“Give me something to sing about,” sang Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the excellent Joss Whedon musical, “Once More, With Feeling.” (From which the title of this post was mis-appropriated.) Buffy had died and gone, probably, to heaven, but her friends wanted her back home. So they re-animated her. Buffy was kinda bummed.
I just read that Whitney Houston died. My first thought was, “Wait, Whitney Houston DIED?” Shit. My second thought was a song, an earworm from my 1990s, before the term earworm, before the song became an earworm for me.
FADE TO: Somewhere in Los Angeles, a city where I did not live. Sometime in the early 90s. Just before Valentine’s Day. Visiting a man. (I am choosing vagueness. Some people I know will be glad.) I was fairly smitten with this guy, despite the miles that separated us, and many other differences. He was sweet, and fun. His life seemed big, glamorous. I lived in Seattle. (Same time zone, one thing in our favor.) We’d gone to see a movie. Memory is funny: I went down to LA several times while we were involved, and he came to Seattle several times–and our visits start to blur, but I’ll say that we saw a movie the night before Valentine’s Day; I’ll say the movie was “The Crying Game.” Late that night, he said something that made me feel our time together was almost over, that he didn’t want to continue a long distance relationship. Despite my own misgivings about how long it could last, I was young and romantic and sad when I heard him say whatever it was he said. Though these years later I know it was best to let go, back then, I wasn’t ready. There were things I thought ours might have been.
Early the next morning, and I mean really early, something like 7am on a Sunday morning LA time, Valentine’s Day, someone in his apartment complex decided to turn up the radio really loud. The radio was blaring a song.
You know the song.
First, in the origami that was folding in my heart (expect and hope for something, then have it change too many times until it can never be the shape you thought you wanted) the song’s refrain was an irony at my expense. Later, every time I heard that song, it was a reminder of that salty moment, that sadness which felt like emptiness. (I didn’t learn until years later that Dolly Parton wrote the song, a fact which now makes the song more okay, especially when it’s Dolly and not Whitney singing. More personal origami, this just in: As research for two novels, I’m reading a book about the April 1974 tornados that scoured the middle U.S., and according to King Wikipedia, that’s the exact month when Dolly Parton released that song.)
“AND I-I-I-” (HOW LONG CAN SHE HOLD THAT “I”???) “WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUUU-U-U-U” Whitney Houston sang on that early Valentine’s morning, from a stereo I would never see, volume cranked past 10 to 11 by someone I would never meet, some random person living near a man I had hoped to spend a lot more time with. (Maybe that person played the song that morning extra loud for a valentine. Maybe that person still loves that valentine. Maybe there is an “always” somewhere. For: I am happily married and have a wonderful child. The man who lived in LA is married and has children, too, and I hope he’s happy.) At that moment, though, even Whitney sounded sad, her sadness spilled out, sad for the sad little me, lost in that anonymous LA apartment complex, so early on Valentine’s morning.
So now you, too, know what I heard, actually, when I “heard” the news tonight about Whitney Houston.
It’s awful that another talented and tortured soul died early. I wish people going through her kind of pain could get better, could live to be happy and really old and then die of natural causes. I have other things I could write about Whitney Houston, but this memory, this earworm, floated to the top.
(“Don’t give me songs…don’t give me songs…give me something to sing about,” Buffy said.)