The Greatest Whitney Funeral Recap Of All
In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn there’s a surreal etymological aside in which the king and the duke disagree on the definition of orgy. As the king inveighs to a crowd of country jakes, the duke passes him a note that reads “obsequies you old fool”. The king then walks it back by saying “orgy” actually means “an open er public funeral.” Well yer majesty, I can attest that the Homegoing of Whitney Houston, as viewed by me principally on BET for extra authenticity, was one of the most fabulous orgies I ever functioned participatorily in.
Contrast the warm tones of it with all the posturing grand-wizardry of the Michael Jackson memorial, for instance, and the latter starts to look in retrospect like a parody of the funeral of someone who really counted, to borrow from Prior Walter in AinA. No disrespect to the Jacksons, but there’s more fun in dysfunction than funeral.
Whitney’s perils were just as obvious as Michael’s but then she was always a pew kid. It’s a fatal myth that the church doesn’t actually love sinners; the church loves nothing so much as a backslid sinner in extremis. He or she validates the church’s whole existence and when the sinner dies in misspent luxury, the church gets to a) have cake and b) also eat said cake. The deceased can be both a beautiful caution and a reconstituted child of Himself. Somewhere in the word contradiction you will find the word “con”.
In a feat of related, unconscionable sleight-of-hand, Donnie McClurkin was allowed in the building despite what Whitney’s music has meant to gay culture.
During MJ’s funeral, which I watched online at my mom’s house for no particular reason, she (my mom) kept rushing me so my nephew could watch Transformers on Netflix. During Whitney’s she kept sending me breathless texts about how vastly nice this production was compared to the usual weird Hollywood garbage. My mom is rarely right about Hollywood but this time, she kinda nailed it.
I was a pew kid. I grew up in white people church and learned too late that black people church is way better. Black people church is Radiohead; white people church is Coldplay. In the Pentecostal denomination I was raised in, the black churches were confined to the heavily-black MMAs or military towns like Junction City or Norfolk; black ministers from these regions would occasionally diffuse to rural Missouri where I grew up and I remember breath being held, congregationally, not because of taut, wary racism (Missouri is unprovably one of the least racist states) but because a pulpy sense of excitement lit the place brilliantly. It was like being held upside down till all your pockets jingled to life.
As not really the only white person at the Whitney service but practically so, and by virtue of being his jug-eared self, Kevin Costner was a cheesy pick. What enabled dude to have what Bill Simmons called his best moment since Yankee Stadium was his own pew-kidness, in what was no doubt a church as white as mine. He used to do sneaky shots of communion wine, only if you’re hard-core holy-roller Protestant, that shit is grape juice. I did that too. Costner also called graceful attention to his range of contrasts with Whitney and spoke about her with the knocked-out vibe men used to write or speak about Marilyn Monroe with, only with zero lech. I don’t know if it took some doing or not.
Stevie Wonder, who got underbid for his CNN chyron (#singer #songwriter) went the full Elton on Ribbon in the Sky. Some dude on Twitter someone in my feed RT’d was all “my dude Stevie ain’t never gonna give up on them dreads” which was the tweet of the day, half because it was funny and half because it slyly broke the first commandment of livetweeting: never disparage the blind person’s hair. He, Stevie, was flawless.
R. Kelly getting up was when everyone shifted in their seats a little; I daresay it made everyone watching as nervous as R. Kelly in church. Spine-twisting nightmares of Usher taking off his glasses went through my soul. But because this day was largely perfect, the performance was the right kind of twitchy and serene and minimal. I bet Aziz Ansari shook his head in disappointment.
The Winans family bonfire near the end brought my half-ironic reflections on the black church of my childhood, barely-glimpsed as it was, in a half-full circle. “Tomorrow”, that horned-altar music box of a death threat that seemingly every surviving member of the black gospel Kennedys joined in on: I used to play that on the little hi-fi I built myself when I was nine. Bebe & Cece, the siblings who lapsed in and out of the secular eye over two decades through connectedness, ugly legal trouble and, almost idly, a bunch of talent, did two albums (1988’s Heaven and 1991’s Different Lifestyles) that pushed gospel so far into dark, sudsy RnB the contemporary Christian market didn’t know whether to transfigure or go blind. Mavis Staples, Luther Vandross, and Whitney herself guested on them. Dove Awards were won and nobody was the wiser except all the babies unmade by heavy grinding in Mercury Sables in deserted church parking lots, Addictive Love winched to high volume.
Don’t Cry, the song Cece did to such pristine avail, was written in that melodramatic, ambiguous style the shrewder Christian songwriters perfected during the golden age of the genre: a love song, or in this case requiem, for a Savior (presumably resurrected/ascended) or whoever really. No names are named and nobody gets hurt. It’s like Billy Wilder slipping all those R-rated syllogisms past the censors in Some Like It Hot. Cece, who was always too pitchy for true diva-ty, packed the song safely in ice. I ate it up like salted caramel.
Marvin Winans, once he began to preach, pretty much cleared Twitter. I only objected to his invoking the gospel of prosperity, which fuck that; the greatest excuse Christians of all a/s/l have ever used for their lack of general empathy is that the Lord prefers you to be rich, the better to do His work, when anyone who ever took the red letters to a study carrel knows Jesus thought the one percent sucked. Talking about wealth over the laid-out body of another person who paid a grisly price for it was when the day peaked gauche-wise. I don’t mean to asperse w/r/t the black church or the white church and their philanthropic arithmetic, but if there are still gold fillings from the teeth of the homeless that all the bishops and deacons I ever knew have not personally smelted into bling, it’s attributable to not enough hours in the day. I love you Whitney.