The Greatest Love Of All

Whitney Houston at the 37th Annual AMA AwardsYou know, it’s odd …. I seem to spend more time nowadays writing music obituaries on this blog than I do writing about actual music. I assure you that this is, of course, totally and completely unintentional (not to mention a damn shame). Quite often I have an idea of a neat subject I want to tackle, or a fabulous new song I want to promote, or a currently touring artist that I want to tell you more about, only to find out as I’m getting ready to sit down to write that some very influential singer or musician has unexpectedly died. I mean, I know people die and all, but this trend of talented vocalist passings is getting a little depressing now. Amy Winehouse, Etta James … now Whitney Houston.

Born August 9, 1963, Whitney Elizabeth Houston was blessed from the start with a voice almost any young singer would die for. Power, emotion, nuance, control, range … all of these things were indeed part of her arsenal, but the thing that made Whitney such a phenomenon was that these traits weren’t just present individually or interchangeably. The many facets of her talent melted into each other, augmenting and strengthening the whole, combining in a potent mix that gave her that magical thing which we often refer to as “it”. No one knows where “it” comes from, or how to define “it”, but we know “it” when we see it. Somebody opens their mouth, or picks up an instrument, or a pencil, or a paintbrush … and we are moved. We are helpless before this undefinable thing that takes hold of our hearts, and we cannot defend ourselves against it.

It’s that riff that makes your adrenaline move, the harmony that brings a tear to your eye, the lyric that puts a knife in your heart when you least expect it. When some artists create, they do it in a way that makes the difficult or arduous seem easy. You can hear a million soul singers tackle a song, for instance, and they might do a respectable or even really good version of it …. but someone like Al Green or Aretha Franklin can sing just one note of that song, and you are transfixed. You can’t look away. You are powerless to change the radio station, to perform another task, to remove yourself from the presence of “it”.

There is no doubt that some consider Whitney Houston just another dumb pop singer, and her catalog to be filled with vapid songs not worth being listened to … and I respect this point of view.  Some people just like what they like and hate what they hate, and you can’t change their minds or make them change their listening habits or preferences. But I like to think that there is talent beyond the songs a musician performs, an inner glow or fire that brings an artist to prominence in the first place. Sure, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” may not be the deepest song with the most meaningful, heartfelt lyrics ever, but I would argue that there’s no denying Whitney’s amazing voice and the strength of her performance in it. Anyone who’s ever tried to sing knows how hard it is to control the human voice and get it to do exactly what you want it to, and it’s like witnessing the raw power of nature itself to hear someone be able to effortlessly go from a plaintive whisper to a full-throttle belting, to take you from 0 to 60 with just a tilt of her head and a swelling crescendo. Some are born with that gift. Whitney was one of them.

Whitney Houston was beautiful. She was talented. She was blessed with an embarrassment of riches. Some would argue she pissed all of that away in the last years of her life, and that could indeed be a valid point of view to take. In the end, she was not able to find that “greatest love” she sang so movingly about; despite being loved by many, it could be argued that she didn’t really find her strength in that love. That she never could love herself enough to stay off the path to destruction, recognize her weaknesses, and ask for the help she needed is now, in retrospect, a harbinger of the sad events to come.

Her death is made all the more shocking by the fact that it never should have happened, that there was ample opportunity to pull herself together, lean on those who cared and had always been there, and rise back to full health and musical prominence. She could have done it, but, unfortunately, the tragedy of so many artists throughout history is that their demons eventually catch up to them and they pass from this mortal coil far too soon.

As far as opinions of her music, let’s keep in mind … any death is a shame, and the fact that a singular talent has now been removed from the game of life is something to mourn, no matter how you view the catalog they left behind. How many people do you know who are supreme talents, friends or colleagues or even complete strangers who make music that you find exceptional and moving? And if those people died tomorrow, would you remember all the dumb stuff they did in their personal lives, all the horrible habits they couldn’t overcome, all the crappy songs they made in-between the good ones …. or would you just go home and crank up the music they made that moved you, and close your eyes and revel in those memories they created for you and for the world they left behind?

Whitney Houston has passed away at the far-too-young age of 48. Regardless of what we find out about how she died in the days to come, let’s just remember that it doesn’t really matter. She left her songs, she made her mark … and her amazing voice will live on.

2 Responses to “The Greatest Love Of All”

  1. Fantastic, great stuff, extremely well written. Her death is shocking and leaves behind a huge void, but we need to remember the good stuff about her. Her wonderful voice is all of that.

    • Thanks for all of your wonderful compliments…..I think I’m blushing a little. 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and yes, her voice is the one thing that rises above all else and should be remembered. It was truly an amazing instrument.

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