Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rest in Peace : A Tribute to Whitney Houston (1963 ~ 2012)

1993, I was 8 and in third grade, I watched a music video on MTV. This beautiful black woman is singing a ballad sitting on a stool in the snow.  While observing the clip, I thought to myself “Her mouth is very wide, her lips trembling. She is singing very loud and she is singing the same “love you” line again and again.  And I know what “love you” means”. I found out later from my mother that her name was “Whitney Houston”.

Soon afterwards, I watched the movie “The Bodyguard” on VHS with my parents. It quickly became our family’s favorite. My father bought me a tape of the movie’s soundtrack and I would play it in the car on my way home from school every day. I was hooked on her voice and the songs ever since. I would play from track 1, “I Will Always Love You” to track 6, “Jesus Loves Me” and then I would rewind the tape all the way back to the beginning and listen again. I simply could not care less about the other songs featured by other artists on that album. (Until today, I have that album on my iTunes and I am still clueless what the other songs are) My sister and I would sing along always trying to outdo each other in the car while systematically annoying our parents or sometimes our poor driver. We knew the lyrics to these songs not even knowing what they actually meant as we only started speaking English many years later. I was mesmerized, actually to be honest, bewitched by the magic of her powerful singing voice. I had never heard anyone sing like that before.  That to me was (and still is) what I call “the real singing”. To this day, although I listen to a wide range of music genres and artists, no one ever comes close to the greatness of Whitney’s voice.  

As I grew older, I started collecting her music and my admiration for Whitney as well grew from strength to strength.  I inherited the love of music from my father but it was Whitney who single-handedly planted the interest in singing and performing. I have always wanted to be able to sing those big long notes she holds on “Saving All My Love For You”, “All The Man I Love”, “The Greatest Love Of All”, “I Have Nothing”, “Run To You”, “One Moment In Time”, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and my ultimate favorite “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”.  I know the lyrics of these songs by heart and I am always singing them. Be it in the shower, on stage with a band, while cooking meals or serenading a lover in bed or drunken karaoke nights, Whitney and her music is always present. To all of us who love singing and who have tried their hand at singing know how much she means to us. We all try to mimic her vocal runs, riffs, phrasing and adlibbing.  This may sound funny to many but to me (and to us who know what I am talking about) it is a serious business. How we all wish we were blessed with a voice like hers. How we wish we knew how to belt out notes like the way she does. How we wish we could convey emotions while carrying a tune like her . Whitney is the first ever singer that touched me in the most profound way. Her influence and impact on me as a singer and music lover is beyond words.  

2007, I was 23. Studying and living in Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to catch Whitney sing live at a music festival in Kuala Lumpur. As a struggling student I did not have much money.  But did I care? I bought the ticket anyway.  I would rather go hungry than miss this opportunity. I even skipped two afternoon classes ignoring my professor’s icy stares so that I could get to the venue and take the front row seat. To my delight, I was indeed one of the first few people to arrive at the venue and therefore was rewarded with a space closest to the stage. I endured through various opening acts under the scorching sun. I also did not eat lunch and dinner that day as I feared I would lose my precious spot if I had gone away to buy food and drinks. Until she appeared on stage which eventually happened after midnight, I just could not believe that I was actually going to see her. I kept thinking “Is this some sort of hoax?” “Is she (for real, for real) gonna come out and sing?” Considering where I came from, seeing an artist of that magnitude performing live was never in my wildest dreams.  Consumed with so much excitement and delight, I felt like a helium balloon pushing to take off and fly up in the air. If I had not been holding tight on the metal bar in front of me, I probably would have. Whitney did not sing the way I would have liked her to that night but it was more than a treat to see this idol I have long adored since my childhood days singing my favorite songs just a few meters away from me. The experience was so intense and somewhat dreamlike that I knew I would never forget that night.

2012, I am 27 and living in Bali. I woke up to the beeping sound of my iPhone’s message that broke this terrible tragic news. Whiney is gone. The message read “Did you know Whitney Houston is dead?”  I did not want to believe it but I also knew people do not joke about deaths.  But… NO, NOT YOU, Whitney! NOT YET!

Like many things we take for granted in life, I obliviously believed that she was always going to be around.  At least not this sudden. Not this fast.  Reading about her upcoming film “Sparkle”, I was excited like everyone else, rooting for her comeback. By judging the photos with Jordin Sparks released from the film, she looked absolutely stunning and we all thought she was well on her way to recovery and finally had turned her life around. It just breaks my heart that we will never hear anything from her now that she is gone. This is it! 

48, Whitney? Considering artists like Tony Bennet, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand still making music and going strong, you have indeed gone too soon.

Whitney once asked “Didn’t we almost have it all?” with one of her famous tunes.

Yes, Whitney, with you around, we had it all.

In our hearts, you will always live… for we will always love you.

Rest in Peace! 

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