A Journal of Musical ThingsWhen an Artist Dies, My Day Goes Nuts » A Journal of Musical Things
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Published on February 13th, 2012 | by Alan Cross

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When an Artist Dies, My Day Goes Nuts

Picture via Celebuzz. Click the image to be taken to their article.

Despite what you may think, this story isn’t meant to be about me.  It’s about the speed of media today and the frantic nature of the 24 hour news cycle.  And it goes like this.

I first heard about Whitney Houston’s death while having dinner with my wife and a friend in New York just off Times Square. First came a text followed by a series of tweets and emails, each building on the story.

By the time we were done and headed by to the hotel, thousands of tourists were staring up at the big news crawls that snake on the neon signs.  People were taking pictures with their cell phones and tweeting/emailing/Facebooking/BBMing the photos to their friends.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “tomorrow is going to be crazy.”

And it was.  Whenever a music personality or celebrity suddenly makes news, things move very, very fast.  And with today’s technology, things move faster than ever before.

I seem to have become a go-to first-responder guy when it comes to stories like this.  Even though my area of music has nothing to do with pop stars like Whitney Houston, I still get frantic calls from chase producers looking for someone to help them fill time and feed the 24 hour news cycle.

First came a request on my cell for an interview by CTV News early Sunday morning asking for comment and perspective on Houston’s career. That was followed by Sun TV.  And then CBC News Network.  All the calls and emails came in within 30 minutes of each other.

In the past, I wouldn’t have been able to accommodate these requests because, after all, I was in NYC with my wife and a friend.  And because no producer really wants to do something like this over the phone, I would have had to decline. Which, of course, would have been totally fine with me.

But this is 2012 and the chase producers at the networks are under tremendous pressure to fill time. Now that they found me on my phone and email, they needed to follow through.

I checked out, set up my laptop in the bar and ordered a drink.  In the space of 45 minutes, I banged off all three live TV interviews via a crystal-clear jitter-free Skype video call and a wireless connection.  Pretty freakin’ magic, considering that this wouldn’t have been possible even just a few years ago.

Between interviews, I was asked to submit at 250 word column for the Metro papers that had to be filed by 1:30pm.  I dashed that off and fired to the editor via email so it could make Monday’s deadline.  

At that point, I had to grab a cab to the airport where I missed a phone call from CP24 who wanted me for a live hit.  Sorry, guys, but AT&T service in NYC sucks.

Here’s that Metro column, written over a lychee martini (or three) in the bar of The Mark at 77th and Madison.  I figured that there are plenty of people far, far more capable of writing a eulogy for Ms Houston, so I took a different tact.  

Apparently, though, I’ve annoyed some fans.  Judge for yourself.

If you had to pinpoint the moment things began to go wrong for Whitney Houston, it was around the same time everything was going right. 

In 1992, she had already sold nearly 50 million albums and was about to sell 44 million more with The Bodyguard soundtrack. 

There was her children’s charity, her support of Nelson Mandela and a world tour.  

But she married Bobby Brown, a guy who came with a lot of very heavy baggage. Together, they became tabloid gold.

By 2000, her erratic behaviour, increasingly embarrassing live performances and a shocking deterioration in her physical appearance turned her into a punchline for morbid jokes.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE:  Gawker has picked up my post and, uh, it hasn’t been pretty.  Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star is also being punched in the throat for merely relaying an unflattering encounter with Whitney and Bobby on a cruise a dozen years ago. Such is life on the Internet.


About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.



20 Responses to When an Artist Dies, My Day Goes Nuts

  1. neil says:

    Wow, filled with self importance much? I've never seen such a self-absorbed take on the passing of a celebrity. Hopefully the feeling of you patting yourself on your back helps you get to sleep at night.

  2. Dan says:

    This is the living worst. You are a clown.

  3. Linda says:

    When you have built a career on a creative community that relies on the emotional response of an audience for success, you have to realize two things: 1) You are now a part of that community, and when an artist dies, the least you owe that community are your thoughts. 2) Your readers are emotionally tied to music the way you are, and many to the artists who produce the music, so when they lose an artist who means a lot to them, perhaps more sensitivity on your part would be prudent.

    What you do for a living, and the praise and success you have enjoyed, are prizes that are desired by so many music journalists starting out, and to complain about having to give back when tragedy strikes is ungrateful of those blessings, selfish and crass. My industry is also affected by tragedy often, and yes, my day gets crazy when it happens, but I have made so much money and built reputation off of the community it affects, so it's my duty to comment, and to gladly carry the momentary burden of extra work. And I thank the stars I am lucky enough to have the opportunities I do because of that community.

  4. Nicole says:

    Don't worry, guys. He got three lychee martinis out of the whole deal!

  5. RM says:

    WTF. I fail to see how any of the other commentors can be reading this as insensitive, or where in this short passage there are complaints extra work/"having to give back".

