Three weeks ago today, we on this side of the world, woke up to the news of Whitney Houston’s death. As usual, I got the news on our favourite social networking site. The script played out as expected throughout the rest of the day and week: the 24h news coverage and videographies, the outpouring of grief from celebrities and fans, the Bobby Brown Bashing, the commentaries on the scourge of drugs, the daily breaking news and highly contradictory opinions about her state of mind in the days up to her death, and the written pieces and documentaries about her life featuring the usual suspects of undisclosed sources, childhood and family friends and associates whose whereabouts we questioned when the original Pop Princess, as she was sold to us, was in need. The script ended with a homecoming service where Whitney’s life was celebrated in song and word, and the world said good-bye to yet another influential figure of modern times.
Strangely enough, this time round, I didn’t partake in the ritual as much as I had done with Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger, etc etc. The list is ridiculously endless right? Of course, I did read some of the coverage and shared my opinion on whose fault it all was when debating with family and friends (not Bobby’s may I add); but I wasn’t glued to the TV, I didn’t immediately take to blog about it, I didn’t clear Amazon of their stock of Whitney CDs, and I didn’t play any of her music that first week. I didn’t even watch her funeral and still haven’t even though it’s on my sister’s sky box to view. This behaviour was surprising for me because like anyone of my generation with a pulse, Whitney’s music was in many ways, a soundtrack to my life. Most of us have very clear memories of where we were both physically and emotionally for many of her tracks from each of her albums.
Despite my sort of uncharacteristic lack of desire to join in the ‘wake’, there was no doubt I was very sad that day. I think though, I had already mourned Whitney years before, more precisely, in 2001, when that image of her skeletal figure performing at a Michael Jackson tribute concert appeared on our screens. Hers was an image I knew well from my line of work and close personal experience, but am still not at all used to. It was an image that declared death had made its mark by first taking away a person’s physical prowess but not letting anyone know when it was going to take the rest. And therein lies the anguish of what that image represents – the anguish of waiting under the premise of business as usual, and certainty of the final outcome but not being able to comprehend it. So dare I sound like ‘I knew this was going to happen’, but I did in fact know that this day would come for Whitney, so my mourning was done.
Now that the drama has died down somewhat, at least until the cause of death is confirmed and the circus starts again, I am thinking about what could we, who are still fortunate enough to have the gift of life learn from her extra-ordinary walk. OK, so we now know that chunks of her life were expertly packaged and sold to us (and we bought heavily into it). And yes she danced a bit too long and a tad too hard with the devil. And yes she chose a rather unsuitable husband, though I argue that a woman who had the pick of, at a minimum, 5 seemingly more appropriate partners (Ralph T, Johnny G and Bell, Biv or Devoe in New Edition), and chose the one she did, must have done so for a perfectly logical reason for her circumstances at the time!
But despite and in spite of her shortcomings, Whitney Houston left behind a legacy. She is the most awarded female act of all time and the standard against which every female pop artist has been measured against since the 80’s. And many of these artists are clear about who their vocal influence was – the woman herself. Like Michael Jackson she changed the face of MTV; and like both Michael and Madonna, she took music to another level altogether but unlike them, kept it all about the voice and less about the ‘theatricks’. Her legacy is one that when I eventually played her final album ‘I Look to You’ on the day of her funeral, driving across the chaos of central London on a Saturday afternoon, I got to my destination and back home with a light step and in a ridiculously good mood all because of that magical voice of hers.
In our own walks we make some highly questionable choices along the way. We may be lucky to rebound from these choices and go down a different route, or we may not be so fortunate. Sometimes we will choose to keep bad company and not find the strength or support to change that company. There are 2 sides to this – each and every one of us was sanctified before birth to leave a shining light on this life whatever rubbish decisions we make along the way. The trick is in not losing faith in recognizing our given ability and realizing that certain destiny. Clearly we will not all be record breaking musical icons, but we are multi-dimensional beings that are truly capable of making a mark on our patch. We just need to choose to do so alongside all the other deeds and apparent mis-deeds we do.