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  • So I've written a couple in my life. The one in my head about my sister's goldfish named Ernie (for a grade school kid, it was pretty profound). The one for my uncle Jim (for an adult who couldn't see straight at that point, it was pretty good). And the one I wrote this weekend for Whitney Houston. I was never a huge fan - big voice, obnoxious synths, neon clothing. Kind of annoying. And this coming from the kid who liked the Beatles and Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis and The Police in high school. But I could understand - she had a huge voice and she could (mostly) control it, and in the world of Flock of Seagulls and Human League, that was a pretty big deal.

    Cut to yesterday. I've got a Tumblr that's devoted to my song-a-week habit, and Sunday is the deadline day. I didn't have anything. Then I heard Whitney had been found, dead, cause unknown. And I started thinking about her. The fame, the drugs, the bad marriage. The neon. But I also thought about the music, and how many people found great joy in it. I remembered liking a couple of the singles, and most of The Preacher's Wife soundtrack (lots of gospel, there was). And then, someone linked to the acappella track from her first album's deluxe re-release, the lead and background vocals for How Will I Know? I listened to it with fresh ears and learned two things. One, I had pretty good ears back in high school - everything I remembered was there was there. And B), Whitney had some pipes on her. Woo. But it was the lyric that caught me. "How will I know if he really loves me?"

    Isn't that how everyone feels?

    I found myself opening my writing journal and typing furiously, trying to catch an idea before I lose it. After 20 minutes, I had a complete lyric (albeit with a sub-standard last verse). The next morning, after breakfast, I wrote the music. And spent 30 minutes or so changing keys. (What about Eb minor? No, too dark. Let's try G minor. Nope, not that one either.) I had also been struck by Harry Connick, Jr.'s version of If I Only Had A Brain earlier in the day. It's languid, almost lazy, and a solo piano and voice piece. So I did the same. Then, as I was fiddling with the solo section, I decided to whistle. That, oddly enough, seemed to fit. So there ya go.

    It's not a soulful black woman shattering the air with high notes and melismas, but it's got soul. For me, it's what she gave more than anything: heart and soul, 100% of the time. As my man Sting likes to sing, "Be yourself, no matter what they say." RIP, Whitney. We did love you.
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