Sunday, February 12, 2012

Queen of the Night: In Memorium

I have a very distinct memory of the first time I heard Whitney Houston.  I was five years old, living in Pocatello, Idaho where my mom and stepdad were college students. It was the music video for "The Greatest Love of All." What I remember is seeing this beautiful lady, singing this pretty song, and she was singing about me! I felt special. At the age of 5, most of the meaning of the song went over my head. I didn't understand the chorus, but I remember hearing these lyrics, and even then, they stuck with me:

"I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be...

...I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity..."

When I was about 12 years old, "The Bodyguard" came out, and my mom bought the soundtrack on cassette tape. I'm surprised I didn't wear it out. I was a latchkey kid and usually spent a couple of hours home alone after school, doing my chores before my parents got home. I remember playing this album LOUD on the stereo in our living room so many times, belting along with Whitney while I did the dishes, and cleaned the house. I knew every note, and in my head, I sounded just like her.

loved her music, and she was so pretty. So classy. Statuesque. Elegent. I idolized her just a little bit.

I remember so many mornings and afternoons riding the school bus, with all of us kids singing along to singles from "The Bodyguard" and "Waiting to Exhale." I remember listening to her Mariah Carey duet "When you Believe" with my best friend, talking about both Whitney and Mariah's voices, and discussing their vocals and technique. At 17, we were vocal majors at a performing arts magnet, thought we knew it all, and took such discussions very seriously.

She was a pervasive musical presence all throughout my childhood and teen years.

Watching her decline and spiral into addiction over the next decade was a sad thing. She lost it, and eventually her drug abuse trashed her voice. When she did try to make a comeback in 2009, it became clear that she just didn't have the goods the way she used to. I always hoped that somehow she would clean herself up, and show us the Whitney that I loved growing up. The Whitney who's powerhouse rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Suberbowl still gives me chills.

I've heard a lot of people say a lot of harsh things in the past day since the news of her death broke. "She squandered her God given talent." "One more dead drug addict." "She cared more about getting high than she did about being a mother" "One less crackhead in the world." "She might have been talented once, but she was washed up... who cares?"

I do.

Hearing these flip, harsh and hard hearted comments makes my chest hurt.

Yes, she made a lot of bad choices. She was a drug addict, and her addictions ruined her instrument and her ability to do what I believe she was on this earth to do. She was a train wreck and a hot mess. She went from being an icon of grace, beauty, and enormous talent to one more sad cautionary tale of the way that drug use and addiction can destroy a life like a cancer.

None of that takes away the fact that she was one of the greatest singers we've ever had.

As a singer, your voice is so much a part of your identity. It's like a limb. Losing the magical spark that sets you apart, that is so much a part of who you are and your self worth is absolutely devastating. It's paralyzing and terrifying. I can only imagine how Whitney must have felt to know that she had thrown away what was undoubtedly one of the best parts of her life. How she must have felt to be the butt of so many cruel jokes, and to know that on some level they were true. I'm sure the knowledge of how she'd screwed up and knowing what she'd lost contributed to the darkness inside of her.

I can have compassion for her without condoning her bad behaviour. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

I believe that a person's legacy is more than the sum of their worst parts. Her music inspired people and touched countless lives, including mine.

Today, my heart is broken for her, for her family and friends, and for the millions of people around the world who loved her music as I did.

Whitney, I will always love you.

Rest in peace.

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