Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston (1963-2012): I Know Why The American Nightingale Sings

By Barry Michael Cooper

"While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my GOD while I have any being." Psalm 146:2

"Nightingales are named so because they frequently sing at night as well as during the day. The name has been used for well over 1,000 years, being highly recognizable even in its Anglo-Saxon form – 'nightingale'. It means 'night songstress'...Its song is particularly noticeable at night because few other birds are singing..." 

-Wikipedia entry for Luscinia megarhynchos, better known as the "Nightingale."

Less than twenty-four hours before the Grammy's, Whitney Elizabeth Houston--the pride of Newark, N.J., and the greatest singer of her generation--was found dead in a luxury suite at the Beverly Hilton hotel. Houston was 48-years-young.

GOD Rest her soul.

The cause of death at the time of this writing, is unknown and when it is known, it will still hold mystery. Mystery that the gossip (or sloppit, as I call them) mongers will try to unravel by rumor, innuendo, assumption, and ignorance. And even then, they still won't know.

However, Whitney Houston's death will still be our loss.

Like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Richard Pryor, Don Cornelius, Kurt Kobain, the painter Francis Bacon--and countless others--Whitney Houston died from a broken heart. Not drugs, not suicide, not a gunshot, not an Aston Martin gunning through a Laurel Canyon barricade into the twilight expanse of a callous Hollywood night. That detail is set aside for coroner reports, which in turn feed legal issues, mortuary documents, and gossip. The heart is another story altogether. The heart is the fleshy, fragile, and percussive trophy case of passion. A myocardial trophy case not built to withstand the arbitrary crosswinds of instant adoration, wealth, and ultimately, rejection.

Whitney sang from the heart. Even when her heart was knocked over--and splintered into pieces shaped like silver teardrops--Whitney continued to sing. Even when the silken-steel of her beatific contralto was choked with the monody of stardom, Whitney continued to sing. Singing was Whitney Houston's life; a life many--including family, friends, enables, sycophants, and fans, too--in some way, shape, or form, profited from. We loved her.

Sometimes a person can be loved to death.

GOD Willing, Sunday night's Grammy audience will be filled with those thinking about Whitney's cautionary tale, as they sit back and hold their collective breaths, anxiously awaiting to be rewarded with that tiny sculpture. A tiny sculpture that will catapult them into the firmament of pop culture's elite. A tiny sculpture that some hope will validate their reason for living. Some of them will recognize the monster (which Lady Gaga brilliantly I.D.'d as Fame) that chased Whitney for three decades, as the same monster that is hunting them, too. A monster that whispers sweet nothings with the hot breath of cool lies.

Despite all of her enormous achievements--don't forget the mind-boggling success of the hit film The Bodyguard and the song, I Will Always Love You, which is still the best-selling single by a female artist in music history--despite her place as the most gifted singer on the planet in the last 30 years, despite the most dazzling, gorgeous smile, that lit up like the sun, Whitney Houston sang from the nighttime of her soul.

Whitney Houston was an American Nightingale.

Whitney was an American Nightingale, because she sang with unmistakable beauty from a really dark place, a place where few other birds are singing. That's why we heard her euphonic voice loud and clear. And now--though we won't hear it on this side of life's veil--Whitney sings a most beautiful song. She has gone to the place where broken hearts go; back to the Open Arms of Love, back to the ONE who Blessed her to bless us all these years. Whitney Elizabeth Houston is now singing a song worth more than any Grammy Award. A song not meant for our ears.

My debut anthology of street journalism from the 1980s (and more current essays), "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," is now available on Kindle/Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon site.


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written, thank you.

Bmc said...

@Anonymous/Dayana: Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it.

Josephine said...

I was left speechless and in tears by your beautiful words. Thankyou. And thankyou for reminding us just how special she was/is/will always be.

Bmc said...

@Josephine: Thank you for your kind and heartfelt response. I really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I woke today thinking of her broken heart. Well said.

Bmc said...

@Anonymous: It's a tragedy but Whitney isn't suffering anymore. Thank you for your kind feedback. I appreciate it.