“The” voice – unmistakable, unparalleled, almost extraterrestrial – has been silenced. We do not know why, yet, and it’s a fool who’ll assume before the cause is revealed, but in everyone’s heart we think we know. Whatever the cause, one of the great magical voices in pop music, Whitney Houston, is now gone.
Lest I’m accused, I won’t play revisionist – I was never a fan of Houston’s music at its beginning. It wasn’t until her fourth album, MY LOVE IS YOUR LOVE that I connected. Houston found a groove befitting her natural gifts – it burst with a mixture of kinetic energy, and finally, clarity. She finally delivered on the soul she owed – and that we craved – for years.
But, fan or no, her superhuman vocal athleticism was incontestable, but never overshadowed the intricacy of her delivery. Beneath the bombast of her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” for example, you hear the vulnerability of Parton’s lyricism – Houston didn’t allow the pomposity and over-wrought production to deter the song’s bittersweet delicacy, even when belting the modulated chorus to unnecessary crescendos. In another #1 hit, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” you can practically hear the tears in her defiant assertion. In the best – and even the worst – of her catalog, her Herculean gifts were always discernable.
It’s also a fool who’ll try to discuss Houston without mentioning those damned demons. Her voice, once a wonder of the world, had sadly deteriorated over the past decade or so due to that years-long decline into the abyss of self-destruction. Her lucidity gone, her range limited, by the time her last CD – 2009s “comeback” I LOOK TO YOU – was released, her once absolute voice had dissipated into an unfocussed gasp – sad for a singer whose mightiest gift was that of vocal command.
I’ve often been accused of cold heartedness when I voice my low sympathy levels for addiction deaths and received a lot of flack over the years in my belief that if addiction is a disease – and I’m not stating it’s not – it is the only disease that is curable by the addicted. I still believe that.
But it makes it no less heart wrenching for all the victims, including the self-inflicted.
As the world mourns the death of a musical legend, I can only sit here and bow my head. Not again, not again.