I have to write about Whitney. I have to.
I am five years old and I have the clearest memory of being upstairs in our old log cabin. My mom has VH1 on and she yells up the stairs that MY song is on. My song. I run haphazardly down the stairs and Whitney is there, on the screen, with a gigantic floppy bow in her huge hair. She’s singing, “How will I know” and i have this wide leg stanced dance I do that involves turning my torso and snapping both my fingers and head.
Jr. High, The Bodyguard hit, and I don’t think I was allowed to see it(isn’t there a steamy scene between her and Kev?), but I got the soundtrack and listened to it repeatedly on my tape deck. Rewinding, “I will always love you” and requesting it on K101 “For Lovers Only” on a regular basis.
Then all the drugs, and yes, I blame Bobby Brown, all true fans do. Her light dimmed out and she fell victim to cliches and t.v. talk show host jokes, but still, I’d play old Youtube videos of her, flexing her athletic arms, her top lip sweating as she flawlessly belted out that final “AND I,….I, I will always love you,” after that drum pelt and the key change. Killed me. Shivers up and down the arms.
Mid 2000’s she went on a religious quest to Africa to find her lost spirituality. Bobby was there and the videos they showed were of her stumbling and dancing alone, crying, draping herself onto others, clearly under the influence of anything she could find. I felt horribly embarrassed for her, and for me, as I sat alone in my kitchen crying. Her former saxaphone player, one she fired, gave a candid interview remembering Whitney pre-drugs. “What would you say to her now?” they asked and he responded, “I’d play her the song she always requested.” And with that he started Amazing Grace and the show ended. I called my mother feeling I had to process my feelings about Whitney’s decline. Like she was a real friend.
And she was, wasn’t she? Aren’t they all, those artists, those people that sing and dance and perform for us? How do I say this without sounding fanatic or cute? Since I write, and since I grew up being fed music as sustenance, I believe whole heartedly in the power of words and notes to bond you to perfect strangers. Not every musician speaks to me, but the ones that do, the ones that give me chills, or warm me up, or provide me an outlet to mourn my biggest let downs or celebrate my the best parts of life – I know them. Like a friend, they were there, they gave meaning, to the most intimate, unnerving, vulnerable, ecstatic moments of my life.
In 2009, Whitney made her comeback, divorced Bobby Brown and it seemed she was taking Clive Davis’ guidance again. I watched her on the circuit, stopping by Oprah, and felt a ting of hopefulness. Whitney was back. My favorite moment being her stop in Central Park where she sang before thousands, specifically to her mom, “I look to you,” her voice shaky and breaking.
My opinion, as small as it is, is this — God has a special place in his heart for the addict. Those tortured artists with insatiable appetites their body can’t contain. I think he must admire their pursuits to find peace and beauty, even to their death. So with that, I know that Whitney is back in the heart of God, up with the rest of those who ravaged through life and now have rest.