I wanna dance with somebody, i will always love you, i didn’t know my own strength

I am going through a grieving process–similar to how I felt when we lost Luther and Michael–but much deeper, much more profound. though i never met her, talked to her, or was any closer than cheap Reunion Arena seats that i as a poor college student could afford, i feel the loss of Whitney Houston at a much more personal, visceral level.

i have always imagined my own life’s highs and lows mirrored by her heart-crushing ballads and soaring vocals. her music has been somewhat of a soundtrack to my life: through it, i have experienced both the joys and pain of love, felt loss, and gained strength to get back up on my feet.

my first concert, 1987

Moment of Truth Tour, 1987

3 weeks after sophomore year started–and just after i’d begun dating the boys’ biological mother–my inner circle of friends and i packed in a couple cars after classes on September 18, 1987 and drove to my home in Tolar, Texas for the weekend.

that Sunday after church, we drove to dallas and bought the cheapest tickets we could (there was no ticketmaster.com) for Whitney’s Moment of Truth tour. Kenny G was the opening act and we all remember him walking right by us playing the sax. LOL.

and the concert–wow! i remember i sang every word of every song. i’m pretty sure we all did. except my whitney-hating roommate. (see College Life.)

college life: Whitney vs. Madonna

i was very sheltered growing up. late in high school i had begun to listen to pop music and had already begun to gravitate toward more soulful genres of music. of course you couldn’t go anywhere in 1986-88 without hearing her music–she was pure mainstream pop.

my sophomore year college roommate coincidentally was also a closeted young gay who, like me, “knew but didn’t know” he was gay. even though he went on the Dallas concert adventure, he was a diehard Madonna fan. we both displayed multiple posters reflecting our diva worship in the dorm room we shared and would play pranks on each others’ wall.

i had a huge poster of this (in color)...oh how i wish i still had it!

i remember heated arguments about who was better, who’d won more awards, and who was more relevant.

i don’t think we ever agreed and likely both still carry torches to this day for our divas.

(and don’t get me started on how i would rue Mariah Carey for breaking Whitney’s records…but all has since been forgiven.)

i wanna dance with somebody! (anybody!)

oh my GOD how did i not know i was gay? this song and So Emotional got my gay little white ass dancing like nothing else.

and her little purr at the outset:

i don’t know why i like it. /
i just do.

…still puts me right back in that frame of mind, every time.

and of course i could sing the entire thing. still can–with the smiles and all. *lord*

all at once

we didn’t have musical theater in my high school. once i got to college, i began to seek out opportunities where I could use the church-of-christ-trained a capella voice to perform. i was nervous, always the very last to learn any associated choreography, but got such a high from every opportunity i had onstage.

after a stint as a lead singer in Follies and two Sing Songs (some of fondest college memories), i decided to audition for the summer musical production of Huckleberry Finn. nevermind that i had a steady girlfriend at the time, was planning on marrying her, and had no idea how my family was gonna pay for summer school. i asked a friend (Jarrod Vanlandingham) who could play piano to create an accompaniment track of All At Once. i chose the song because there was some latent emotional connection to its lyric and because it was a song i could sing down in my register.

so after practicing it endlessly by myself (i was too shy and embarassed to let anyone hear me), i went and stood on a stage, in front of a panel of judges, and sang my face off, letting my inner diva escape. looking back on it, i’m sure i smacked of some pathetic American Idol contestant but lo and behold I got an actual part–probably because my hick accent was just so authentic. 😉

one of my [many] great regrets was never going back to college that summer to pursue that opportunity in musical theater. but at least i have one audition to my credit and have Whitney to thank for her inspiration.

loves gained and lost: didn’t we almost have it all?

my whole life, i’ve been searching for that Hold Mekind of love, and on occasion, i have found it. [I guess she and Teddy are singing it together now.]

i used to sing along–full tilt–with songs like How Will I Know, Saving All My Love For You, and Just The Lonely Talking Again as if they had been excerpted from my own life.  

so to say that Whitney’s music has soundtracked two decades of my life is putting it mildy. i have experienced five loves in my adult life and each of them deeply touched my heart: angie, robert, pam, eric, and just robert. in the end, none of the relationships lasted but to an extent, love endured.

