Don't Hate The Sin Nor The Sinner, The Player Or The Game: The Youthful Brillliance Of Whitney Houston and Dwight Gooden In 1985 Shall Continue To Remain Alive
Few people if any in the world of sports and entertainment were ever anywhere near as majestic, beautiful to behold, flat-out dominant or as overwhelming with seemingly supernatural levels of talent before they reached legal drinking age as Whitney Houston or Dwight Gooden were during their briefly shared peak of their powers during the summertime of 1985.
Whitney was a strikingly beautiful, big-voiced songbird with model looks and unparalleled set of pipes along with impossible-to-ignore charisma. She had come heralded from a decorated family of church-borne singing stock back in Newark, New Jersey.
Newark being of the four poorest and most violent cities in America according to the census for the decade of the eighties which included two other cities in NJ, Jersey City and in the top slot as it would be for the same poll at the end of the last census survey at the end of the 2010's, Camden.
Keep in mind this was right smack dab in the middle of an era in which crack-cocaine had been introduced into impoverished, predominately Black-and-Latino communities in the mid-1980’s at the height of the Reagan/Iran-Contra era (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/10/gary-webb-dark-alliance_n_5961748.html).
This was just on the precipice of the era documented in the now laughably-campy cable crime movie 'New Jack City' of 1986, which was nonetheless a piece of historical fiction based on this new reality. Because all of the sudden this ready-rock that G-Money (Allen Payne) shows his boss/partner Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) while in his jeep that summer really did "change the world" and was soon flooding the hood while developing an influx of consumers that seemed even larger than the demand for Cabbage Patch Dolls in the bordering more affluent suburbs during just a couple Christmas seasons’ before.
However Whitney and the Houston family never considered their city no matter what was occurring in it outside of their church or their houses to be considered any kind of hindrance nor would some of Newark's more systematic civic clutches to ever be cited as an excuse or a crutch because they were the Houston's and they were different.
Whitney’s mother Cissy was (behind probably only Mavis Staples) the most called-upon gospel/soul-infused singer who (metaphorically and figuratively) was often called out of the church into the recording studios of New York during the largely debauched decade of the 1970’s to add color to many landmark recordings.
For a prime example, see Van Morrison’s “If I Ever Needed Someone” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i29urUX6WE from his 1970 classic ‘His Band and Street Choir’.
And then there was of course her aunt Dionne Warwick, who with some help from a songwriting maestro in Burt Bacharach, who created (in addition to the big hits everyone knows) made undeniable great soul records like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlvUS9vG2Mw
A record that raw should have at least been on the Dead Presidents soundtrack and of course you know that was sampled by no lesser hip-hop legends than Wu-Tang Clan then later J Dilla from his death bed.
Tough act to follow, right?
That is unless you are Whitney Elizabeth Muggfugging Houston of course.
In that case you do stuff like this on your first Tonight Show with Johnny Carson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciOqW5IVvrE
Or this on your first Late Night with David Letterman (both appearances from 1985):
And even though Whitney herself was famously the one to declare on national television with Diane Sawyer, crack is wack, a drug for the poor rather than rich which she now was, it may have resulted in an ability to see the other side of the game: that narcotics are narcotics, while addiction is addiction, no matter what the price of the high or what the seller in the streets or at the pharmacy tells you is the name..so if crack was wack, then so should be free-based or sniffed cocaine.
Not recognizing this truth is also likely a part of what's currently plaguing all the upper-middle-class kids nowadays, who believe they’re dabbling with some controlled substance less nefarious because it comes in a pill form with a doctor’s name on the bottle.
This coming in the form of Oxy Contin or Percocet or Xanax but by the time they realize what has happened they are too far down the rabbit hole to recognize how transformed they’ve become until soon they run out of money, scripts or excuses. They then soon take to the street street only to find themselves strung out on heroin unable to find their way back home.
Dwight “Doc” Gooden aka “Dr. K” was a Phenom in Tampa, Florida drafted into the New York Mets organization for the same reason that a later partner-in-crime both on the field and off was: because the Mets were absolutely terrible and were able to snag him with a Top 5 pick.
Doc was called up to the big leagues at the tender age of 19 in 1984.
By summer of his 19th year, he was pitching in an All-Star Game and striking out the side.
He shattered the rookie record for strikeouts by over thirty K's to finish with nearly 300 at 276.
By his second full year in the bigs in 1985, Gooden put in quite possibly one of the most dominant years a pitcher has had in the history the 150-year-old MLB has ever had on record:
24 wins to just 4 losses.
