“I Will Always Love You”

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It was announced today that doctors have determined that Bobbi Kristina Brown’s brain damage is “global and irreversible.”  While there is some slim chance that her condition could change, she is currently unresponsive and unable to care for herself in any way.

I’ve refrained from posting anything about this sad situation because I wanted to hear some kind of definitive statement from the people in charge of her medical care.  Her father, R&B  performer Bobby Brown, recently said that he believed she was awake and watching him.  That’s totally understandable; he wants his baby to recover.  But the chances of this poor young woman returning to any semblance of normal life at this point are practically nil.

And I hate that.  I never cared much one way or the other for Bobbi Kristina, except to feel bad about the hand she’d been dealt in life.  Sure, she was the famous child of two famous and talented people, with the money and means to do whatever she wanted with her young life.  But both her parents were troubled, their marriage volatile, and Bobbi Kristina lacked a solid foundation.  When her mother Whitney Houston died suddenly a few years ago, this child seemed so lost and alone in the world–even though it was clear she had plenty of family support.  There was such a sadness in her eyes.

Bobbi Kristina was found face down in her bathtub on January 31st and placed in a medically induced coma.  Everyone was hopeful for a full recovery at first, but without knowing how long she’d been without oxygen, there was no way of knowing what kind of chances she had.  As the weeks wore on, it became clear (to me, at least, with no medical background whatsoever) that Bobbi Kristina would not recover, at least not enough to be an active participant in her own life.  She is technically alive; there must be some kind of activity in her brain.  But whatever life she has is so compromised, I can’t imagine what it must be like for her or her family.  I hope she doesn’t have any real awareness of what’s happening to her, that whatever spark that made up her is not trapped inside that living shell.  That sounds like the worst kind of horror to me.

Her drowning, for want of a better term (police are still investigating this as a crime) happened just before the third anniversary of her mother’s death.  Houston died in a similar manner, which makes this all so eerie.  But I know that whatever else may be the case in this horrible tragedy, Whitney Houston is with her child in some way.

Vote or Shut Up!

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It’s primary voting day here in California.  Which is why I’m reposting this slightly edited post from February.  Voting makes me feel so American.

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

One of Whitney Houston’s star turns was her performance of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991.  She had the style of voice and just enough vocal range to knock it out of the park, a truly fine performance of a song that I consider almost unsingable.  The reminder that she did it well made me think of other times I’ve heard excellent performances of our National Anthem.  There was a common denominator to the ones I picked out.

First of all, since “The Star-Spangled Banner” is unsingable except by someone with a remarkable voice and vocal range (think opera, not pop/rock), instrumental/orchestral versions are almost always superior.  But of the times I’ve heard it sung more than passably by a popular singer, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye are the two that come to mind.  And instrumentally, I am especially partial to Jimi Hendrix’s sunrise anthem at Woodstock (god bless the solid body electric guitar).  And it suddenly dawned on me that all the versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I find truly inspiring (well, the ones that don’t involve either patriotic events or small children) are all by African-Americans.  It’s an interesting coincidence.

Race relations in the United States, especially between blacks and whites, are difficult to discuss.  It’s such an emotional, complicated topic that even today, when we have an African-American president, it is impossible to come to any sort of resolution.  Of course, that may be because there is no resolution yet.  Racism will always exist, and those of us who believe in equality and freedom will always have to battle people who think ignorance and bigotry are a god-given right.  We fought a horrible civil war largely over the racist institution of slavery.  We had to amend the Constitution to make sure that black people were given the same civil rights as white people.  We’ve had to bring in military troops just so black students could attend school with white students.  The Supreme Court had to rule that there is no such thing as “separate but equal” before racist laws were struck down.  There is nothing about the history of black-white relations in this country that is not somehow tinged with (often bloody) struggle.

I used to wonder when I was younger why so many African-Americans made everything about race, why they were always bringing it in to every conversation and discussion.  And then it dawned on me (thank you Ralph Ellison): It’s always about race for black people because white people never, ever let them forget that they’re black.  They’re not the ones making it about race; it’s a white-dominated society with its institutionalized racism making it about race.

