Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston.... these were some of my first experiences with music, my first exposure to celebrity and what it meant. And these titans are slipping way from me. Large chunks of my childhood are dying. Whitney Houston's first 2 albums are some of the first pieces of music I was exposed to when I was a child, through a Columbia House subscription that my mother had. Incidentally, this his also how I was first exposed to Madonna, before my mother took her away from us after she got racy with "Like A Virgin" and I didn't have another one of her albums for 8 or 9 years. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" was my favorite song when I was 10 years old. I was at a wedding when I heard the news, and the first thing I did was go to the DJ and request that she play a Whitney Houston song, thereby breaking the news to her as well. Only fitting that it was this song that she played. Several of us took to the dancefloor to celebrate Whitney.
I am very saddened by the news of her death. It really seemed like she was trying to get her life and her career together after a decade in the wilderiness. My most distinct Whitney Houston memory is standing in right field during Little League games, singing "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" to myself, out loud, not giving a shit who could hear or what anyone thought. Gay from the get-go and in some ways, proud of it at 10 years old. R.I.P. Nippy. Your struggle has ended. I feel for her family, especially her daughter, Bobbi Kristina and her mother Cissy.
I know it's very in vogue to say that Dolly Parton's original version of "I Will Always Love You" is the definitive version, but even before her death, Whitney's version has always been the go-to version for me. You just can't beat her voice on this and her treatment of the song.
And no one ever beat her version of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV. Right after the launch of the first US war with Iraq, it was an unparalleled moment in history, and she tapped the zeitgest of the country's optimisim about a war that may or may not have been necessary and just and made us all feel just a little bit better about being American, inciting a wave of nationalism with her voice alone. No one has ever performed this song better, or more beautifully - either when it really mattered or when it still meant something in a time before America was bitterly divided by partisan politics on a personal level. She sang this song exactly how it was mean to be sung. It was such a crowning acheivement in her own legacy and in the nation's consciousness that it was included as a hidden bonus track on her Greatest Hits album.
There are many that feel that she ruined R&B and turned it into adult contemporary schmaltz. This is to completely misunderstand who and what Whitney Houston was. She was, first and foremost, a singer. At her peak, she sang the songs that she felt could best be helped by her angelic, pure voice. That didn't nececessarily mean that she was singing the hippest, most cutting edge material. She was a singer of songs. She was the greatest singer of songs. She had a voice that cut through all others and impressed you with its effeciency -- unlike modern divas, such as Beyonce or Christina Aguilara or modern day Mariah Cary, who are much too impressed with their own voices and are constantly trying to convince you to be impressed with them as well. She knew how to read a song and deliver it to you, without "impressive" vocal pyrotechnics and other shenanigans that distracted you from what you were supposed to hear and feel. She only used her impressive voice to deliver the song to you, and deliver it she did, in the most pure, beautiful way that she could. And beautiful it was. And this doesn't even touch on what a physically beautiful woman she was in the 1980s and 1990s.
I will miss Whitney Houston. I feel so sorry for the life that she led and the legacy-diminishing behavior that she exhibited in the last 10 years. But she seemed to really be trying to once again establish herself and to make what originally won the hearts or America and the world the most important aspect of her career: her voice.
Unfortunately, that opportunity was cut short for whatever reason. But speaking as that 10 year old gay boy standing in right field, hoping that the ball wouldn't be hit to him so he could daydream that he was Whitney Houston singing "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," all I can say is that "I Will Always Love You."
PS: lest anyone think that I'm only fond of her her '80s and early '90s material, from her last great album (2009 comeback excluded), she still had it as late as 1998.
and possibly the best of all, and most appropriate for a eulogy.... "sing mommy"