Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Clef Notes: The Always Is Not Forever Edition

Every Friday, or at least until his spectacular rock star flameout, Giovanny will be dropping a week’s worth of music knowledge on you with Clef Notes, proof positive that he’s a one man music magazine.


Whitney Houston 1963-2012

RIP: When I began writing Clef Notes some 70 or so editions ago, I never once imagined that I would be writing about death as often as I have. I suppose I was just being naive. Death, after all, is a universal aspect of any life-cycle; stars, planets, trees, people, everything dies. I’ve written several tributes for fallen artists and musical luminaries through the years, and this latest encomium is for Whitney Houston.

Born August 9th, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, Houston was legacied into singing the way that some are to Ivy League universities. Her mother was gospel legend Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick was her cousin, and Houston’s Godmother was Aretha Franklin. By the time Houston was a mere 11 years old it was already obvious that she possessed considerable musical talent, as she was singing solos in her junior gospel choir while also learning the piano, which led to her performing at night clubs with her mother during her early teenage years. At the age of 14 Houston sang back-up on the Michael Zager’s Band single Life Is A Party. One year later, Houston sang backup on Chaka Kahn’s debut solo album, Chaka, which included the track I’m Every Woman. The song was Kahn’s first number one single and would later become an even bigger hit for Houston when she remade it for The Bodyguard soundtrack .

By the time the early 80s arrived, Houston had broadened her ambition and was working as a fashion model, becoming one of the first women of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Houston’s mother had dictated that her daughter was not allowed to sign a record deal until she was finished with high school, so it wasn’t until 1983 that Clive Davis became her mentor, and signed her to Arista Records, beginning what was to become one of the most successful musical careers of any female artist, ever.

Any woman you know born before 1980 has owned at least three copies of this record.

Some of our younger readers may not understand this, but Whitney Houston was as huge an artist as one could possibly be back in the mid-80s and early 90s. Houston’s debut album, Whitney Houston, was released in February of 1985 and, although it was widely acclaimed by critics, it did poorly commercially in its initial weeks. By the time the summer of 1985 arrived, the album had become a massive success, netting three number one singles, topping the Billboard charts for 14 weeks, and eventually going on to sell 25 million copies worldwide (just so you understand, the entire music industry hasn’t sold that many records combined over the last couple of years). Houston's sophomore effort, Whitney, was another enormous success (20 million units worldwide), as it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, a first for any female artist in music history, while also generating another three number one singles, earning Houston the record for most number one singles in a row (7), and breaking a mark set by The Beatles and Bee Gees.

Houston’s mammoth success over her first three albums made her one of the county's biggest, most respected, and most sought after stars. As the 90s began, Houston’s career ascended to yet another level, as she starred in The Bodyguard alongside Kevin Costner, a movie which earned over 400 million at the box office, and featured a Houston-anchored soundtrack that sold over 40 million copies worldwide (the highest-selling soundtrack of all time), mainly on the strength of Houston’s rendition of the Dolly Parton classic I Will Always Love You. Houston went on to appear in a few other movies during the 90s, but her musical output began to diminish, and when she married Bobby Brown in 1992 things began to change.

Let's choose to remember her like this.

As the nineties came to an end Houston’s persona was noticeably different. She began acting erratically, often arriving late for scheduled events, and cancelling numerous concerts and talk-show appearances. Such behavior, coupled with what looked like extreme weight loss, began fueling rumors of drug use, and in 2000 TSA agents at a Hawaii airport found marijuana in both Houston and Brown’s luggage. Two months later her mentor Clive Davis was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame. Houston was scheduled to perform a tribute, but never made it to the ceremony. The singer’s life continued to spiral downward through the rest of the oughties, and though there were some moments when Houston tried to make a comeback, or just get her life together, none of those efforts ever stuck or truly amounted to anything tangible. In 2006 Houston filed for divorce from Brown, and after a convoluted legal battle, she retained custody of their child Bobby-Christina.

The last few years of Houston’s time on this earth unfortunately ended the song of her life on a somber and somewhat tragic, note. It appears that the substance abuse and inner demons that Houston had struggled with proved to be too much for her to handle. On February 11th, 2012, her 48 year old body was found submerged in a bath tub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Los Angeles, California. The L.A. county coroner has determined that the cause of death was a lethal combination of alcohol, Xanax, and other prescription drugs.

Houston’s remains have been flown to her native New Jersey where a funeral service will be held this Saturday and, because this is the world we live in now, will be streamed online. We at Culture Blues extend our most sincere condolences to Houston’s family and fans around the world. "The Voice" is gone.

I would come up with a cruel joke about what Brown did to this dog after this photo was taken, but it would probably just titillate some of you ladies.

GRRRRR!: This week really reinforced a belief that I've had for quite a while now: Chris Brown is the absolute worst. After watching the Grammys give him a vigorous hand-job on National television Sunday night, I hoped foolishly that Brown would be gracious and humble now that he has been forgiven by the music industry. Instead, he went on to show the world that he is still an immature and remorseless dick.

