I do not know why her passing has hit me so hard. Well, I do, and it’s the same thing that everyone is out there shouting. Too soon, too early, too tragic. I listened to Whitney Houston as a child and then well into middle school. I was an R and B fan and a fan of women with big voices until about the 8th grade, when someone gave me a Stone Temple Pilots album. (Now, there is another tragic fellow, Scott Weiland.) Her songs were the ones played at the dances and heard on the radio as my mother and I drove around. We would also lay in bed listening to my mother’s clock radio. Houston would sing and you would feel something special in the lyrics, move to the beat in ways that we do not experience in today’s music. There was gravity and confidence that flowed from her. She was a special soul and I am grateful to have seen her in concert.
But back to the matter at hand. What is it that happens, though? Amy Winehouse, Chris Herren (basketball star) Scott Weiland, Janis Joplin and countless others of great talent in many different lines of work. People say it is the attention, the limelight and all the eyes on you. The expectation level. I think that is part of it. I think it is more likely the need to perform at your best, always, and to hopefully top your last, best performance. I mean when you sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, as we head into the Persia Gulf War, and then the song goes on to stay at the top of charts for the next few weeks, where do you go from there? Where? How do you redefine perfection? You can’t! People of normal talent abilities cannot imagine that level of achievement. And, the truth is, neither can people of extraordinary achievement. We would get scared and they get scared, too. They become worried that they will not be able to reach nirvana. Chris Herren’s statistics as a young basketball player reached such high levels that only his brother and, one Patrick Ewing are in his company. Where do you go from company like that? How does this not warp the way you see the world and how you look at your past and future. To make deep court 3 pointer, with only one shoe on? Where do you go from there?
I am a definite perfectionist. I’m interested in whether these famous souls are more concerned with perfection or staying relevant. I think it is like every else in our lives, it is a combination of things. Our celebrities are expected to be perfect, though. I feel, as a normal civilian that is a perfectionist, that there is lens upon me to do the best I can. Nothing else will do. I am confident that they feel this pressure, too, but it is amplified by all the voices, critics and peoples’ who’s lives depend on their ability to make money. In today’s world anyone can be relevant, but true talent is rare. Relevancy is what makes money. Thanks to auto-tune and other short cuts allotted to us in our modern world, with the right marketing and team behind the celebrity, anyone can have their “15 minutes of fame” as Andy Warhol put it. Whitney Houston had true, raw natural talent. Chris Herren had true, raw talent. They both were afflicted by the same disease; the disease that tells you do not have a disease: Addicton. Chris Herren is alive, working on his disease, every day. What caused them to develop this disease is a desire to be perfect because, that was the expectation set both by themselves and placed upon them by others. They needed an out, a quick release valve. It was drugs and alcohol. I can see the double whammy of duel-edged, perfectionism and expectation as a form of trauma. I can see people turning on themselves and destructing themselves, because they have achieved their dreams. But suddenly, they do not want what they earned. A case of “Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.” Sad, because many, I assume, must forget and lose the passion they once had for their talent. Enjoyment is gone, it is a job. They tell themselves, ” guess what you got yourself into this and there is no way out.” Yet, also you are angry at the people around you, too. Pushing and pushing you harder and harder. Your life looks glamorous, but you must be dying inside.
This reminds me of Andre Agassi’s book and his admission that he hated tennis. And why wouldn’t he when his father made him stay out on the court and fire tennis balls at him from a super-powered ball machine. Fear, both psychological and physical. Safety…. there is another issue. Where are you safe when you have achieved such celebrity? No where. Or only in an altered state.
All of the above are (poorly written) theories. Every person, like every snowflake, has a different imprint.
Certainly, there are many other people, that are extraordinarily successful and are able to keep things in perspective. I think of George Clooney as an example. One thing I see in him, and others, is the component of service to an organization or cause. Not just writing a check, which he may do, but also getting physically and mentally involved. Service gets you out of yourself and focused on someone else. I heard Whitney talk about caring for her daughter and still that was not enough. It may not be the only solution, but like many other multi-faceted issues, it is part of the puzzle toward a meaningful life. Sit down and listen to someone. Wash some dishes. Get involved with an organization that needs help. Give, give, give and you will receive so much. You may save your own life or be party to saving someone else’s life.
[To learn more about Chris Herren watch the ESPN documentary Unguarded or read the book he authored with a Providence Journal writer called Basketball Junkie. ]