Monday, February 13, 2012

The Last Song

Billie Holliday.  Judy Garland.  Janis Joplin.  Jim Morrison.  Michael Jackson.  And now, Whitney Houston.  Probably others, but these are the singers who came to mind when I thought about singers who died young, who died before they could grow old and enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Why is it that some singers take care of themselves and others self-destruct?  You have a Celine Dion who was discovered quite young, burst onto the music scene, and continues to sing and enjoy success now.  How is she different?

Last night we saw the new play about Judy Garland's final months in London, End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis.  Judy Garland died in 1969 at only 47 years old.  Her voice showed the ravages of her addictions to alcohol, prescription pills, and cigarettes.  Her behavior focused on pleasing people -- her new manager and fiance, Mickey Deans, her pianist, her public.  At least until the pressures began to overwhelm her, and then she needed her "friends."  Those closest to her tried to keep her off the pills and alcohol, but they had as much invested in The Judy Garland as Garland herself, and they needed the money.  Fame eats a person alive who does not have a strong sense of self-worth and seeks approval all the time.  Judy Garland just kept singing long after her voice had been sung out.

No secret what alcohol and drugs, even nicotine, do for a person.  They make her feel good.  How can substances that do that also be so bad for you?  The human body is a finely tuned and balanced organism filled with interdependent organic systems.  Introducing a chemical substance into her has an effect, whether negative or positive.  Those that activate the pleasure center of the brain produce pleasure, and for someone who may be in pain, emotional or physical, they can stop the pain.  But they don't remove the cause of the pain, and long-term use can disrupt the finely tuned organic systems in the body.  In Judy Garland's case, she was in some deep emotional and psychological pain because of her lost childhood, the way the studio treated her as a child star, and not getting the emotional support that she so desperately needed as a child and teen.  She didn't moan about it.  She drowned the pain in alcohol and pills, and she complained that all her husbands had abandoned her.

The myth exists that the most creative people are those who've had the worst childhoods, who have the most emotional pain, or even, who have mental illness of some kind.  But not all highly creative types fit that profile.  We don't hear much about them, though.  They tend to lead more balanced lives, have strong families and loyal friends, and they don't get into trouble or draw the attention in some other way of the tabloids.  They can be world famous or only famous in their field of endeavor.  They have little need for attention, approval, or for others to make them happy and try to assuage their neediness.  They are not the big personalities (egos) or demanding Divas.  They're not news.  

After I heard the news of Whitney Houston's death, I thought of Michael Jackson.  All the music I was hearing with the news stories were songs from 20 years ago.  Like Jackson, Houston had allowed herself to lose her focus on singing and music in favor of other things that gave her pleasure, so all we have of them they produced years before their deaths, and for the time after there's nothing.  Three times in rehab, marriage, a lovely daughter, a divorce.  Houston wanted to return to singing and music now, but she still needed her "friends" apparently in order to do it.  It saddens me beyond belief that her "friends" won her and not the music.  Not us.

Rest in Peace, Whitney Houston.  At least now you are out of pain, no more anxiety, no more pressure to be the singer you were 20 years ago instead of the singer you are now.  My condolences to your family.....

Credit: CBS News

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