Time Blog About Whitney Houston's Death Finds Musicians Afraid of Similar Fate
Thu, 16 Feb 2012 11:20:37
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Go here or scroll down to read Time's blog post on the death of Whitney Houston, where multiple musicians spoke about wanting to avoid a similar date.
Here is the text of the blog from Time magzazine.
After Whitney Houston, Musicians Say: I'm Afraid
Why the music industry is still plagued by early deaths and fearing strokes more than bullets.
The death of Whitney Houston has inspired some soul-searching in the music world. "I'm obsessed with why our heroes are not making it past 50," Questlove told me on the Grammy red carpet as I interviewed him for Fuse. He sounded alarmed and said he now knows he must make changes in his life and in the lives of musicians around him. "I already gave my whole band the speech. We gotta live different. Lack of sleep, not watching what we eat, extra patron in the rider. No more. I wanna be old. This is a wake-up call like no other. And I'm obsessed with the health of everybody I know in this industry." He's already in the process of hiring a trainer and a nutritionist. "I'm not worried about bullets, I'm worried about strokes. Strokes are the new bullets."
Whitney was 48 years young, and we don't yet know why she died. She was found unconscious submerged in a bathtub, but her age links her to a slew of musicians who recently died prematurely, from Michael Jackson at 50 to Heavy D at 44 to Nate Dogg at 41 to Amy Winehouse at 27. Rock once had an ethos of live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse, but those days are long gone. We're in a more corporate era, where artists are often business savvy and focused on building lasting careers. This year's Grammys opened with a song by Bruce Springsteen and closed with a performance by Paul McCartney, evidence that longevity is being celebrated. So why are we still seeing singers and rappers dying prematurely of suicide, drug overdose and heart attacks that are suggestive of bodies and minds being mistreated over long periods of time?
This may not be as tragic as other societal epidemics, but there's never an appropriate time to play "Whose Pain Is Worse?" The deaths of treasured artists are a loss for us all and send out horrible messages about what it means to be one. So what I'm wondering is, Why are so many talented musicians not making it to senior citizenship?
Before I spoke to Questlove, I interviewed Rick Ross, who recently suffered two seizures in one day. He told me he blames the seizures on "exhaustion," (which could refer to many things). He said he had been getting two hours of sleep a night. I asked him if he'd made significant life changes. He said he was sleeping more now. Like four hours a night.
The attitude that sleeping is for losers is endemic to America and especially the music business. "I used to think there was something heroic in not sleeping," Questlove said, "then I ended up in the hospital for four days. Happened last November. I'd planned my time on two hours of sleep a day for 20 days in a row. I'd work out, go do the Jimmy Fallon show, work on The Roots album from 8 PM to 2 AM, work on D'Angelo's album from 2:30 to 6, catnap on his couch then go to the gym. Did that 15, 20 days in a row, but if you don't sleep that long your immune system is worn out and you're susceptible to all kinds of diseases. I got coxsackie virus, which adults aren't even supposed to get. I couldn't work for two weeks. Couldn't even hold a drumstick. The result of not sleeping. You think it's cool and rebellious, but it's not."
I think Ross is typical of most successful modern artists in that he never really stops working. Nowadays hot stars must remain in our faces and ears perpetually; they must be ubiquitous, releasing albums and mixtapes and doing guest verses on other people's songs as well as shooting videos, doing press, occasionally acting and relentlessly touring. When Ross had his seizures, he was flying to do multiple shows in multiple cities in a day. Surely he isn't the only one attempting that. That can be done once in a while but placed within a constant year of incessant globe-trotting and almost ceaseless work amidst poor health, bad nutrition, insufficient sleep and the infusion of liquor and unhealthy chemicals, well then it can add up to a potent cocktail.
Most fans have no understanding of the physical challenge of touring. That these artists are living a dream life is true and beside the point. The roar of the crowd is seductive and lucrative, but to hear it there's a price to pay. You perform at the edge of your physical and emotional capabilities, then jump on a bus or a plane and do it again a night or two later and repeat this pattern for months on end. Many artists nowadays use downtime while touring to record new music, either in a special tour bus or in studios along the road. This adds to the physically rigorous, athletic challenge of touring, one that can break some people. An industry vet once told me, "I've seen touring make grown men cry." This can take a toll on the body and also leave you struggling to find yourself as you've been away for months in a strange, otherworldly bubbled existence. Adele told me about the emotional impact of touring (this, before she ruined her vocal chords, which are thinner than guitar strings, because of too much touring while also chain-smoking, thus not taking care of her instrument). Adele said she felt lost when she returned home from tour to find her best friends married to men she'd never met or holding children she'd never seen in the womb. Life was passing her by. That sort of dislocation from the real world, as well as the intoxication of the cheering, can lead some to fill the void with chemicals legal and illegal, that can give you a rush and take away the pain. Temporarily.
Athletes do something similar to touring, but they have teammates to help them rest during the contests. Also, because they're athletes, most of them take care of their bodies. The world of music, with its big money, fast-lane excess, has many temptations. Destructive behavior is excused and even encouraged as it can make artists seem cool because it harkens back to that old live-fast/rock vibe. We cannot know what exactly made Whitney's body give out, but she is part of a pattern that is too large to ignore. There is a body-ravaging norm of excess that is claiming too many music stars and a culture of enablers surrounding them who are comfortable looking the other way if they're productive. Longevity has to do with good health and sometimes protecting someone from themselves is required. I'll never forget talking to RZA about him watching Ol' Dirty Bastard do crack shortly before his early death. RZA will spend the rest of his life wishing he'd done more to save his brother. If we do nothing, the entire music community will swell with more regretful RZAs and dead Ol' Dirty Bastards.
Poignant (and well-written) stuff.
What did you think of the Time blog post and the comments of other artists in the wake of Houston's passing?