Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Day Whitney Houston Died

Hi Bloggy Friends,

I lost a piece of my soul when I found out Whitney Houston passed away on Saturday. If you didn't know this already, all gays are guided in life by a fairy god diva. Whitney was mine.

My earliest memory of her consists of a prepubescent me sliding The Bodyguard into a clunky Walkman and singing my heart out as I strolled the country road I used to live along. The cows and Farmer Joes I passed stared like I was an alien, but with Whitney's angelic voice piping in my ears, I was sent to a rare world where I didn't give a damn what other people thought. I'd just belt my favorite track, "I Will Always Love You," at the top of my lungs — something I could do less screechily in the days before my vocal chords manned up.

Her voice was at its prime in those days; crystal clear — like the little bell in It's a Wonderful Life that could give angels their wings. I was hooked.

From then on, I wore out every album and movie I could get my hands on — Waiting to Exhale (Shoop!), The Preacher's Wife, and 1998's My Love is Your Love (MLIYL), which contained the songs that became the anthems of my "coming out" years. I thought she was particularly powerful during this era. Her videos were rife with you-better-watch-yourself finger waves at the camera, and enough hand-on-hip, head-twisting action to empower a whole generation of new-to-the-scene gay boys. It was exactly what I needed to guide me through the incessant "I'm gay" speeches I had to make for family and friends. Being forced to share my queerness with the world was exhausting, but all was made right when I pushed play on "It's Not Right But It's OK" and finger-waved myself back to a happier place.

It wasn't long after MLIYL that she started the unfortunate descent from world-renowned vocal queen to becoming synonymous with the word "crack." She didn't help the situation, either. The reality show she did with Bobby was excruciating to watch, and she looked homeless in every tabloid photo that showed up on the newsstands. And then the biggest blow of all — she couldn't sing the way she used to. There was no more confident attitude. She seemed weak. Scared. It broke my heart. I felt like my diva gave up.

There were a few post-"crack is whack" moments of hope. I was living in Chicago when she released Just Whitney, which was nowhere near as critically acclaimed as her previous works, but I was in line at Tower Records in Lincoln Park at midnight the day it was released. Then came her Christmas album, One Wish, and in 2010 she released what would become her final album, I Look to You. I played them all with the same fervor as her old stuff, straining myself to listen for the Whitney moments I adored — the sassy runs, the extra "ohs" and "uhs" at the end of a verse. I tricked myself into believing she was still there, but deep inside I knew my Whitney was gone forever.

And now she really is. It's refreshing to hear so much praise for her on the news and Twitter. I do want to express something, though. Everyone keeps calling Whitney Houston ONE of our greatest singers. But I disagree. I think she was THE greatest. She had a God-given talent no vocalist could hold a candle to. A co-worker of mine said it best this week when he called Whitney a queen. She made an incomparable mark on music history — being the only artist to have seven consecutive No. 1 hit singles, and in her sadly too-short career she racked up 415 awards. Her legacy will continue to inspire the vocalists that'll sing us through the rest of our lives. And even though I'm wearing my gay shoes comfortably these days, her voice will continue to give me strength. No matter where I'm at in life, if I hear a Whitney song overhead I  know I'm in the right place at the right time. That, after all, is what fairy god divas are for.

I will always love you,


Please enjoy this video of my favorite Whitney performance, singing "I Will Always Love You" on VH1 Divas Live in 1999.


Bill Fogle said...

Beautifully written.

Rick Watson said...


I'm so glad to see this post from you. You know I know what Whitney means to you. I get it. I totally get it. Whit will always be with us through her music and she will always be with me through you.

Love you girl...

Ellie said...

This is going to sound strange (or not), but when I heard the news about Whitney I thought of you immediately. Lots of love to you!