It wasn’t too long ago that I had taken a favorite Whitney Houston out of my iTunes rotation. It’s a Christmas song from the first “A Very Special Christmas” anthology and after a lot of listens during the season it is one I treasure and put away every year until the calendar finds its way back to that season.
There’s a phrase in the Christmas standard that for me describes the voice singing this version of a well known song “with a voice as big as the sea.” The voice matches the sentiment.
I know it won’t fade with repeated playings. It is effortlessly strong enough to hold up even outside the season. And it will endure what is to come.
What is underway now is a familiar and sad story from those around her in her last days who will repeatedly tell anyone with a camera for now that there was nothing wrong to the video and still photos that will cause them to “break their silence” and tell the “real story” when they want more attention later on.
What surrounds this death is as much about what others want us to see as it is about Whitney Houston. It is about the crap that gets attached to real talent when – surprise, the talent coexists with the same basic problems all of us have.
It not only turns our heads as we seek to find what is beyond a voice that gets our attention. It turns the head on stage who can quickly go from looking beyond the spotlights to mistaking the spotlights for the sun, moon and stars.
If life outside of that is far from ideal, what happens under the spotlight is the excuse for it – the exception to it – until there is no shelter even there, where a performer is the most vulnerable yet the most in control.
At some point an artist’s work becomes a mixture of their talent and our reaction to it. And when they leave us suddenly we resort to chart positions and time on the charts to explain their broad appeal as well as the height from which they fell.
Right now, there are a lot of people measuring that height and adjusting their place on the tape measure.
I think for most of us, music and talent this enduring and timeless isn’t an appeal measured by looking up and down. It speaks to something within us. A lot follows that initial contact and some of it matters. But at some point it is as simple and monumental as action and reaction and the two don’t always have to be locked in a dance turned death match.
The calendar will once again find its way back to the Christmas season and the voice as big as the sea singing about another kind of voice as big as the sea will be back without a lot of the baggage that followed that moment – that encounter.