  • angie, who attended that 1987 concert with me, gave me these beautiful sons, the loves of my life. (Where You Are was featured in our wedding mixtape.)
  • robert was the first man i ever loved and despite the damage our deceitful relationship caused, i have never forgotten him or how the alluring first love of a man made me feel. I truly believed he was All The Man That I Need.
  • pam remains my soulmate to this day and not only became a mother to my sons, she provided me with two more sons to love. hers is perhaps The Greatest Love of all because she loved me through my process of coming out and accepting myself.  while i never fully returned that love to her, i believe our love was (is) the most authentic.
  • eric embodied what i would, for a time, believe was the great love of my life. i fell in love with him the day i met him and would go on to pursue him with every fiber of my heart and soul. in the end, we both hurt each other very badly and to this day my relationship with him remains another painful failure in matters of the heart.  Everyone falls in love sometimes / sometimes it’s wrong, and sometimes it’s right / for every win, someone must fail / but there comes a point when / when we exhale. (Exhale: Shoop Shoop)
  • “just robert” was without a doubt my sweetest love: pure and innocent. he came to me at a time when i was jilted and heart-broken, on a journey of finding myself. his love was easy, comfortable, and fun. sadly, we departed no longer friends because of my inability–refusal, even–to respectfully return his honest love–yet another regret. (In the end, though his love was Worth Itand i hope someday he will feel that way.)

and who doesn’t want to love like this?

though i claim to have grown calloused in recent years, I Want To Run To You still calls out the hopeless romantic in me. my heart reacts to every note she hits and i sing along as if it’s me singing about a man who i hope chooses to stay with me, hold me, and keep me safe from harm. OMG could i be any sappier?!

but if i come to you /

tell me, will you stay /
or will you run away?

in the end, it can’t be said of my life that i never knew love. i have known it, and known it in abundance. geeze: “Didn’t [I] Almost Have It All?

(ok this is a sappy youtube video of the song but i actually couldn’t find a perf i liked.)

why does it hurt so bad?

time and time and time again:


enough said.

the greatest love of all

decades before I ever learned to love all of myself, this 1986 song gave me so much strength and bolstered me through a myriad of disappointments, heartbreaks, and discouragement. in fact, these lyrics–which mirrored Psalm 139:14–definitely defined the kind of parent I would eventually become, trying to instill this ideal in my sons as they grappled with life.

“The greatest love of all
is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
is the greatest love of all.
And if by chance that special place
that you’ve been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love………”

not surprising to anyone who really knows me, I would always sing this song along with her and imagine I was singing a duet. (I sang the alto I’d made up in my head.) sunday’s duet in my car did not go so well as i couldn’t choke back the tears.

tears for her death, but also tears because i finally no longer despise who i am and actually, generally, love myself. it’s been a long time coming; thanks Whitney, for helping me get there Step By Step.

love. but not this much

saturday night after I’d heard the news of Whitney’s death and spent 3 hours tweeting about it, i watched The Bodyguard. How I loved that movie, particularly the music. I remember being furious at it being shutout of the 1993 Academy Awards: two songs nominated, both of them losing to A Whole New World from Aladdin (despite it being baby Zach’s favorite). Ah well, at least she didn’t perform at the show that year.

One of those two songs was I Have Nothing.

such soaring heights! and wow, what lyrics:

You see through /
Right to the heart of me /
You break down my walls /
With the strength of your love.

but…since then, this song has become a cautionary tale for me. i never, ever want to get to a point where i sum up the whole of my existence in another person. and i will never  love another man to the extent that without him, “i have nothing.” The Greatest Love had taught me that once upon a time, but i’d lost my way–more than once.

never again.

i didn’t know my own strength. really.

after suffering no less than six to eight dramatic crises thusfar in my life, i still hadn’t put together what–besides a host of loving friends–had allowed me to get back up again

time after time after time

and push ahead.

