Down a ski jump on a toboggan: I'm smart about some things, but there are other things I don't understand. What is it, for instance, with the public and singers from the '80s and '90s? Just as a (somewhat remote) observer of the culture, I find myself greatly mystified by the to-do over Whitney Houston's recent passing. A woman who had a few hit songs twenty years ago and sang a famous version of the national anthem at a sporting event. And who used her rags-to-riches success to step up to a famously abusive marriage and a decades-long drug-addled debauch that all but ruined her once-famous voice. She wasn't even responsible to her own talent.
Not a life it would have occurred to me to celebrate. More like a cautionary tale arguing against fame and success as an entertainer, if you ask me. She could have ended up the same if she'd stayed poor and unknown in New Jersey—just with worse-quality drugs.
At least I understood the hubbub over Jacko, even if I didn't feel it. But in Whitney Houston's case I'm genuinely surprised. She was certainly a fox when she was young, and seemed like a nice enough person before she took the well-worn path.
She ranks as the #7 solo singer of the '80s, with five hits, none in the Top Ten. Her highest-placing song from that decade went to #13. [The foregoing is disputed in the Comments section (q.v.). —Ed.] Her huge hit from the '90s, a movie tie-in, was a cover of a country song by Dolly Parton. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (I admit Whitney's version was better, even if I hated it.)
Not long thereafter she launched herself on a downward slide like she was bombing down a ski jump on a toboggan.
At this rate I can hardly imagine the paroxysm of public grief we'll see when Mariah Carey dies. And Madonna...her best song (which was not, however, a good song) vaulted all the way to #4 in 1984. The public will be beside itself when it loses her.
It's not like I'm unsympathetic. I'll be the same way when we lose the incomparable Sonny Rollins. At least he'll deserve every public plaudit he gets. But somehow I don't think he'll be the lead story on the NBC Nightly News and dominate TMZ and Entertainment Tonight for a week. Pity.
More passion. Always passion: Regular readers might be dimly aware that one of my pet peeves is the thorough (and curious) appropriation by the business world of the word "passion," which now shows up with dispiriting inevitability in everything corporate, from resumés to company mission statements to advertisements.
UPDATE: Christian Payne reminded me where I caught this bug originally (I'd forgotten): from David Mitchell.
Sometimes, however, I do get a laugh out of it.
Apparently, some years back, the head honcho of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, decided his company needed a car "...designed with passion, not by committee." That was the genesis of the just-announced FT-86 and its siblings and cousins. It's my kind of car, so I've followed the rollout pretty closely, even though I don't need and can't afford another car. Anyway, watching videos of various car shows, promos, and events for journalists, I've seen a number of Toyota's employees, from engineers to PR hacks, dutifully repeating that exact line, with no evident irony over the fact that parroting a slogan might in this case directly contradict the spirit of the actual slogan itself....
Makes me chuckle each time one of them says it.
The phrase has backfired on me recently, though. It just struck me as I was driving down the road looking at cars the other day that the opposite of that nice little corporate slogan is true for most cars on the road: "designed by committee, not with passion." Cars pass by in the opposite lane, one after the other, and I'm thinking, yep...yep...that one too...and that one....
Serves me right, I guess. Behind humor, a little sadness.
The consequences of cheese: They say you should never tell stories about the ones you love, and I do love my doggie. Lulu was found in the park in Chicago by my friend Gabi, who was literally Lulu's savior. Gabi's a triathlete, and trains in the park, and she became aware of Lulu on her daily runs. Lulu was barely more than a puppy, limping from a leg injury, all her ribs showing, scrounging for food and getting chased away from picnics. It took Gabi three days to entice Lulu into her car.
Turned out Lulu was an escapee from a man who might have been a breeder of fighting dogs. Given the way Lulu could leap—she was a prodigious jumper when she was young—it's no stretch to imagine her jumping over that breeder's iron fence to freedom.
Gabi nursed her back to health and then, with three elderly cats in the house, faced the inevitable, and put out an email blast to her friends—anyone want a puppy?
Before Lulu, I'd always seen myself as a Labrador kind of guy. And nothing against Labs, who are wonderful too, but now, having owned a terrier, I don't think I'll ever own anything else. Lulu is extremely smart, very owner-centric, and good-natured to the core. At least to the ones she loves. She has the kind of nature we all should aspire to—accommodating, even-tempered, and deep-down tolerant. In six years I've never seen her in a bad mood.
She does have one marked quirk, though. She doesn't understand her own...well, flatulence.
She loves to eat cheese, and begs for her share most effectively, with a soulful, mournful look in her eyes that could melt ice. But even very small amounts of cheese make her fart.
And she doesn't seem to understand where in the world the farts come from. Smart as she is, she just has no clue that the farts are coming from her.
She can be lying peacefully in her chair, and I'll hear a little pffft—and Lulu will leap up, shocked and surprised, jump down from the chair, and look around in confusion. The implication is crystal-clear...she's thinking who the hell did that?
She evidently thinks there's some sort of invisible enemy loose in the house that likes to occasionally poke her in the rectum.
The worst is when she farts, jumps, and then looks at me, like I did it.
I take great umbrage at this, of course, and defend myself—but I do it in English, and Lulu, with a vocabulary of maybe fifty words, only understands very rudimentary English. She's not getting it when I say, "What are you looking at me for? I'd never do that! I have no interest in goosing your butt, you dog, you!"
