Sunday, February 12, 2012

Queen of the Night

This would’ve never happened on Kevin Costner’s watch.

Saturday night: 8P.M. Back at the Villa. One of the waitresses burst through the kitchen doors and told the bartender to put on E!. Right then we were led to our table, and I remember saying, “Turn on E!? Who says turn on E! right now? What? Did Kim K and the Hump got back together.” It wasn’t until 10.30P.M., back home, that we saw R.I.P. Whitney on Facebook. Nope, not Kim K. Whitney Houston dead at 48.

We spent the rest of Saturday night between SNL and the Whitney Houston coverage. My first thought: What a classic Hollywood death, almost scripted. Found dead in a 4th floor hotel room of the Beverly Hilton on Wilshire, a night before the Grammy’s. Reports of prescription bottles. Reports that Whitney was found with her face underwater in the bath tub. Does it get more Hollywood than that? CNN was showing that aerial shot of the huge, Hollywood hotel, that might as well be renamed the hotel where Whitney Houston died. And I can see that aerial shot, with the limos coming in and out, the fans and media gathered around, showing up on every VH1 countdown of the 100 most shocking Hollywood moments. Whitney’s death has put her back on the map, right in the heart of music's weekend.

I can’t shake the feeling that there was a scripted element to Whitney’s death. I’m not saying suicide, no, but hear me out. She had spent a week in the hotel, leading up to the Grammy’s, and was going to be the guest of honor at Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party, at the hotel, the day she died. For the record: Clive Davis always stood by Whitney, defending her time and time again, as she embarrassingly battled drug and alcohol addiction. But the truth was, Whitney’s voice was gone, the star was dimmed, and a comeback wasn’t in the cards. I feel like, if given the choice, this is the death Whitney would’ve written. Maybe too young. But maybe that makes it bigger in the media. The timing, the location, the certainly mysterious circumstances that outlets will spend weeks and months discussing, it all writes like a tragic Hollywood ending, starring Ms. Houston.

But it also means Whitney’s back, she’s relevant, Grammy weekend is suddenly a tribute to “the voice.” When’s the last time anyone uttered Whitney Houston’s name? Is what I’m quasi-suggesting crazy? Of course it is. But Whitney Houston was a commercial jet crashing into a nitroglycerin plant crazy. Reports said, a night before her death, after a blood-curdling attempt at singing in public, she had an "altercation" with someone from the X FACTOR. Whitney being Whitney. People always thought that Bobby Brown, “the bad boy” corrupted her, ruined America’s Sweetheart. No way. Whitney was nuts before BB, with BB, after BB.

Maybe Whitney really wrote her own Hollywood ending. Why not? In another weird coincidence, this upcoming weekend Maya Rudolph is hosting SNL. Maya is known for her outrageous, insulting impression of Whitney Houston. How does SNL deal with that? There’s no way you water that bloodbath down, and I don’t think you ignore it entirely. Conundrum.

As for the coverage itself, the outlets had to toe a careful line. After you discuss the great voice and killer collection of songs, (and she was great, no doubt about that, daddy-o) there’s only one thing to say about Whitney’s life and death: She was a complete addict. But the media seemed committed to not belaboring that on Saturday night, and to be honest, the coverage was kind of boring because of it. CNN rolled the same three news clips (archive photos), said the same three things over and over again, and took calls from those tragedy junkies Jermaine Jackson and Dr. Drew. After that it was the cringe-worthy concert clips from the New Edition show in the Mid West, where that maniac Bobby Brown burst into tears, ran on and off the stage three or four times. After that it became a lot of armchair hyperbole, Oprah referring to Whitney as a talent “Gifted by God.” Come on, Oprah, Whitney’s not a gift from God. Michael, yes, Whitney, not quite.

But the immediate response was flat, boring, and repetitive, even though the outlets did everything they could to pump it up. BREAKING NEWS!! CELEBS REACT!! But Whitney’s death wasn’t Michael Jackson or even Kurt Cobain’s. It just wasn’t. Headline worthy yes, culturally altering, not quite. When she was alive, whenever Whitney stumbled onto a stage or award show (in her druggie decline), everyone always gave her a standing ovation, and I always wondered: Why? In her death, it was the same, the media trying to make you feel something more, but there really wasn’t anything to feel.

Whitney was an icon, no doubt. Her national anthem at SB25 was great. She sang two of the greatest songs/remakes ever (THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL & I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU) but her decline was so ridiculous and annoying, the brilliance from 20 years ago sort of got forgotten, and a Maya Rudolph caricature of Whitney emerged.

So it ends for Whitney at 48 years old, too young. Jennifer Hudson will do the obligatory tribute at the Grammy’s, and Nancy Grace will spend the next month trying to make this Hollywood death a pop culture giant, and Whitney would have it no other way. But after all that, Whitney, I truthfully say, “Weeeee will allwayyssss lllooovvveeee yooouuuu,” all of us except Dolly Parton of course, who you upstaged by redoing her song and making it number one in every nation on earth for eight weeks. But other than Dolly, “We will always love you.” And Sunday night, Whitney will be the Queen of the Night.

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Brian Huba

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