for some danger and excitement I’m pretty sure, and Bobby Brown fit the bill. Don’t blame Bobby though, if it wasn’t him introducing Whitney to cocaine and the crack pipe, it would have been some other bad boy of hip hop, guaranteed.
The ending is not what’s worth remembering, however. Sure, the tragic ending will only help to enhance her status as a legendary and immortal singer just the same as it did with Billie Holliday and every tragic character stretching back to Greek mythology, but what’s really worth remembering about Whitney is not her downfall, but her voice.
Go to YouTube or grab your MP3 player and listen to Whitney’s voice from the mid-80s and early 90s and what you are listening to is a voice so clear and a five-octage range so rare that for every one singer that has it, there are a million other singers feeling jealous and imagining what they could do with a voice like that, but do she did, working hard from a young age to become technically proficient, and then working harder still to make it all sound effortless.
That’s the Whitney I’ll remember. No offense to Mariah, but as far as pop music goes, Whitney Houston was truly the greatest voice of her generation.
And now for the truly bizarre, I’d like to offer up A Serial Killer’s Tribute to Whitney Houston.