Saturday was another sad night for us children of the 80s. Whitney Houston’s death wasn’t a huge surprise; we all saw the way she lived. The surprise was that this didn’t happen a decade ago. Yet it is still a little chilling when someone who was such a big part of your youth dies before we think they should.
This isn’t going to be a long ode to Whitney. As a fan of Top 40 music, I liked her a lot from her debut until 1988 or so. But I never owned one of her albums1 and as my tastes changed, she became less relevant to me. Even as I continued to listen to R&B into the mid-90s, I was a much bigger fan of younger singers like Mary J. Blige than Whitney.
That doesn’t minimize her passing.
What it made me think about, though, was how little Michael Jackson’s death affected me when he passed. The explanation for that is easy: he had become a freak, a joke, someone I didn’t necessarily want my children to know about. His antics and time and completely disconnected the man in the 21st century from his artistic peak. When he died, I remember kind of rolling my eyes and thinking, “Big surprise,” and never really taking the time to honor his career.
But since then, each time I hear one of his songs, I realize I owed him more than that. He was a brilliant entertainer. Even when it wasn’t necessarily cool to like him, I did. And while I was always a bigger Prince fan, I still loved every single second of Thriller and most of Bad. His music was an undeniable part of my childhood and one of the true voices of my generation. I love how my girls recognize his voice and ask me about him.2
Had he lived, Michael Jackson would not be making great, or even relevant music today. But it’s a shame that he, and Whitney for that matter, had so many demons that he was unable to manage.
So rest in peace Michael. I should have said that long ago.
And rest in peace Whitney.