I read the news yesterday on my phone while having some happy hour cocktails at the Boiler Room. Jacob was outside smoking and I occupied myself during that time on my phone, scanning through the news. That is when I came across the headline announcing that Whitney Houston was dead. I didn't believe it immediately, thought it another Internet rumor that had run ahead of itself. I didn't want to believe it. Shock is always registered slowly in cases like these. The immediate reaction is always denial, thinking that this can't be true, that, no, something must be wrong here, that this can't be. But then more details start to appear. Her publicist confirmed that she was found dead at 3:55pm. No other details were known or disclosed, but on my mind and everyone else's was drugs, assuming that that must somehow be the cause.
My heart sank as the shock started to register, it truly heartbreaking that such a beautiful voice that gave us so much left this world so early. Jacob came back in, he having heard the news from someone while outside smoking, telling me that Whitney Houston had died.
I took over the jukebox at Boiler Room in Whitney's memory, fed dollar bills into the machine and played a good ten or so Whitney tracks. As song after song played, memories flooded over me, the moments in which these songs intersected events of my own life. These songs are there in the background in even some of my earliest memories. That the voice behind these songs had died really hit me hard last evening, bringing to the fore a stark awareness of our mortality, of our short time here on this planet. There is, of course, "I Will Always Love You," it such an incredible rendition full of clear emotion that nearly everyone has projected their own hurt and desire on to at one point or another. My mom was in love with this song, bought The Bodyguard soundtrack, and played it repeatedly as we drove around the suburbs of Northern Virginia in her minivan. I was too young at the time to understand what I understand now, that my mom was going through something, probably a lot of things, with her rocky marriage to my father, and that this song gave her comfort by vocalizing very clearly particular moods and feelings. I just thought it was a beautiful song and didn't really hear all the hurt in the song until a few years later, but then when I did, I had similar moments with this song, would turn it up real loud when it came over the radio on long drives, turn it up loud enough so that I could still clearly hear Whitney's voice over my own as I sang along to the lyrics, getting very emotional, thinking about various loves, crushes, and life in more broad terms.
When "The Greatest Love of All" came on last night, I spiraled back into more recent history. I landed at Metropolitan several years ago for Queereoke. Gabriel was attempting to sing this song, failing cause he's not Whitney, cause no one is, but doing a great job of conveying his own emotional attachment to the song, and the rest of the bar enjoying the performance, singing along as well, getting carried away in the song's emotions. That friendship ended a couple years ago and there were some thoughts about that, brought about by hearing this song, recollections of that time of my life. But then I found myself hurtling back into the present, carried gently by Whitney's soaring vocals in this song, listening to these gorgeous lyrics about the beauty inside of all of us, one of those eighties anthems about uplifting humanity that only Whitney and Michael Jackson would even attempt to pull off.
"Million Dollar Bill" came on. These were the nights when I was going out to bars just about every night, dancing until the wee hours. This was my jam when it first came out, the song that would make me run to the dance floor. It's a beautiful pop song, her vocals not as clear here as they used to be, but still good enough to make you sing along to these lyrics and know exactly what that feeling is she is talking about, wanting that feeling and so singing about it, because there are those people, those early stages of seeing a guy, when they make you feel like a million dollars. Working at the hotel, Dwayne and I in the back office with the radio on all day, really turning up the volume and freaking out whenever the song would come on KTU.
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" still provokes similar emotions. If you're between me and the dance floor when that synth drum starts up at the opening of this song, look out. And I recalled all of these moments, now past, from the perch in time I occupied last night, knowing that the person responsible for so much joy and beauty in my own life was now dead. It is such a sad, sad end to her life. Whitney Houston's death brought about a renewed awareness on my own part of endings, particularly my own eventual one, but also of the stuff that lies before them, the hit singles that we dance to and sing along to, trying to make the most of this time that we have here on this planet.