The amount of planning and preparation that went into my birthday last year was significant. I had argued with friends, changed hotels a few times, moved the location from Vegas to cheaper and nearer Chicago, and whittled down my guest list. Winter thus far was mild and I was crossing my fingers that my luck would hold. It didn’t. LAst year winter came rushing into Chicago in February loud as a fucking lion. But, that wasn’t going to get me down; I was turning a certain age and my best friends were around me in a city I liked ( Sorry, so far in the US I only love east coast cities, New Orleans) and I had partied in boystown, drank myself silly, and talked really dirty with a scummy cab driver. Everything was coming to a head; I was on my way to meet my friends and my baby brother and his girlfriend at The Publican for my birthday dinner celebration. I was dressed right to: grey slacks, grey vest, metallic grey shirt and a fat pink bowtie, topped with a newsboy cap. I was perfect. and then I received this:
I turned and walked to the couch, sat down, and it took everything in me to hold myself together. The world, my world had gotten a little darker; I felt whatever is that is magic leave the world in that minute. I didn’t know whether to go to dinner or to stay in the room. All I knew was that the sweetest voice I had ever heard after my mother’s was no longer in the world. The only way I got through was by singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” at the restaurant and on my actual birthday on the 12th my b double o, Bianca. and my BFF, Joe, and I got in that big hotel bed and sang Whitney songs off key while watching the news. It was okay to cry. Even today a friend asked me if I was going to be okay today because Whitney for me musically was/is everything.
You see for me as a young black queer boi I have had to live in a world where I did not feel connected to any of the expected things; including music. I am not a Madonna fan. She did nothing for me; she couldn’t sing and even as a kid I knew something was off with her “Vogue” (when I was older I realized it was that b/c of the co-opting of a black gay movement and presenting it as her own, Madonna jumpstarted a long current trend of borrowing from us and profiting off of it by presenting it as their own original thing). Michael Jackson was epic but he was also spectacle, something untouchable. I had not been introduced to Nina or Billie, and I didn’t grow up in a Diana household. The only vocalist who had a shot of touching me in any way similar to Nippy would have been Anita, or Patti. But for whatever reason they didn’t they couldn’t. Whitney’s voice was what first spoke to me; I heard her sing and it was like the earth flooded with honey. When she sang it was a vocal fairytale. And to see her, a black girl, a brown skinned girl and know that she was seen as beautiful—it was everything. Sure others entered my life: Mariah, Toni, Christina, Beyonce, J Hud, but no one ever came close to capturing everything that Whitney captured at her best. I had to listen to so many make fun of her, so many go on and on and on abou the virtues of rap, hip hop, rock, and country, the significance of say the Beatles and Madonna and the like, but none stopped to think of this vocal giant who towered above every single singer who has entered the game since the 1980s. And now she was gone. Was, I type that as if she came back, as if she will come back. She is gone. She is not coming back.
Since she left so much has come out. Her drug use has been laid bare; we now know that she has battled drugs almost her entire career, pretty much since her second
album. She may have struggled to accept herself. She loved ferociously and ill-advisedly. She was a complicated woman. She was human. That was probably her greatest sin: she wasn’t perfection. But her voice, at the start and lead
ing up to its peak was perfection. Her voice redefined perfection. Even in decline her voice on her albums was better than most; listen to I look to you again. “Worth it” is splendid, and the vulnerability of “I want you to
love me” and “Salute” just jumps. But, it is “I didn’t know my own strength” that moves so many of us. I remember when I listened to it after I passed my oral exams and when had distance from an unhealthy relationship, I cried. Music today rarely does that, many artists today can’t do that. They are disciples of the spectacle so they give us flash, newsclips, and buzz, twitter feeds light up when they walk across a room. But they can’t light up a soul with their voice; just standing there flat-foot and sing. But Miss Whitney Houston could. I used to kiki about how a room would stand as soon as Whitney entered the room; they stood because they knew there would be no reason to sit down and be seated the moment she opened her mouth and shared that voice.
My favorite performances:
This was REHEARSAL!:
I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Whitney I love you, I will always love you and your death will never make sense to me. You are music .