Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Whitney Song

Over drinks the other night, I was telling a friend that I didn’t know what it said about me that some of my favorite songs as a 12- and 13-year-old were sung by women and were about the impossibility of love. (Well, some of them were sung by, say, Jon Bon Jovi or the frontman of White Lion, but same difference.)

I didn’t say it the other night, but the first song I always think of in this vein is “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” by Whitney Houston, because I have very firm memories of listening to it on Z-100 or WPLJ late at night in my Long Island bedroom. The song was released the summer I was 13, an age when my inner life was a raging melodrama for absolutely no reason. My crush was on a 17-year-old lifeguard who couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup. I was a few years away from even kissing a girl. And the culture I was ingesting (Family Ties, Super Mario Bros., baseball) wasn't stirring too many deep thoughts. The friends I have now, at 38, were probably listening to the Minutemen and reading Nietzsche.

It’s terribly sad that Houston has died, but it’s not as shocking as it should be for a 48-year-old. Which just makes it sadder, maybe. I was never a huge fan of her music, but that one song, that one summer, made a serious impact. Listening to it now, my reaction then seems both ridiculous and totally understandable. One of the song's central lyrics is “the ride with you was worth the fall.” This was so far before I knew about rides. Or falls. Or anything else for that matter. In a way, this was one of the same essential powers as fictive literature, teaching about something vicariously by accurately recreating it in art. Her voice was indisputably something special, and in this song it starts somewhat restrained and gains more and more force, so that by the end it completely separates itself from the generic ’80s strings section beneath it.

It’s the one song of hers I currently own. I bought it for nostalgic reasons. But it’s better than that.