Monday, February 13, 2012

Gotta let it out

I am really, surprisingly, actually broken up about this whole Whitney thing. Those of you who know me know that I can get emotional about things both monumental and insignificant, and may not be entirely surprised that - though you may not even know the side of me that is a rabid Whitney fan - the news of her death has thrown me into a bit of an introspective spiral. Those who don't might be led to make the assumption that I'm a fairly superficial, starry-eyed celebophile, but I'm not so concerned about that. There are worse things to be perceived as...I shouldn't leave that sentence dangling like that, so I'll ramble for another line or two so that you forget all about it. There.

One of my very first memories of wanting something desperately for Christmas is Whitney's first album, in cassette form of course. I remember writing the letter to Santa Claus requesting it, and I remember exactly where I was sitting when I opened it up. I had spent the previous summer learning all of the words to every song on the album, thanks to my next door neighbour who already had it, and it went immediately into the cassette player. This was back when I had a reasonably pleasant child-like voice and wasn't embarrassed about belting out soulful tunes at the top of my lungs. These days I need a hermetically sealed car interior for such performances. More on that later.

The Greatest Love of All is, without question, one of the most beautiful songs ever written and was sung by, without question, one of the greatest voices that ever did sing. It was my first love in a long line of gorgeous melodies churned out by the inimitable Ms. Houston. There's one spot in I Will Always Love You where, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my eyes start to sting. That didn't happen when I watched the video of Jennifer Hudson singing it in tribute to Whitney at the Grammys. Jennifer Hudson has a beautiful voice, but Whitney had no equal.

In recent years my childhood idol was reduced to a caricature of her former self. She became another example of ridiculous Hollywood headlines and the sad decline that is associated with the privileged, drug-fueled existence of celebrities. And while I expect it from almost every other famous person I can think of, I did not expect it of her. I heard someone in the past couple of days remarking about how, though she was strikingly beautiful, she was never overtly sexual in her appearance or in her songs. That was refreshing. There was something different about her. Something more about raw talent and pure artistry than making it big and being famous. But, eventually, it got to her too. Who knows what specific factors combined to flip the switch, but once she started slipping it seems that there was no going back. Her persona was shattered, her relationships were shattered and, ultimately, her voice was shattered. Once that happened, it seems as though she no longer had a place. And, unfortunately, what happened this weekend was probably just a matter of time.

It makes me sick to think that year after year, casualty after casualty, everyone just stands by and lets people destroy themselves in the name of celebrity. At the beginning of the Grammys, Bruce Springsteen sang "We Take Care of Our Own". But in reality, no one takes care of people like Whitney. Everyone, and I mean everyone knew about her problems. But as long as she was smiling for the camera, everyone let her continue on her destructive path. Yes, people have to be responsible for themselves and yes, people have to want to be helped. But people today encourage self-destructive behaviour by watching reality shows and buying gossip magazines and continuing to hire people - not just despite but because of - their erratic and deplorable behaviour. I know I sound like a mom right now, but that's because I am one and in a few years I'll have less control over the influences that my daughter will be subjected to, and I absolutely hate the idea that her very impressionable mind will have no choice but to be bombarded with a bunch of narcissistic children masquerading as adults and acting like lunatics. Isn't there any way to round up the population of Hollywood and give them one good collective kick in the arse? Isn't there anyone who is willing to stand up and acknowledge that they'd rather not lose their self-respect along with their teeth to heroin and live to enjoy their success? Anyone?

Anyway, maybe that sheds a bit of light on why I'm taking this latest tragedy so hard, or maybe you're doing the wide-eyed oookaaaayyyy and backing away slowly at this point, but I just want to share one more thing. This morning I got in my car to go to work. I ended up leaving earlier than expected due to unforseen circumstances, and the very second I turned the key in the ignition I heard the very first note of one of Whitney's biggest and best hits - How Will I Know - as it leaped out from the speakers. I cranked it, and belted out one of the most inspired performances of my career on that five-minute drive. As outrageously silly as it sounds, I actually believe that it was a sign, a chance for Whitney to say goodbye to me, or me to her. Either way, it was a moment just between the two of us. The old Whitney and the old me, singing our hearts out together.

Goodbye Whitney. And thank you.

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