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13 February 2012

Houston: we have a problem

My problem with the sad death of Witney Houston is that all the coverage I have seen mentions two main facts: first, that Arkady Dvorkovich is cut up about it; and, secondly, that her greatest hit, “I Will Always Love You”, was written by Dolly Parton, which was news to me.
     The last time I was in Nashville, rumours were floating around to the effect that Dolly had just been offered a part in a film of Romeo and Juliet. I remember listening to an early-morning country music station, as I floated down the freeway in my rented Oldsmobile, and hearing the DJ comment, “I don’t know whether she can act, but she sure can lean over a balcony.”
     Two points arise from that. The first is about communication: it shows why it is so important to know the culture as well as the language of the people you are amongst if you want to be at one with them in all their sorrows and all their joys. And in the decadent West, that culture ranges all the way from Shakespeare to country music. (However, it is not necessary to be au courant with the work of Andrei Platonov or Vendikt Erefeev.)
     The other point is more general, indeed perhaps universal: it explains why Porter Wagoner, Dolly’s long-time singing partner, so often had a rather distracted look when they were on stage together. His eyes seldom engaged with hers, or even with the audience, more usually appearing to focus a short way beneath the load-bearing points of Ms Parton’s sturdy shoulders. Where they focussed when the two of them were off-stage is anybody’s guess.