(watch at 3:20 for just a heartbreaking moment…)

Lost touch with my soul
I had no where to turn
I had no where to go
Lost sight of my dream,
Thought it would be the end of me
I thought I’d never make it through
I had no hope to hold on to,
I thought I would break

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

Found hope in my heart,
I found the light to life
My way out the dark
Found all that I need
Here inside of me
I thought I’d never find my way
I thought I’d never lift that weight
I thought I would break

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

There were so many times I
Wondered how I’d get through the night I
Thought took all I could take

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

like the lyric begins, i too had lost touch with my soul.  in september 2009, i found myself at the end of a tumultuous, toxic relationship. i had put everything into it and found myself at one of the lower points i’d ever been in my life, save perhaps the day the boys’ mother had walked out on us. or the day i nearly lost everything. or the day….well, you get where i’m going.

anyway, this song inspired me to “…pick myself back up, hold my head up high,” and remember “i was not built to break.”

in a sense, this song–and the whole album in particular–was a part of a greater emancipation not just from him but from my own weakness. i had allowed myself to get into the situation, eventually becoming so desperate for him to love me and love me on my terms that i would put my children in harms way and allow myself to accept the abuse he would heap on me. i had failed to embrace the strength inherent in me my entire life that had allowed me to survive a life few people would ever imagine i’d endured and, if i’m honest, created for myself. (more in my forthcoming tome on the topic.)

but through this song, Whitney–God rest her soul–gave me strength to move the hell on and quit being a victim of my own circumstances.

can i get an AMEN?!

so much more

i have to find an end to this reminiscence…but would be remiss without mentioning I Believe In You And Me…It’s Not Right But It’s OK (lots of miles run to this), her duet of When You Believe with Mariah (from a film our young family loved), the pure funk of If I Told You That, the AMEN SISTER ATTITUDE of Million Dollar Bill,

the chills-inducing One Moment In Time:

the absolute perfection of her forever standard-setting rendition of The Star Spangled Banner:

the club mixes…(there’s more than a little irony dancing at S4 in Dallas, Splash in NYC, and Twist in South Beach to I Learned From The Best and this with the future-ex:

and last but not least, from 1991, a haunting prequel to the version that would appear on her final album:

You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding
But now I’m so much better and if my words don’t come together
Listen to the melody cause my love is in there hiding

I love you in place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

Sweet, beautiful, voice-of-an-angel Whitney, thank you for the strength you have given me. I Salute You.

7 thoughts on “I wanna dance with somebody, i will always love you, i didn’t know my own strength

  1. Wow remarkably open and amazing insight to what one person’s life’s work can do to touch another’s. A fitting tribute, bravo!

  2. APPLAUSE! …for this beautiful tragic woman who left us too soon (don’t they all?) and the melody that she gave to our (yes…many of us have lived and wept to Whitney’s music….and belted out the tunes right along with her — would that I sounded even a little like her!)…….and APPLAUSE! for this beautiful tribute. As always, dear Todd, you are right on. You amaze me with your insight and your depth. Keep on with the “being open”….you do it well.

    • in whatever lies ahead for me after my journey here, i can only hope i get to join her chorus! 🙂
      thanks, Debby, for reading and for your stalwart encouragement!

  3. my grief for Whitney mirrors yours. like her family expressed, it is an unimaginable tragedy & I will mourn her for a long time. I’m still composing my own blog post about her; I couldn’t do it immediately & I’m still having trouble constructing my thoughts around the loss of one of my favorite artists of all time.

    • thanks, J, for taking time to respond. i just had to get my words around the feelings of why i remain so sad over this loss. i look forward to reading your words…. peace….

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