/ 27 February 2012

Houston, you had a problem


There were many startling revelations in the tell-all interview Whitney Houston gave to Oprah, the queen of talk, in 2009. This included her binge-boozing and drugging, as well as the toxic love affair she had with her husband, Bobby Brown. She described him as having been her “drug”.

Houston related one of the lowest moments in the relationship, when Brown spat on her outside a club after they had had an argument about leaving the event.

Filled with what appeared to be shame, she told a visibly horrified Oprah that “he spat on me”. She kept repeating it as if she could not believe it had happened.

Spitting is disgusting and despicable. When people loosen phlegm from their throats and expel and direct at you, it is usually a sign of disgust and disdain. So when your husband spits on you, you cannot be confused about what it means: you repulse him. This is not someone who loves, honours or respects you. But still Houston stayed on, making bad choices over love.

Her death has raised all sorts of questions about the pressures on people in the entertainment industry. Drugs and alcohol seem to lubricate many a star’s rise to the top and their invariable downfall. It is never a story that ends well, yet no one seems to learn the lesson.

Following the news of Houston’s demise, some girlfriends and I held a wake at which we celebrated her life and mourned her loss, playing and singing along to all her hits.

The conversation revolved around what went wrong with her. When we were little girls, she represented everything we wanted to be. She was stunning, talented, thin, went to church, came from good folks and was a superstar.

Performers need constant affirmation and recognition and not just the idolatry and adulation they get from fans worldwide. They need to know that the people closest to them, who they trust, genuinely love them and have their best interests at heart. Because, at the end of it all, performers who care about their craft are often plagued by insecurities over whether they are appreciated.
It is a state of vulnerability that can be easy to exploit. And Houston was no exception, as Kevin Costner revealed in his moving tribute during her memorial service last Saturday.

Even though she was fêted worldwide as one of the greatest singers — and one of the most beautiful women — of her time, she still battled with the kind of insecurities and fears that plague most young people and women. “Was I good enough? Pretty enough? Would they like me?”

It must have been these same insecurities that made it so easy for her to choose to marry someone who seemed wholly inappropriate. But she loved him and he was her drug.

One of the other problems that Houston admitted to during her interview with Oprah was the fact that her success and stardom got in the way of her relationship with Brown. She was a multi-award winning singer, had several chart-topping hits and a blockbuster movie to her credit. Brown had been a hit with New Edition as a teenager and his new jack swing sound of the early 1990s was popular and made him a sex symbol but he was simply not on the same plane as Houston.

That was bound to create tensions. As she told Oprah, she ended up having to “dim her light” to accommodate his ego so that he would still love her.

Dimming her light does not seem to have worked, because he still resented her enough to spit on her. That is not to say that Brown is to blame for the failings in Houston’s life and the poor choices she made — but there is no discounting that he was a big contributor to her downfall because as her “drug”, her “fix”, he would have had a great deal of influence over her.

I know we can all get a bit crazy in love and do stupid things, but for such a phenomenal artist to die such an early and undignified death — alone in a hotel bathtub — must be a lesson to all of us to choose wisely.