What the new doc on Whitney Houston, simply called Whitney, makes abundantly clear is that her life as a celebrity was far more interesting than her chart-unstoppable songs. In her voice, we heard the death of a long tradition of expressing, in popular terms, deep human emotions (soul music) and the emergence of the sheerness of presence. This was a now-ness even surpassing that of the android in Blade Runner, Rachel, which at least had artificial memories. There was no past to speak of with Whitney. There was just there there. This is how she sounded in song after song.
Hers was a will that sings 'I will,' a confidence that sings of its own confidence. The generation that discovered Aretha ("One Step From Misery") Franklin would have ignored or completely missed Houston. But Reagan's USA could not. Here was the voice of an age that attacked (and finally destroyed) a working-class subjectivity with bitter class memories and the idea of progress as a history of master/servant struggles (Walter Benjamin's "historical cognition"), and replaced it with a depth-less, content-less subjectivity that was cellular, self-invented, and self-improving. No one sang this better than Whitney. She wasn't the secularization of gospel (that's Franklin), but the real subsumption of the black secular. This is why the praise heaped on Whitney Houston by the wealthy New York investment banker in American Psycho, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), is so effective. He is not being funny. He gets her voice. She is the purest sound of Reaganomics ever recorded.
Patrick Bateman to the women making out on the couch next to him:
It's hard to choose a favorite among so many great tracks. But "The Greatest Love of All" is one of the best, most powerful songs ever written about self-preservation and dignity. Its universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it's not too late to better ourselves... Since, Elizabeth, it's impossible in this world we live in to empathize with others, we can always empathize with ourselves. It's an important message. Crucial, really. And it's beautifully stated on the album.
Whitney Houston's debut album is "called simply Whitney Houston."
In 1992, Houston made millions of dollars by destroying everything that was truly beautiful in Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You." Her robo-powered R&B version of the country-lite tune was, as always, a force that sings it is a force because it is a force. Whom ever she was singing to, she was blowing that person down to the ground. Recall that Maxell tape commercial from the '80s.
That was the lover in her song. And this person is nothing like the one in Parton's original version, which was recorded in 1973. Both the lover and the singer are broken people. They are going through a lot. Breaking up is painful. Parton's voice is so fragile. She may or may not have made the right decision. She could be alone for the rest her life. Her heart may never heal. She is a reed in Pascal's existential wind.
This is how the soul of a human really feels. It has texture, and grain to it, and it might be on the point of breaking and falling into a despair that the self, by itself, cannot hope to pull its own self out of.