She doesn't get it. She'll still look accusingly at me or Zander sometimes, when she gets a goose from the ghost.
I try my best not to give her cheese. That's the only thing that reliably keeps the ghost away.
She's a very smart animal—really. She understands most things in her life. Just not that.
UPDATE: Having done more research since this morning, it appears that W.H. was a much bigger star than I realized, so it may well be that my "lack of understanding" is due to nothing more than my own ignorance about an artist who didn't happen to interest me. I mean, in my world, Howe Gelb is a huge star.... —MJ
On Sundays, Yr. Hmbl. Blggr. occasionally writes about things he doesn't understand in "Open Mike."
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Featured Comment by Raymond Alexander: "I don't get it, either. I do find it amusingly appropriate that you chose to cram Whitney Houston and dog farts together in the same post... "
Mike replies: ...Some people like it...
Featured [partial] Comment by sven: "I absolutely understand your lack of understanding for the hype surrounding the passing of Mrs. Houston. But after having read today's post completely, I was, to say the least, astonished, how you could merge the discussion of aspects of commemoration of the dead with a discussion of Lulu's farts. "
Mike replies: ...And some people don't. (That should be the maxim of blogging.)
Featured Comment by Simon: "It's 20 years since our beloved Old English Sheepdog Oscar died but remembering his identical behaviour (to Lulu) when farting still brings a broad grin to my face. After someone had made a noise while simultaneously touching his backside he'd look round the room for the perpetrator, glare at me (at least I think he was glaring, difficult to tell under all that hair) and then move to a corner where nobody could sneak up on him (but sooner or later—somehow—they always did). Gosh I miss him. ~laughs~ "
Featured Comment by Andrew: "An uncharacteristically snarky comment about Ms. Houston. If you can't say anything nice...."
Mike replies: I disapprove of the glorification of addicts. The only good one is a recovering one. Ms. Houston was just another addict. Her signal accomplishment for the last twenty years was ruining her own life and making everyone around her unhappy. (The reason I know she did is that all addicts do.) For this, she's celebrated like a cultural icon and a tragic heroine. Bah.
Featured Comment by Edward Taylor: "The thing about Whitney Houston is that it's not really about Whitney at all. Connections that people feel toward someone they don't know personally, but only know about because of fame, are not about the famous person, but about ourselves. In order to keep this comment reasonably short, I will leave it at that.
"The comment you made, Mike, is understandable and honest from your perspective. Publishing it is probably a no-win situation as it may offend many who were saddened by her loss, whether reasonably or not. Remember, Andy Rooney's only apology was for comments he made after Kurt Cobain died. He didn't understand that Kurt was really important to a lot of people even though they didn't know him personally.
"Whitney was a human being and many could see a bit of themselves or someone they know in her dealings with depression, drugs, violence, etc. Her worth cannot be judged by the number of number one hits she had. Most of us have had none, but are still loved by those who care for us and will be sorely missed when we are gone.
"On the one hand, Whitney squandered incredible talent and a promising life, but her death is significant because she had touched many lives through her fame and so many felt they knew her."
Featured Comment by Peter: "To give Whitney Houston her due, she had perhaps the greatest voice in pop music of her generation. And therein lies the tragedy of her life. I think that's the fascination. This is worth checking out—one of her songs with just her vocal track. In this digitally fixed autotuned musical era, the loss of her voice is something worth mourning."
Mike replies: That's very interesting, but her voice still doesn't grab me. To me it sounds technically competent but not sincere or expressive.
I've always thought singing voices are like physical attraction—there's a weird alchemy that gives certain voices a magical appeal to each of us as individuals while others, no matter how "good," leave us untouched. And which is which is different for everyone. Bob Marley could have sung the phone book and I'd've listened. I tend not to be moved by slickness and skill—when singers on "American Idol" launch into bellowing fiorituras and the audience swoons with delight, I get nothing. As for W.H., maybe her mojo just don't work on me.
Note that in no way am I saying "I'm right and others should agree with me." I'm only stating what's true for me.
Featured [partial] Comment by Stan B.: "I think Whitney an incredible voice and talent—although one (like Madonna's) I could never ever appreciate. And it was certainly disheartening to see her embrace an addict's lifestyle with as seemingly much fervor as she did her professional life. It not only cost her a considerable part of that gift, but more sadly, perhaps a bit of herself as well—to the end she still had an addict's affect. Perhaps we lost a teachable moment here in not emphasizing the 'after' aspects of her life as a precautionary warning. Or perhaps, in this instance, the masses do, in fact, have it right by not harping on the obvious."
Featured Comment by a2b: "I agree with what sven wrote above, and would like to add that, in my opinion, this is probably the worst post I've read here."
Featured Comment by Robin P.: "I was so distracted by Lulu's antics that I completely forgot to mention how much I approved of your questioning the fuss over certain pop stars. Thank you."
Featured Comment by Jim Dobbins: "Bravo! Your depiction has me laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes. Our dogs seem not to notice dog flatulence. They take great exception and do seem to understand when it originates from humans."
Featured Comment by The Lazy Aussie: "Yes, where was the national wailing when Rodney Dangerfield died? Dude didn't get no respect."