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She turned up dead on my Facebook feed Saturday night, and I can’t say I was surprised or even sad in a nostalgic kind of way. In one of those prescient ways that irony sometimes presents to us, I had just been thinking about her earlier in the day.
XM Radio is hosting another of its freebie weeks in hopes of luring back costumers who feel them once they realize how limited their playlists are, and as I was taking Dee and her little friend to soccer practice, one of Houston’s earlier hits warbled at me. It was a song I was fond of back in its day but it has aged poorly. The lyrics were thin to begin with and I always felt that the song ended a bit off-balance in poetic terms. It occurred to me – again - that despite her obvious talent, Houston had no ear for lyrics – what made them memorable and enduring. In fact, aside from her cover of the Dolly Parton tune, I Will Always Love You, which she performed for the film, The BodyGuard, I’d be hard put to name any song of hers that really doesn’t date itself.
Most of her hits came in the 80′s, a piss poor decade for music overall. Stack up enduring melodies from that decade against any of the others, and I’d bet the list is short by comparison. It launched, after all, the “me” generation and the consuming something-for-nothing, life’s-a -party attitudes that have landed us where we are now really.
Not that Houston is to blame for any of that. She was as much a victim of coming of age in the early 80′s as any of the rest of us. The pastels, Reganomics, Gordon Gekko, MTV superficiality tainted us all to one degree or another. Her shallow contributions doesn’t damn her anymore than it does the rest of us.
If anything about her death has touched me at all, it is the fact that we are the same age, born in the same year. Forty-eight is awfully young to drop dead though by all accounts she drowned in her tub after falling asleep. Xanax, liquor and a nice hot tub are probably not the best combination. That she takes Xanax at all makes her one of my peers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting the Xanax dependent among women in the United States anymore. It’s more of a go-to than anti-depressants it seems. That it’s an oversold, horribly addictive drug goes without saying. Most of the mood altering concoctions peddled by the family physcians in the States are dispensed without proper physcological assessments but that’s the way Big Pharma likes it.
Big Pharma, another thing the 80′s gave us that it wisely doesn’t brag about.
A Facebook writer friend noted on her status update that she’d spent the evening listening to Houston’s songs and crying and didn’t know why. She wasn’t that big of a fan. But I pointed out that Houston is a cultural marker. Her music, more than she herself, is part of the soundtrack of a time when many of us were growing up or trying to pretend that now we were grown up. Her death is a stark reminder that those days are long gone and though we fool ourselves most of the time into believing that we are not older but better, the truth is that we are truly grown and more than a bit adult now. Not in danger of somewhat carelessly drowning ourselves in our tubs, but certainly not impervious to time.
Time ravaged Whitney. Mostly with her assistance. But time is no friend to women in America. Look no farther than poor and to be pitied Demi Moore, who recently checked her anorexic, drug addled (wanna bet she’s got a bit of a Xanax problem herself?) self into rehab after she recently collapsed from being overly artifically stimulated. Or Heather Locklear? Remember her from Dynasty or her short skirt/long jacket days on Melrose Place? She tired to commit suidcide not long ago.
What do these women have in common? Growing old while female in the United States, a country that doesn’t like women much anyway and certainly has no use for those pretty ones who can’t retain some of their youth.
Look at Madonna. She’s 54. Can you imagine the pressure? Only if you are a women. Fifty-four and having to be twenty-five forever. If I didn’t know she was a devout yogi, I’d suspect Xanax use here too.
It’s hard to be surprised about Whitney Houston, however. A cocaine addict turned prescription drug abusing alcoholic isn’t the American dream but it’s probably not far off a lot of people of a certain age’s truths anymore. And that’s sad.