Mike Jahn

UserpicCissy, Whitney, and Life Within the Yurt
Posted by Mike Jahn


For all the whooping and hollering and “just plain folks” blather about being “Jenny from the block” or otherwise like you and me, show biz operates pretty much within the yurt. You’re either inside with the rest of the tribal chiefs and the music and the wholly uncontrolled substances, or you’re alone on the steppes staring at mastodon bones.

I remember Cissy Houston at one or another rock scene powwow in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those were the years during which I covered rock and roll and related riots for the New York Times, which got me into a lot of yurts.  Those days Cissy was a session singer for Hendrix and a lot of others and just beginning a solo career. I saw her around. Everyone knew everyone else because they were around.

I did not know her daughter, who I understand just died. My son saw her around, in the early 1990s when he was working at Arista Records, founded by Clive Davis, who has been in the news a lot lately for having discovered Whitney  Houston. Clive was around at some of the same powwows I was, and presumably Cissy was, the big  difference between me and him being that he got there in a limo. (He let me use it once.)

I don’t know if Cissy ever brought her daughter to a powwow. I routinely brought my son to them, him riding on my shoulders.

Steve was another guy who was around. He was a good friend of mine who had a quartet that opened for the Who during one of their 1970s arena tours. How did a folk/rock/jazz fusion quartet get to open for the Who (and get booed for their effort)? Steve was good friends with Pete Townshend, who I also knew from around ... ran into him at a guitar store on 47th Street twice and on the street in San Francisco once, following which we went to his hotel room and split a six. I don’t recall what we talked about. Probably all the people we knew from around.

One weekend night circa 1970 I got a worried call from Steve, who said something like “Pete’s here. The cops are looking for him.” The exact words don’t matter when you’re in a situation involving guns and jails. It seems that Pete threw a fire marshall off the stage at the Fillmore East -- there was a fire next door and the man interrupted a Who set to ask that the theater be evacuated. Pete gave him the old heave-ho and later, when told that the NYPD frowns on such things, ran off to Steve’s apartment to hide. I told him that Pete should lay low until Monday when the lawyers were around.

One thing you always talked about when you were around was what everyone was doing. In the 1960s/1970s when I was around, everyone else was either “smoking dope” or “doing smack.” You hadn’t seen someone in a while and you ran into him, the first words might be “Tim kicked!” That was good news at the time, but in this particular case Tim didn’t kick permanently. Tim died.

So did Steve, but it was in the 1990s and not of a heroin overdose. He died of hepatitis C, but not the AIDS-related kind. He got it in a Nashville hospital, where he was working as a nurse, having failed to make it in show biz -- musical support from Pete and editorial support from me notwithstanding. He burned all his master recordings and turned his back on the show biz scene where people lived unhealthy lifestyles and, in consequence thereof, died. He got a nursing degree and went into health care, which killed him. 

I hear that he was a very good nurse, though. Found it very fulfilling and everyone at the hospital loved him.

Before Steve was entirely done with show biz, he wrote an especially good pop song and got Nashville session singers to record a demo. It was a wonderful song. So wonderful that I gave the tape to my son to give to Cissy’s daughter the next time he saw her around. He didn’t know her other than as someone he saw around, and thus gave the song to her A&R people, those record company souls who decide what songs pop artists record. The artists themselves are often too busy being around to make the decisions themselves. The tape came back with the word that it was a good, “well constructed” song ... thanks for letting us hear it ... but it’s not right for Whitney.

At Steve’s memorial service in Nashville everyone sang a different song of his, one about saying goodbye. At Whitney’s memorial service on Saturday in Newark, the church full of celebrities -- invitation only, mind you, this is a show biz powwow, ain’t no Jenny from no block gettin’ into this yurt -- will sing “I Will Always Love You,” the song she recorded about never saying goodbye. Naturally the service will be broadcast on CNN and livestreamed.

And we can hear those notes forever.



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