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Whitney Houston: Conflicted Soul?

My first thoughts upon reading this morning about Whitney Houston’s death at the age of just 48 were most unworthy of a Christian. I recalled a conversation with another young Christian at church when she was first famous. My friend Karen said, “Isn’t it great that Whitney Houston is a born-again Christian?” I gave her a withering reply. “Oh yes? ‘Saving All My Love For You‘ – that nice Christian song about adultery?”

I went on to think about her cover of George Benson‘s ‘The Greatest Love Of All‘. All the stuff about building up children’s self-esteem might be very well meant, but ultimately it’s pop psychobabble about self-love, closer to narcissism or idolatry.

And as for her cover of Dolly Parton‘s ‘I Will Always Love You‘ that substituted bombast for Parton’s delicacy, don’t get me started. For my money, Linda Ronstadt got the balance right:

To me, Whitney Houston took the soul out of soul music and prepared the ground for the horrors of Mariah Carey.

Like I said, not a very Christian reaction, however true, or however much I might feel I had legitimate arguments for these points of view. This was hardly taking seriously the sensitive social convention not to speak ill of the dead, even if I did so only in my own mind.
But then I found a link to a Christianity Today piece in 2009 (via Tony Watkins on Friendfeed) that spun off her then latest release, an album called ‘I Look To You’. It detailed her upbringing in gospel music. I knew that. It acknowledged her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown and her crack cocaine addiction. I knew that, too. It set out her connections with the gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans. It talked about lyrics and interview comments that were by turn both opaque and transparent in terms of faith. Now it was showing me things about her of which I was ignorant.

And I wondered … you never can tell what is behind the smoke and mirrors of PR machines, but maybe she was someone who struggled when she made the stepped into the wider world from the church. Plenty of people do. They are people we are meant to help and support.

Not that I knew her. (Obviously.) As a friend of mine called Matt Bird posted on Facebook this evening,

I will always remember Whitney Houston responding to a crowd of fans declaring their love for her. “How can you love me? You don’t even know me!”

Almost all of the commentary is guesswork, and maybe not all of it is appropriate. But I hope she found that grace was always there for her struggles and torments.

I think that’s a more worthy Christian response.

Christmas Playlist

A plague on the X-Factor, with its manufactured music and manufactured hype to get the Christmas Number One. (Not that any of these things are new.) So a campaign to usurp it, like the previous one to get Jeff Buckley‘s version of Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Hallelujah

up the charts, rather than Alexandra Burke‘s, is something I would welcome.

Except I can’t really go for Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Killing In The Name‘, with its proliferation of f-words. Sorry.

But more positively, it set me thinking about what would be on my personal Christmas playlist.

Sufjan Stevens‘ 5-EP collection ‘Songs For Christmas‘ contains so many gems.  How about his version of ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing’?

For fun, you have to have Dylan. Yes, really: the old goat is laugh-a-minute. The recent ‘Must be Santa’ has to be in there:

Bruce Cockburn‘s ‘Christmas‘ CD from the 1990s was pretty stunning. ‘Joy to the world’ is but one of the gems – unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to add the video into WordPress either directly or indirectly, so click here or possibly here to see it. Anyway, you won’t be surprised to find Cockburn in this list, since this blog’s name is inspired by him!

Back to the daft, and I have an irrational affection for ‘I Want An Alien For Christmas’ by the Fountains Of Wayne:

And for real Christmas kitsch, there’s nothing like a pseudo-Phil Spector sound, so over to Bruce Springsteen for ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’:

Or for the real thing, Darlene Love and ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’:

I mean, you just don’t need Mariah Carey, do you?

Of the mainstream big Christmas hits, there’s something I like about the guitar sound on Chris Rea‘s ‘Driving Home For Christmas’:

But where’s the Christian stuff?  Randy Stonehill has written a couple. I can’t find a video online of ‘Christmas Song For All Year Round’, but someone has put pictures to the poignant ‘Christmas At Denny’s’:

For Christian cynicism about the commercial season, I can’t trace a video by Larry Norman himself of his song ‘Christmastime’, but here is Stonehill’s version, complete with the immortal lines

Christmastime is coming and the kids are getting greedy
They know it’s in the store because they’ve seen it on the TV

Well, that’s just some random stuff from me. What do you love at this time of year? What can’t you stand?