    He points out that when he heard of Ms. Houston's death, he anticipated a busy next day. He points out that he was able to field requests in a manner that hitherto would have been impossible, and moreover that he did so. He did the interviews, he wrote the column.

    You think Mr. Cross takes for granted that he's payed to listen to, judge, and write about music?

    Please.

  6. Steph D says:

    I fully agree RM.

    There are places all over the web that will eulogize Whitney Houston, and provide lengthy retrospects on her career and life. This isn't one of them.

    Alan merely gives us a glimpse into how his work days can sometimes (often) take an unexpected sharp turn.

    For that, I'm greatful and enjoyed the blog post.

    On a side note: Why on earth are they coming to Alan Cross, ALT-ROCK meister, for a take on Whitney Houston??? I know she had a big impact on pop music, but not quite what I expect to read about on this site, which begs the question even more – what were the negative commenters doing here, and what did they expect??

  7. Alan Cross says:

    Oh, dear. I seem to have rankled a few feathers here. No, it wasn't meant to be about me (although I can see how some might take it that way) but about today's technology.

    What I tried to convey was how the quickly the media can move these days and the technology that makes it possible. I find the need for speed in the media completely fascinating and I thought some people might like a window on how things happen when a story like this breaks.

    And yes, there are lots and lots of eulogies re: Ms Houston out there, all of which are better than anything I could offer.

    Gawker picked up the story. They pillory me (again, I can see why they'd do that although that misses the point of my post) and a columnist in the Toronto Star for simply offering an unflattering memory of an encounter with Ms Houston, Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi. Weird.

    http://gawker.com/5884721/the-worst-remembrances-of-whitney-houston-on-the-internet

  8. nscafe says:

    I thought it was a good article.

  9. XGamer says:

    Can I honestly say that: "-Houston we have a problem !" takes all its meaning here ;)

    Good Job Allen, you dont have to sugarcoat it !

  10. Matt Clare says:

    You win the Internet, Gawker. No one responds to breaking news better than you.

  11. Matt Clare says:

    If the picture was Alan in a bar in NYC, no one would have cared.

  12. You have to wonder where was the tipping point. The point when she looked herself in the mirror and said, My God. I look awful, time to give up the drugs and go back to living a wholesome life with millions of fans who adore me.

    Why couldn't she have reached that point and made the right choice?

  13. Joe A says:

    I don't see an issue with this article. Alan pointed out that with today's technology, this kind of news travels quickly. Heck, I first heard about this on Twitter as well and my first thought was this is going to take over twitter feeds for the next little while.

    As for Alan's article and the 'unflattering' view of Ms. Houston…where were all these defenders when her life was the butt end of a joke not too long ago? I don't think Mr. Cross said anything that was disrespectful or frankly unknown. While she had amazing talent and has contributed to the music industry, she had some issues that were well known. The fact that she passed away doesn't change that fact.

    Hopefully wherever Ms. Houston is, she's found some peace from all that.

  14. Truth Hurts says:

    Alan, did you say anything that wasn't true? No! I'm not sure why society likes to sterilize the past of the deceased. I guess you're not entitled to your thoughts. Next time say no and enjoy your life. Keep up the great work.

  15. John says:

    I appreciate the perspective on how you handled the situation in todays demanding days of over powering media coverage. I don't see why people would be offended. You have spent a good chunk of your career digging up the "story behind the story" so to speak. I would gamble to say most people are hear and follow you for just that reason.

    The idea of getting offended because you offered insight to a situation that most people don't have access to is not offensive. Its how most of us have grown to appreciate your work.

    People lose perspective on anything when they see the window to be offended/express a "barking" opinion.

    Thanks for being honest enough to just give it to us the way you sincerely saw it develop in your minds eye.

  16. donny says:

    Alan, I commend you for providing an alternate view into the events that occur during an unfortunate incident like this. There is a lot of grieving already. It's refreshing to see something different. Something potentially challenging. Bravo.

  17. Krupo says:

    "Insensitive" would've been doing something silly like working in a reference to the #3 song on your SoundCloud (yes, I just did that, but it really is a morbid coincidence). Well written article Alan, good work! When I saw you referenced by Gawker I at first was truly confused, and had to re-read their backhanded reference. I couldn't figure out why they could be negative to you, of all people! That's just silly on their part!

  18. Detached says:

    I love you, Alan, for not being a sheep. Don't ever change.

  19. Clayton says:

    Who cares about your workday? I don't ! It's sad that you could not have found some way to connect your personal experience with something bigger and more meaningful than your "twitter" … you would not have needed to eulogize Whitney. This is a shallow article that doesn't say much. Sorry, but it's not good writing…and that has nothing to do with Whitney or her death, and everything to do with you.

  20. Alan Cross says:

    You missed the point. I was trying to convey how things have changed with technology. Read it again.

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