This to go along with a mind-bending 1.53 Earned Run Average which was the second-best ever since the dead ball era, second to only Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968 before the mound was lowered, when the league ERA was far lower but Gooden's now the bench mark ERA on a relative level compared to the league and time he pitched.
Throw in 268 K's and Dwight Gooden became the first pitcher to win 20 games before reaching his 21st birthday. A year later he (along with the young Mets) would be on their way to the World Series title that short-hopped through Bill Buckner’s legs at Shea.
Little did any of us know then that for both Doc and Whitney, after the highest-of-highs (with more to come on a career accomplishment level) with the world seemingly at their feet and impossible levels of talent at their disposal that in many ways things had already peaked.
They would never again be quite the same as they were during those early pre-21 halcyon days of the Carson Show, or the big game at Shea.
We along with almost surely they themselves, thought that perhaps all this good fortune and coalescing of potential and performance might never go away (or at least not anytime soon).
Meanwhile now in 2016 all the sadness, baggage, coulda-woulda-shoulda-isms and endlessly sordid speculation as to what was really going on with them over the course of the following three decades (or tragically even less than that in the case of Whitney) almost makes it feel damn near impossible to remember that the greatness was once the only set of facts we had available but that is an important exercise we should (at least on occasion) really try to do.
Because drug abuse is an affliction or disease that can victimize any of us.
So we should naturally be receptive to that fact and empathetic to that struggle.
Instead many, even ones on drugs themselves, will be the first to lash out at these same people.
“Why Is That?!?”©KRS-ONE
Perhaps it’s because when we take the culture/cost/context of the narcotics away from all parties, it becomes painfully obvious that people like Whitney Houston or Dwight Gooden were wunderkinds who are likely now and forever considered more shooting star than Earth, Jupiter or Mars...but the bottom line is at their creative, most controlled early peak they were both constellations.
Comets streaking across the sky that were not in any way on a level playing field with us. There was no way to compete and for many by extension no way to relate no matter hard either side tried.
These two disparate talents each delivering a season for the ages during the same year while relatively the same age, same race and relegated to the same somewhat humble beginnings, while blessed with some semblance of the same talent and internal drive……did something at a higher level than anyone in here reading this right now or yours truly writing this could ever truly fathom.
So it then becomes a case of us being able to on a logical level understand their flaws while as a collective culture having a hard time accepting or understanding either of them on gut-based emotional level.
Because let’s face it, neither you nor I will ever (eva-eva-eva-eva-eva©Andre3000) experience or scale those heights of true greatness, even if it was just for thirty seconds let alone a few years or maintained over the course of a professional career.
Therefore someone throwing away that lottery ticket somehow makes some find them more contemptible..... than your cousin, your boy, your girl, your aunt/uncle, your mother, father, etc.
Because we as the plebeians, the unwashed huddled masses of mediocrity for whom accomplishing such things would seem on its face patently absurd, find the fact that these two and others in their weight class of context and accomplishment had something so special that it granted them an out.
That somehow just on sheer, unbridled talent alone, they'd been made too special to fall in (or fall prey to) that same dull-knife disease of addiction and insecurity that haunt all too many of us.
A disease that 31 years later continues to run roughshod over someone you know (whether it be you individually or at least someone you know personally) could be any one of even a small handful of acquaintances in this life you will in some way grapple and struggle with every day.
While as futile as the judgment from the sideline is with regards to someone you love, it is equally or probably even more misguided and presumptuous to do this with a stranger.
Tossing rocks at the throne in this fashion could only lead both sides to danger.
Take a step back.
Don’t let go of their humanity or by doing so, your own.
Don’t hate the sinner.
Nor the sin.
Or the game.
Instead be thankful for all the reasons that you first came upon them to begin with and before all the bad stuff had a reason why regardless of outcome knew you would always remember their name.
In the summer of 1985, the prodigy-like magic wand whipped around and blown through by Whitney Houston and Dwight Gooden both were coming in incredibly fast and hot.
I wish most of the gossip outlets regurgitating bile or unimaginatively trotting out some of the same old tired jokes, with their rumor mill on re-run and holding them accountable for some misguided form of contempt 31 years later, might instead one day stop and be appreciative of what we all got.
Because while Whit and Doc were truly blessed, by extension of those blessings/skills they possessed, so were we.
Give both thanks.
Let both be.
Stay Well, Doc.