I heard the news last night before bed, and forgot about it. Then I woke up too early and, as I sat in front of the TV, the news scroll reminded me. Still it’s vague, I’m in denial until I walk down to my building’s lobby to pick up our Sunday Times. A tenant on the first floor, a woman not known for her warmth, is leaving our building. She’s dressed in fur and wearing a hat (Church, I conclude). I say good morning, ask her how she’s doing. She replies, “I’m sad about Whitney.”
Unlike my neighbor, I kid myself that I am anything but proprietary about celebrities (that first-name familiarity—Ella, Frank, Lena, Sarah, Tony, Nat—my word). Back in the apartment I start to read the obit, and get unreasonably angry when they reference an album title as “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (correction: it’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight”). Idiots, I mutter, as I ponder whether I should run to my computer and fume out an admonishing letter—the fact-checker should be fired, Jon Pareles should know better, blah, blah, blah.
That song’s melody floats into consciousness, followed by lyrics (‘whatever you want from me, whatever you need from me, I’m your baby tonight’), followed by images from the video: Whitney in triplicate, styled in long gowned Supremes-splendor, her timbre mimicking girl-group silkiness until restraint gives way to melismatic fireworks. Other songs crowd in: the overplayed-but-undeniably-virtuosic “I Will Always Love You,” from The Bodyguard soundtrack; those stunning pop twins, “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and practically every power ballad she ever recorded.
At my computer I see that the spouse has already pulled out some CDs (“They were buried in the 80s pile,” he said, referring to a stash buried behind a row of celebrity bios and dramatic plays in our office) and placed them next to my workstation. By now, her music is loud inside my head; he knows the volume won’t abate until our stereo blares the real thing. RIP.