I was 13 in 1985, when Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album arrived at my house as a Chanukah gift.
I knew only a little about Houston, whose song, “You Give Good Love,” was starting to get a lot of play on the radio and MTV. Like, for example, I knew that she sang like the most beautiful of birds. And I knew that her voice was unlike any I had ever heard. And I knew that the photograph of her on the record’s back—the one pictured above; the one I gazed longingly toward as I played her record over and over—made me want to marry her.
Literally, I would try and figure out how I could possibly marry Whitney Houston. No, she wouldn’t have interest in a zit-faced, gangly 13-year-old. But one day I’d be 20, and she’d be 29. One day I’d be 29 and she’d be 38. One day … hey, it could work.
Of course, I never married Whitney Houston. Instead, I grew older and began to watch, in utmost horror, as she morphed from this angelic figurine into … what? Crazed. Hostile. Bitter. Bizarre. Drug-addicted. I always hated observing Whitney Houston’s decline, because she had once symbolized something so pure and lovely in my life. As a boy, I grew up in a very white, very predictable world. We were supposed to see beauty in a certain generic shape: White skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. The cliche. But Whitney Houston was, again, beyond beautiful.
To see that all crumble … heartbreaking.
I’ve been reading the Tweets about Whitney Houston’s passing, and many disgust me. There is no humor in the immediacy of death; no funny punchlines to be had. A person’s life has ended; her existence extinguished. It is a tragedy. Whether one sings or calculates or collects garbage, the end is a tragedy.