When I was younger there were a lot of limits on what I could watch and listen to in my house. PBS was the only approved television station; and my music collection consisted of the following: Raffi and Sesame Street. And that was fine (at first). I loved songs like “Joshua Giraffe” and “I Lost My Cookie at the Disco.”
As I aged, there was little to draw from in my parent’s music collection. The gross majority of their records (that’s right, it was records back then) were religious and not my taste. There were only two I’d play: their “We Are the World” single and Cat Steven’s Greatest Hits (although I was only interested in one song—“Morning Has Broken”).
Eventually I began making mix tapes off of the radio, holding the microphone of my Fisher Price tape deck up to the speakers and pressing record. The sound quality left much to be desired. You could literally hear the space between the speaker and the microphone—not to mention ambient noises like a police car passing outside or one of my parents calling for me. Eventually my father would buy one of those stereo systems with an integrated tape deck, record player and radio, and I would be able to record from the radio with fewer problems.
I was always remedial when it came to music. I didn’t own a Discman or attend a real concert until I was in college. I could have had a cooler first concert story. When I was in the third grade I won tickets to see Michael Jackson, but the concert was in New Jersey and on a school night, so my parents made me give them away to family friends. (I know!)
My first respite from my limited home music life came in the form of a Whitney Houston cassette tape that a friend forgot to take with her after a play date. I relished that tape—I gorged myself on it. I probably wore it down to within a molecule’s breadth of its life. Two songs in particular were on play, rewind (rewind, rewind, rewind, fast-forward, rewind), repeat: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” Loving only two songs on a cassette tape is pretty inconvenient, the fast-forwarding and rewinding takes a great deal of patience, and if the two songs are on opposite sides, well, then things just got considerably more complicated. If you were lucky, favorite song number one on side A was positioned so that after playing it and turning the tape over to side B, you found yourself very close to favorite song number two. But I digress
The reason for this post is that when I heard that Whitney Houston had died, my memories immediately took me back to that month of musical freedom when I still hadn’t returned my friend’s Whitney Houston cassette (a tape I was hoping my friend would just let me keep, but she didn’t). I remember putting that tape in my Fisher Price tape player and singing along into the microphone—performing sold out concerts for my dolls and stuffed animals and loving every minute of it. Whitney Houston was the first real (as in not juvenile) music I owned (albeit temporarily). I’ll never forget that and I’ll never forget her—a great talent, taken from this world sooner than any of us would have liked to see her go.