There is no denying Whitney Houston was a troubled soul who made a host of poor decisions in her sadly brief life. Her drug abuse effectively destroyed her legendary voice, and she became yet another butt of the pop culture joke thanks to reality television and interview sound bites. To be frank, I hadn't given much thought to Whitney in quite some time outside of the smile that typically spreads across my face whenever I stumble across her music on the radio.
So why, while driving an activity bus full of teenagers home last night from a speech meet, when I was told about Whitney's death, did I break down in tears? And I'm talking ugly tears.
I'm 40. That's a tough transition to make in your life. My generation is hitting the big 4-0 in a much different way than I think our parents did. There's a youthfulness to this generation that seems to be holding on. My friends still go to concerts, wear pretty stylish clothes, and generally have decided that growing old doesn't have to mean growing up. So when we get these reminders of our own mortality, it can rattle us. For a lot of us, yes, we knew about Whitney's drugs and problems, but when we thought of Whitney Houston, we thought of that cute, smiling young woman asking us how she would know if he really loved her? We thought of that gorgeous closeup of her in the "I Will Always Love You" video, a song a lot of us loved but would never actually claim. To lose one of those icons of our youth is a reminder that youth is actually fleeting and that the time will come when more and more of our heroes will be lost to us. Our pop culture heroes have largely grown old with us. We didn't lose our heroes in droves the way our parents did when they lost Jimi, Janis, and Morrison in the span of about a year. Yeah, we lost Kurt and River young, but look at how many of our heroes are now pushing (or passed) 50 -- Madonna, Bono, Eddie, the Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys. We've gotten used to the idea that our icons will always be with us -- until they aren't.
Gen-X woke up this morning to a world without Whitney, and the day is going to come when we're going to say good-bye to more and more of those artists who created the soundtrack to our high school and college years. So yes, we practice a little revisionist history on a day like today and hearken back to a time when we were tooling around in our family station wagons blasting "Saving All My Love for You" and thinking that those moments were going to last forever and that we'd always have Whitney to score the important moments of our lives -- our first slow dance, our first breakup, that night driving up and down Main Street staving off boredom with people we thought would be our friends forever. For us, those moments seem like yesterday, but Whitney's death shows us that the years have indeed passed and will continue to pass.
RIP, Whitney. We will always love you.