Long before YouTube gave us instant access to all of our favourite music, my older sister and I would wait for the videos of our preferred artists to appear on televised music countdowns and record them on a videocassette so we could watch them over and over again. We would replay the tunes on the family room VCR and, along with our younger sister, often try to mimic the notes and dance moves of our most-loved musicians.
When I learned of Whitney Houston’s death yesterday, my mind almost instantly turned to that videotape because there was a song of hers that we had recorded on it and, at one stage when I was about 13-14 years old, I watched it repeatedly. It was called “Miracle”. The holding power a great song has over the course of one’s lifetime is remarkable. Hearing it, we instantly tune back to the moment its effect was most palpable.
Whitney’s immaculate, powerful voice singing the lyrics as she sat in what appeared as a deserted auditorium, juxtaposed with photographs of young people in various contexts of struggle and success, left an impression on me at a time in my life when I was searching for guidance.
We were dealing with some very personal, tricky family struggles that led my sisters and I to become quite closed off from our surroundings. At times, the pressure was overwhelming and it wasn’t always possible for me to derive comfort from loved ones. This video in particular, I would view intently and frequently.
How could you understand the way I feel.
How could you relate to so much pain.
Seems as though nothing can comfort me.
So today, I pray, that someone should listen…
Watching the black-and-white scenes and listening carefully as though Whitney’s lyrics were written for me, I understood the song to be about embracing circumstances, overcoming obstacles and making choices that would change our lives for the better. The song helped me contextualise the struggles I faced against the grander scheme of reality. As bad as things may have appeared, everyone has a taste of anguish and is often faced cumbersome tests of resolve and faith.
When the message it carries is good, music has a way of speaking to us, answering our questions, and giving us strength. At some points in my life, it was the only source of inspiration and encouragement I would respond to. I can’t count the number of times I listened to Diana Ross’s “I Will Survive” to take the sting off my first big breakup. Just last week, “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross almost moved me to tears while I was on the treadmill in the gym. I choked back the tears and said a prayer for my late father, God bless his soul, as soon as it was over.
There are a select number of songs that move and stay with us, so much so that we are able to recite each word, beat and pause in unison even after many years have passed since we last heard them. I realised yesterday how many of Whitney Houston’s songs I have committed to heart.
For nothing should matter
Not when love grows inside you
The choice is yours
There’s a miracle in store…
Nothing should matter
Not when love grows inside you
A voice of love is crying out
Don’t throw love away
There’s a miracle in store.
That videocassette, which we still have at our family home in Canada, included other hits from Whitney Houston’s heyday, including “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” “How Will I know,” and “Didn’t We Almost Have it All.” It was “Miracle” that struck a particularly strong chord with me.
When I watched the video on YouTube for the first time in more than a decade yesterday, I recalled how two of the images – the teenage girl crying at her locker and the young man donning a graduation cap carrying the words “I did it” on the top – had remained with me for many years and, for some reason, given me hope.
The song succeeded, as music often does, at transporting me back to a place I may have put aside, but not forgotten. It was a grand reminder about the potential power of a great song, which I was at risk of forgetting with all the rubbish, shallow music playing on the radio these days. Some songs encourage us when we most need inspiration. Whitney Houston’s music influenced many of us in this exceptional way. May she rest in peace.