Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curtain closes on Whitney

Whitney Houston is dead. What?

I saw a snippet about it on the six o’clock news last night, texted my wife to let her know, and quickly checked Wikipedia to get more of the story. To my further surprise, the location of her death was listed as “Ottawa, Canada.”

When my wife got back from her night out with the ladies, I checked Wikipedia again and noticed that the location of death was changed to Beverly Hills, California, which made more sense to me. Did I really see “Ottawa” earlier? I went to the Revisions page for her Wiki article and hoped to see the modification entry that switched “Ottawa” to “Beverly Hills.” This was no easy task because her page was edited on average once every minute as details about her death emerged through a myriad of sources.

I eventually did find the “Ottawa” revision so I can rest assured I’m not losing my mind . . . yet. It did say on that revision page, though, that “Ottawa” was listed as uncited, which struck me as a textbook example of the problem of democratizing information like it is on wikis such as this one.

What mildly disturbed me as I skimmed through the revisions to her Wiki page was that it was both voyeuristic and gossipy at the same time. You could literally follow what happened to her minute-by-minute and the smallest detail took on immense proportions because of the emphasis it drew as it was posted. 

This “real-time” unfolding of events made me wonder how much of Freddie’s death would have been made public if he lived to see the digital era. It was bad enough to read about his final moments in the tabloids — and then in Jim Hutton’s book — but to remove what little privacy he had at his most vulnerable time would have been unbearable to him and his family. I’m sure that even the details surrounding his funeral would have made their way to the Internet.

So apart from lifestyle excess contributing to both of their deaths, I found some interesting convergences between them on-line. Most were a comparison of their vocal ability and which one was better, as this Yahoo Answers article asks:

There is an even more prolonged discussion about the two singers on this Yahoo Answers thread. Unlike the Queen fan above, however, most posters on the other thread focused on the technical merit of their voices, which doesn’t offer a complete picture of their musical talents.

Measuring the notion of “who’s better” should be explained in explicit, conceptualized terms. What are the variables used in determining “the best”? To merely say that one has a vocal range of x-number of octaves isn’t enough, in my opinion. All too often personal preference is the only rhetorical device used to make an argument, which is merely “he said, she said.” Who’s better: Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen? Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix? Picasso or Dali? 

Lots of singers have a tremendous range but who has sold more records? Who writes their own music and lyrics? Is simply being a vocalist as much of an accomplishment as a musician who creates all aspects of his or her music? Okay, let’s put Freddie up against Whitney as a vocalist— she may very well be better technically but let’s see her up against Elton John as a pianist or her up against Diane Warren for songwriting ability. 

(Sorry, I don’t mean to rag on Whitney. I just think comparing Freddie to Whitney merely on vocal ability is silly because the target keeps moving.)

Speaking of Whitney, I just finished watching The Grammys and thought her tribute was fitting. The musical guests this year were staggering, in my opinion. I was waiting for a Queen reference of some kind. I saw lots of Queen-related stuff going on (Gaga, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry) but managed to catch of snippet of Brian playing on Gaga’s Yoü and I when her album was announced as one of the nominees for Album of the Year. Adele ended up getting that award. Oh well.


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