Video: Pure breeze of natural talent became a promise unfulfilled
Published 13/02/2012 | 05:00
WHEN we mourn the loss of Whitney Houston, we don't mourn the loss of talent, because the talent was already gone. We mourn the terrible trajectory of modern fame that takes so many bright, joyous talents and destroys them, fixing them in an all-consuming glare that magnifies weaknesses, exploits ego and attacks vulnerability.
As fans and critics, observers and participants, we have to ask ourselves why the lives of so many of popular music's most exceptional and life-affirming artists end in tragedy.
Even if Whitney Houston's death at 48 should prove unrelated to the controversies that blighted her career -- her battles with drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships and depression -- the image that remains of her is of a kind of eclipse, a shining star thrown into darkness.
At 22, when she arrived on the world's stage, she seemed like a pure breeze of natural talent, a sweet, friendly girl with a gorgeous smile and a voice full of possibilities.
The juxtaposition that made her an instant superstar was this peculiar combination of girl-next-door freshness and supreme talent.
She was raised in music, daughter of a gospel singer (Cissy Houston), cousin of a soul star (Dionne Warwick), and goddaughter of a legend (Aretha Franklin).
But she didn't come across as prima donna royalty.
She had the bashful grace of a fairytale princess, a church-raised ingenue singing her heart out for the love of it.
Ms Houston personified a kind of youthful purity with bravura ability.
She played with that innocent image in her movie debut in 'The Bodyguard', which portrayed her as a sharp-tongued diva, before revealing the vulnerability beneath as she fell for a good man.
The reality turned out to be sadder and more twisted, a poisonous relationship with bad boy Bobby Brown exposing cracks in her image.
Ms Houston's fall from grace has been well chronicled but no less shocking, when she went from soul sweetheart to gaunt, confused, drug-addled diva, who famously dismissively declared "crack is wack". She made some entertaining films and catchy pop records, but she was a promise unfulfilled.
For all the raw edges in her life, she didn't really have the direct emotional musical expression of a true soul great.
Her attempted comeback in 2009 was disappointing, years of self-destructive behaviour having extracted a toll on her voice. Live shows were erratic, but in her prime, she could sing up a storm.
I have always been a sucker for a power ballad and Ms Houston was queen of the form. Surrender to the big notes at the end of 'I Will Always Love You' and you will hear something else.
There is a kind of exultancy, a sense of daring and freedom as the singer takes flight to see where her voice can take her. It is a dazzling escape into pure talent.
That is how we should remember her. (© Daily Telegraph, London)