Like millions of other people around the world today, I was stunned to hear about the death of Whitney Houston.
That I’m sad—and to a remarkable extent too—is a fact that thoroughly bewilders me. I’d always enjoyed Ms. Houston’s music, had always marveled at the sheer power and magnetism of her voice, but I’d never bought her albums or downloaded her songs. The sadness almost parallels what I felt when I heard about Michael Jackson’s death two years ago, but that was a far more comprehensible grief simply because I’d always been a Michael Jackson fan.
The only thing I can think of to account for my sadness, and possibly the sadness of countless others who find themselves similarly perplexed, is that all human beings unconsciously recognize genius. Its presence may not count for much in our day-to-day lives, but we can’t remain indifferent to its sudden and unexpected loss. There’s a palpable sense that something singular and momentous has vanished from the world—that an extraordinary source of beauty and creativity has been forever and prematurely extinguished.
And as I’ve already said, we cannot remain indifferent. However much we may personally denigrate their follies, their vices, their eccentricities and their whims, we can’t help collectively mourning the passing of a remarkable artist, for in a very real sense, genuine artistry belongs to humanity as a whole. So that as the cliché goes, when one of them dies, a piece of us dies too.
So goodbye Ms. Houston, and in the words of another well-loved musical institution, thank you for the music.