I was never as rabid a fan of Whitney's as I was of Madonna and Belinda Carlisle (there are sure to be posts about them on their birthdays later this month), but I was definitely a fan. I remember hearing her duet with Teddy Pendergrass for the first time in 1984 (or 1985 – I'm not sure when exactly it was). My musical taste wasn't refined. I am just this side of tone deaf. But you could hear just in that very limited sample that there was something special about her voice. It was special enough that I went out and bought the album based on that song along. I never did that (I still don't). For years, there was no better voice in pop music. Some of the songs she recorded and performed live were breathtaking.
Somewhere along the way it started to unravel. Was it because of her relationship with Bobby Brown? Was it just an inability to handle fame? Who knows? Does it even matter? Drug addiction is caused by a million different things. Once it takes hold, we often don't even remember how and why we started using. We just know that we need to use it. Actually, we might not even know that. I'm not sure I thought I needed to use drugs. I honestly thought I was making that choice because I wanted to. It never occurred to me I was a typical drug addict. I remember knowing that I was addicted to meth at some point, but I had myself convinced that I was willingly addicted – that I wouldn't change it for anything. Let me be clear. I wasn't judgmental of a typical drug addict. I didn't think I was any better; I just thought I was different. I recall saying specifically, “When I'm ready to stop, I will just stop. I won't be one of those addicts who is always whining about how they want to stop and can't.”
I was right about that. I never whined that I wanted to stop and couldn't. I whined – and yelled and kicked and screamed – that I never wanted to stop and I hated that people (and by people, I mean the voices in my head) were trying to make me. While I don't have any real evidence for what I'm about to say, I do believe it. I feel like Whitney and I had that in common. She always struck me as defiant about how other people had the problem, not her. So, when she died, my eyes opened just a little bit wider to what might have happened to me if I had the resources to keep defying everyone who tried to help me. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given (and to have been able to accept) this chance to rebuild my life. I wish Whitney had been able to accept that chance, because she was a rare, beautiful talent and music is certainly worse off for not having her around.
So, to wish Whitney a happy birthday, here are some of my favorite Whitney moments (one of which is not even of her singing).
One Moment in Time at the 1989 Grammy Awards – This song could have been the cheesiest song every sung. Instead, I dare you to not get chills when you watch.
All at Once at the 1987 American Music Awards – The quality of this video isn't the best, but this is one of my favorite Whitney songs ever. And Diana Ross introduces her. What could be better? Well, one thing made it even better; the slight edge in Miss Ross' voice when she said, “OK. Don't get excited!” For those of you who don't speak Rossian, that translates into “I don't understand what you're screaming about. You realize it's not me performing tonight, right?” And stick around for when Diana comes back at the end. Priceless.
Jennifer Hudson at the BET Honors (with Whitney in the front row) – Just watch it.