Which makes the fact that these performances of our National Anthem especially poignant.  It’s not something that gets highlighted very often, and I’ll bet Whitney, Marvin, and Jimi were well aware of it.  They understood the power they had–the power of their talent–to bring people together for those few moments.  And they knew how important it was that they were Americans.  Black Americans.  That it wasn’t about the color of their skin or even the content of their characters in that moment.  They were simply Americans, singing their National Anthem for other Americans.

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

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All the talk about Whitney Houston’s tragic death and the reviews of her career have got me thinking.  Not about Whitney, per se, but about “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

One of Houston’s star turns was her performance of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991.  She had the style of voice and just enough vocal range to knock it out of the park, a truly fine performance of a song that I consider almost unsingable.  The reminder that she did it well made me think of other times I’ve heard excellent performances of our National Anthem.  There was a common denominator to the ones I picked out.

First of all, since “The Star-Spangled Banner” is unsingable except by someone with a remarkable voice and vocal range (think opera, not pop/rock), instrumental/orchestral versions are almost always superior.  But of the times I’ve heard it sung more than passably by a popular singer, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye are the two that come to mind.  And instrumentally, I am especially partial to Jimi Hendrix’s sunrise anthem at Woodstock (god bless the solid body electric guitar).  And it suddenly dawned on me that all the versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I find truly inspiring (well, the ones that don’t involve either patriotic events or small children) are all by African-Americans.  It’s an interesting coincidence.

Race relations in the United States, especially between blacks and whites, are difficult to discuss.  It’s such an emotional, complicated topic that even today, when we have an African-American president, it is impossible to come to any sort of resolution.  Of course, that may be because there is no resolution yet.  Racism will always exist, and those of us who believe in equality and freedom will always have to battle people who think ignorance and bigotry are a god-given right.  We fought a horrible civil war largely over the racist institution of slavery.  We had to amend the Constitution to make sure that black people were given the same civil rights as white people.  We’ve had to bring in military troops just so black students can attend school with white students.  The Supreme Court had to rule that there is no such thing as “separate but equal” before racist laws were struck down.  There is nothing about the history of black-white relations in this country that is not somehow tinged with (often bloody) struggle.

I used to wonder when I was younger why so many African-Americans made everything about race, why they were always bringing it in to every conversation and discussion.  And then it dawned on me (thank you Ralph Ellison): It’s always about race for black people because white people never, ever let them forget that they’re black.  They’re not the ones making it about race; it’s a white-dominated society with its institutionalized racism making it about race.

Which makes the fact that these performances of our National Anthem especially poignant.  It’s not something that gets highlighted very often, and I’ll bet Whitney, Marvin, and Jimi were well aware of it.  They understood the power they had–the power of their talent–to bring people together for those few moments.  And they knew how important it was that they were Americans.  Black Americans.  That it wasn’t about the color of their skin or even the content of their characters in that moment.  They were simply Americans, singing their National Anthem for other Americans.

Whitney Houston

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I don’t own a single Whitney Houston song.  I did once, a long time ago, have the cassette single of “How Will I Know” because it was cute and catchy (I listened to the clip on itunes to remind myself why I might’ve liked it once).  She had a remarkable voice, but I never really could get past the over-production and schmaltz.  She just never clicked with me.

I think probably her finest moment as a popular singer was her cover of “I Will Always Love You.”  The production was just showy enough to highlight what she did best, which was belt out a song like she was making her Broadway debut.  It was also some of the finest material she ever worked with (probably one of Dolly Parton’s best songs); it was one of the few songs she did that wasn’t marred at all by being a by-the-numbers, assembly line sort of tune.  It was also the last great moment she had on record.  After The Bodyguard, her career went steadily downhill, punctuated by her marriage to Bobby Brown and her problems with addiction.

I feel terrible about her death because she was relatively young, and it was so unexpected.  I’m not going to speculate, although I’ll bet her addictions had something to do with it, either directly or indirectly.  It’s just sad when something like this happens.  I hope her family can find comfort in knowing that many people loved Whitney and found pleasure in her singing.