There is a picture that CNN has shown repeatedly tonight of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Liza Minelli. It seems unfathomable to me that three out of four of them are now gone. Sure, there was always the underlying gnawing feeling that lives fraught with drug use could not end well. And yes, we all knew intellectually that the odds of longevity were decidedly slimmer when a crack pipe was involved. But somehow, that doesn't seem to lesson the blow or ease the pain of our collective loss.
Music, perhaps more than any other sense memory type of thing, has the ability to stir and transport us. It picks up where words leave off. It brings people together -- people who wouldn't necessarily be together. And so, when one of it's emissaries leaves us, we lose a little bit of that magic that would make this world seem more humane in times when we so desperately need it to be.
And so I find myself with another reminder not only of my own mortality, but of a time in life permanently relegated to the past, a song that lives on only in the recesses of my memories now. And it sounds silly to say that part of the reason for such deep impact is that death robs us of the chance for a comeback, for that full circle moment that would transcend all the mistakes of the past and return a star triumphantly to the glory days of his or her former youth, even if it's just for an evening. We all want that second chance, not only for a celebrity, but for ourselves.
For a brief moment, we'd like to remember who we were, how we felt, whom we loved, and what dreams we held in our hearts with the earnest belief that their realization was possible. We want to remember the car we drove when we first heard that song, how much younger we were, the taste of a kiss, the outfit we wore. These are the things inextricably intertwined with the music.
As a songwriter, I remember endless hours in the recording studio trying to make one of my early demos sound like a Whitney Houston record. I remember going to see her on Saturday Night Live, being in the same room with that voice. I remember covering her song "So Emotional" in one of the first shows I did of my own in New York. (This was not the best idea I ever had, me singing Whitney, by the way.) I remember endless attempts to pitch my songs to her and Clive Davis. These were my earliest days as an aspiring songwriter, and with every cassette tape (yes, cassette), I delivered my hopes and dreams as well.
If there's a take away from tragedy such as this, I think it lies in celebrating the moment. We get one chance to walk through this life and savor the experience. Even the heartbreak is inherently beautiful if you stop and appreciate how you grow and who you become because of it. These aren't just the best days of our lives, they're the only days.
By all accounts, Whitney Houston grappled with demons that seemed in direct proportion to her immense talent. It is often this way with artists. We unknowingly reap the benefit of their insurmountable pain. It makes them great, but it takes them too soon.
I can only hope, as I'm sure much of the world is hoping tonight, that Whitney Houston is finally at peace.