I grew up in a home in which music provided a near-constant soundtrack to my life. This was thanks to my mother, who grew up during the The Beatles reign and found such enlightenment in the early years of rock-and-roll, in contrast, perhaps defiance, to her strict Catholic upbringing, that she even bestowed me with the name of her favourite song. For her, music was like an aural vitamin; something to take in every day for increased wellbeing. Thus, as a child, the radio was always playing and I quickly adopted the habit—or perhaps it is better worded as “addiction”—of also taking time to appreciate the symphony of sound from the era.
While we didn’t have an extended cable package that included MTV or Much Music (I may have been the only Western kid without this), there was plenty of alternative music programming such as American Bandstand and Solid Gold (!!!) that allowed me a visual glimpse into the voices I heard every day. I was always riveted to the television when they aired. Pop and rock stars held my interest so much more than those made famous from film. The fashion, the attitude, the rebellion all appealed to me even though I was too young to fully understand why (or realize that it was as much theatre and marketing as any movie).
One of the first music videos I recall seeing was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston. Childhood-me, just getting over the wonder of Disney, was completely mesmerized. Even at that age, I could recognize that the voice I was hearing was magical. I also thought the singer was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Whitney, partnered with Michael Jackson, are the musicians who first gave my soul life as a kid. This evolved into becoming a fan of Janet Jackson, Madonna and then, as a teen, Stevie Nicks and Courtney Love, which shows how life’s trajectory may never follow a linear pattern. But even as my tastes morphed into acts that were decidedly less parent-friendly, Whitney was still in the background. Her fame and presence in the lives of a generation solidified as “I Will Always Love You” became the defining anthem for all high school slow-dances in the nineties.
One of the more recent memories I have of Whitney’s music tying into a defining moment of my life happened shortly after I bought my first home, a purchase that represented success and stability for me. The rush of emotion I felt at this major achievement—and commitment—swayed between elation and fear. After all, I was a single career woman with no back-up if things fell to shit. As I settled in and started planning improvements to “make it my own”, the music of my childhood seemed to be the most fitting background noise to bridge the span of time from where I was to where I proudly stood now. Singing along (poorly) to Whitney’s greatest hits while painting my walls with a fresh coat of the hue dubbed “candlelight glow” marked this celebration.
I recently watched the documentary “Whitney” which depicted the incredible highs—and tragic, heartbreaking lows—of this, one of the most iconic voices of the twentieth century. I felt a bit numb as the credits started to roll. As though all the personal memories I associated with her and her music growing up could no longer be appreciated after witnessing the darkness that manifested with her fame.
But there’s more to a life than the end.
And we should take that mirror of how someone’s influence defines us, our life and times, and allow it to be their story, their grace and their power.