When I was in my teens, one of my close friends worked at Merriweather Post Pavilion, an indoor-outdoor concert arena not too far from home. She shared with me probably true and often shocking stories about musical artists, which I filed away, never knowing whether I would access the information again.
One of those stories was that Whitney Houston surrounded herself with women. That she may have been a lesbian. That she didn’t trust men.
If I was 17 or 18 at the time, Whitney was probably 19 or 20 (do the math if you care how old I am). Not yet a full-blown star but well-known enough to headline at a venue where many of the biggest musical tours stopped to play.
I remember thinking Whitney was beautiful and that she had a big voice. Her songs never rose to the top of my favorites list but I can’t imagine anybody would claim that she lacked talent (or beauty). I never changed my opinion on those two things and probably never will, despite all we know about how she lived her life and how she probably died.
A friend (thanks LE) directed me to a blog post by Steve K, called Midnight Ramblings, which voiced this man’s sadness at not only the simple tragedy of musicians and other creative people dying before their time due to drug or alcohol addictions but the tremendous loss to humanity of the depth of what those voices, those people had to give. Steve provides an edited list of those artists he admired who died from substance abuse and it is full of people with true talent and genius.
I can’t explain how this makes me feel. I am deeply affected by the creative voices that come into my life. I am deeply saddened by the destructiveness present in many of their lives. But I am also angry at myself (and others) because of our unrealistic expectations of people, be they stars or neighbors or family or friends. I think we make things harder on ourselves and others, and we know we do this, yet we don’t stop. Or we won’t.
Every year a speaker from the Wellness Collaborative comes to speak about substance abuse with the middle schoolers and then with their parents at my daughter’s school. At this year’s parent meeting, which happened to be this past Friday, Will Slotnick gave us a statistic that really surprised me. He said that peer pressure is not the number one reason teenagers start drinking or doing drugs.
The number one reason teenagers drink or do drugs: stress. They can’t handle the pressure put on them by their culture, their family, their peers, themselves and turn to something that can and does relieve some of that pressure. It may not be a wise choice in a long-term sense, but in the short-term, they actually do get relief.
I remember feeling pressure as a high schooler and I was living in a time when decent grades, decent scores, and decent recommendations got you into a decent college where you got a degree and then got a decent job. I never felt like I had to be a star athlete or a student entrepreneur or a classical violinist to get a shot at making it in the world. But my kids are already worried about whether they will get into the colleges they want to go to and whether they will have a job when they get out.
I take some of the blame for their stressing over their futures. In my world, people are talking about what our kids need in order to get into good colleges and it isn’t just good grades and a desire to achieve. They need to be a ranked tennis player or a Senator’s child or a Broadway actress.
Now I know I’m exaggerating but I’m not too far off from what I hear and see regularly. And I want my children to have as many of the opportunities to succeed that are out there as they can get. So I push them to try new things, to find what they’re good at and excel, to think about what will make them stand out on a college application and beyond.
Which means I create part of the stress that my kids have to deal with daily. And I don’t know how to stop because I can’t pretend that doing what I did in high school is going to help them get where they want to go when so many others are working the system, a system that has the power to destroy the people it is supposed to support.
Whitney Houston is a casualty of our culture. So is the boy who committed suicide because he tried so hard to be straight and finally gave into being himself (gay) and was terrorized because of it.
What scares me is that my decent children (and yours) will feel so much pressure that they turn to short-term relief and then develop a habit which they depend upon so they can move forward without feeling like they are a disappointment or not able to keep up or not what they have been told they are supposed to be.
I don’t know if what my friend told me thirty years ago is true. The distrust of men comment could easily have been an 18 year old’s misinterpretation of a young singer wanting to be surrounded by her sisters and mother and close girlfriends because they gave her love. Or not. It doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.
What matters is that this beautiful talent is dead long before her time. How many more addiction-related deaths do we have to see before we take a step back and take some responsibility for the pressure-cooker culture we perpetuate? How many more do we have to see before we work smarter to make some necessary change?
I'd love to hear what you think. Share in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Please share my posts with your friends by clicking on the FB, Twitter, or email share buttons found below. And if you like what you've read, click on the Facebook like button.
You won't miss a post if you sign up to receive my musings by email (see the sidebar on this page).