First there was the tweet (that got quickly erased) wherein he let haters like me know that I could: “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That's the ultimate FUCK OFF”. Is it the ultimate "FUCK OFF," Chris? When people hear your name are they going to think “Grammy winner” or “coward who engaged in domestic violence”? We both know it’s going to be the latter.

Brown's lack of perspective shouldn't come as a surprise. Did you know that Chris Brown's latest pickup line is “Promise I won’t beat you”? Seriously. Numerous reports have surfaced which state Brown dropped that line on a woman at the Grammy’s gift lounge last weekend (I'm sure his current girlfriend Karrueche Tran loves that). I can’t even fathom that sort of insensitivity, and I would say that there is no chance a line like that could ever work on a woman... but then I read this Buzzfeed story about the alarming number of women on Twitter who would let Chris Brown beat them, and I was left speechless. I am not even going to bother forming an opinion about these women, because idiocy takes all kinds, but my opinion on Brown is resolute and unwavering: he is a total fucking disgrace, and a despicable human.


Reign Of Terror - Sleigh Bells

It goes without saying that if Reign Of Terror was the debut record of some unknown band that it would be considered a massive triumph (I feel like I use that line often), but as the highly anticipated follow up to Treats, it somehow leaves me feeling slightly unsatisfied. I guess I feel the band lost something imperceivable somewhere in the more conventional song structures, and greater commercial ambitions. It could be just me though, because this record is a sweet listen, and well worth checking out - just check your expectations at the door... [Full Review]

16th Notes:


In a prank of near epic proportions the world’s second most famous helmet-wearing DJ, Deadmau5, walked the Grammy red carpet while wearing a t-shirt which had dub-trend-setter Skrillex’s phone number printed on it, and the caption “U Mad Bro?” (see picture). I wonder what Skrillex is planning for retribution? I would definitely do something involving Deadmua5’s home address, or perhaps befouling one of those fancy helmets... Some photos were posted on Odd Future’s Tumblr which seem to indicate that they are collaborating with Kanye West. And we all thought the Watch The Throne hype was insufferable...Legendary kraut-rock/electronica group Kraftwerk has announced a 3D concert series at New York’s MOMA, wherein they will play eight of their studio albums in full over eight nights. If your friends are anything like mine then you learned about these concerts when they made Facebook blow up on Wednesday... The 2012 Bonnaroo lineup has been announced and Radiohead will indeed be performing. Who wants to take a roadtrip to Tennessee?.. You can stream the new Sleigh Bells record, Reign Of Terror, in its entirety over at the New York Times website. No one knows music like the New York Times, yo!.. Adele put an end to any possible hiatus speculation when she let the world know she would be headed back into the studio five days after the upcoming Brit Awards. There was no way she was going to take a hiatus people, this young lady is the entire music industry these days... The captivating Jay Retard documentary, Better Than Something, is set to get its first theatrical run in select markets around the country. If you are lucky enough to have this movie playing in your city, get tickets now... The Beach Boys have let us all in on their extensive tour plans for 2012. I was super excited for this tour once, then I saw their Grammy performance... In other tour news, Marilyn Manson has announce some 2012 tour dates. I bet he misses playing arenas more than I miss the 90s... Dexy’s Midnight Runners are prepping their first new album in over 27 years. I don’t get this move at all, did Come On Eileen suddenly have a resurgence in popularity?.. In a recent interview with Billboard, longtime Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed told the magazine that the original Guns lineup will be attending the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony this April 14th, though there has been no confirmation as to whether or not they will be performing. So far so good, Lord...

Top Ten List:

This list needs no explaining. Here are the ten best Whitney Houston songs of all time.

10)Where Do Broken Hearts Go
9) Didn’t We Almost Have It All
8) I’m You Baby Tonight
7) So Emotional
6) Saving All My Love For You
5) Greatest Love Of All
4) I Wanna Dance With Somebody
3) I’m Every Woman
2) I Will Always Love You
1) How Will I Know?

Track Of The Week:

Cartoon & Cereal - Kendrick Lamar [ft. Gunplay]: Kendrick Lamar isn’t just on fire these days, he is towering inferno of awesome. Fresh on the heels of his tremendous 2011 release, Section 8.0, comes Cartoon & Cereal, a sweet as hell collaboration with Gunplay (of Maybach Music fame) that conjures images of Saturday morning cartoons and a scant amount of drug use. I know it’s only February, but I highly doubt there will be a better song which name drops Scrooge McDuck all year.

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2 Responses »

  1. you do know that skrillex and deadmaus are bros and the whole thing was a joke, right?

    what rhymes with 'gullible'...

  2. Wait... They're bros? I didn't think Deadmaus' shirt made that clear. Thanks for clearing that up!