The book that I have been writing opens with a scene where the protagonist is attending a live performance of his favorite artist, when a nearby person’s cell phone rings with a digital snippet of “How Will I Know,” one of the many hits by Whitney Houston during her great career as superstar singer, a career that despite its accomplishments was still too short. I had picked that song because I always liked it.
My favorite “How Will I Know” memory takes place at Lowe’s on a Saturday morning. The song was playing over the loudspeaker, and I was trying to sing along. But Whitney’s powerful yet playful voice kept getting interrupted by the same monotoned request for someone from plumbing to report to customer service. I was on my way to complain to the disc jockey until I remembered that a very special woman in my life was waiting at home for a working shower head.
It seems like just yesterday I was riding the bus home from elementary school while “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” played on the radio. And when Whitney sang the line “I wanna feel the heat with somebody,” I thought she was singing, “I wanna compete with somebody.” Why would you want to dance with someone (who loves you) just to compete with them? Was this a dance competition? That I could not reconcile these lyrics only raised my assessment of Whitney Houston’s and her songwriters’ art.
And I will never forget the scene in “American Psycho” when the title character plays “The Greatest Love of All” for two lady friends, and one of them says, while laughing on ecstasy-laced chardonnay, “You actually listen to Whitney Houston?” Of all the gruesome deaths in that movie, I was the least horrified by hers.
The real horrors, however, were saved for the real Whitney Houston. For all her success, and all her failures, she should have listened to the American Psycho’s interpretation of her song:
“The Greatest Love of All” is one of the best, most powerful songs ever written about self-preservation, dignity. Its universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late to better ourselves.
When I came home last night and heard the shocking news, I couldn’t help but think about what this did to the beginning of my book, which I had not shown to anyone except my wife. Whether I keep the song reference in or not, I know that I will never be able to think about it the same way again. Whitney’s music and talent will outlive the tragedy of her death, but will always remind me of the sadness of a life cut short.
Rest in peace, Whitney Houston. You will be missed.