Making allowances that Mariah Carey was, in fact, at a funeral yesterday-"Sorry that I wasn't able to pull it together and really do it right,but I was literally choked up when I saw him there in front of me," she posted to Twitter-there's still a reasonable question to ask: is her voice damaged beyond repair? I was out with noted homosexual and vocalist Julian Fleisher this morning, and he was pretty much reeling in shock at hearing a legend-a bona fide legend, and one that is all of 39 years old-sound the way she did yesterday.
A couple years back, I talked to The Lady Herself for a terrible piece for a terrible lady magazine. (It paid in pounds sterling though! I bought shoes!) Mostly I was interested in vocal production, which, eerily enough, the magazine wasn't too interested in? I was concerned about how chaotically, it seemed to me, she'd been singing for a number of years, and how byzantine her methods of producing various sounds were. Singers find methods and shortcuts to making sound through the physical inconsistencies of their body, as visualized in the mind. Often, the methods we come up with, particularly without outside help, for both singing and speaking, can be damaging in the short or long term.
"I do really have different vocal cords. It's because they're not–I don't use my voice the way different people use their vocal cords. A lot of people couldn't sing through the nodules the way I do; I've learned to sing through my vocal cords," she said. So she would regularly go to Dr. Scott Kessler and together they would look at pictures of her vocal folds. To produce her trademark high-pitch sounds, she sings through her nodules, or at least, conceives of singing through them; sites of damage created most likely by, well, creating those high-pitch sounds.
Over the years, it's pretty obvious that there have been changes to Carey's voice. (Also she seems like a much happier person, and one that is making better music!) And what remains is a pretty luscious, hissy thing. But you also get the sense that everything is so completely jury-rigged between her mind and her throat. And it looks to me, watching both yesterday's and other recent performance, that while she is singing, she's seriously thinking through what will "fail" in the right way, to produce a stop, or allow her to pull off melisma, or jump about between voices, producing a pleasing effect-and what might possibly fail in a bad way, ending in disaster. I think that while she is singing, she is in a bit of panic about manufacturing sound.
Also? One slightly disturbing thing also comes from her Twitter, posted at 3:20 a.m. EST in the middle of June: "4:20..how is everyone?" Oh boy, let's hope she's baking it in brownies, not smoking the stuff.
And here is an insane year-by-year retrospective of 18 years of live performances.