Thursday, 22 December 2011

Whitney Wisdom Part One

I love Whitney Houston.

This is probably something that two music degrees should have drummed out of me, but, despite years of semi-rigorous musical training, my shameful affection for her refuses to die.

The Royal College of Music taught me plenty about scales, insecurity and alcohol, but everything I know about the craft of popular song-styling I learnt from the Whitney tape my brother smuggled into our house.  I learnt that no song is complete without a key change, and that all the painstaking preparation required for a classic Mozartian modulation could, in fact, be circumvented with just a quick hard whack on a floor tom.  I learnt that a string section adds instant class to a pop song, and that a pop singer adds some much-needed street-cred to a string section, and that the song should only end when neither of them can get any higher.  I learnt that even an oboe can sound beautiful in short bursts.  I also learnt that I wanted to dance with somebody (who loves me).  Raised, as I was, on Beethoven string quartets, Whitney's seminal eponymous album "Whitney" was an epic induction into a hitherto forbidden musical world, and I loved it.  It had to be worth at least two music degrees by itself.

So it was to Whitney that I turned some months ago when, by dint of the usual stubborn fool-hardiness, I found myself cycling home from Surbiton at half past midnight on a small pink fold-up bike.  I'd been visiting a friend for the evening, and some temporary attack of geographical agnosticism had led me to believe that a bike was the perfect mode of transport for the 40 mile round-trip.  Ten metres into the return leg it occurred to me that I may have been wrong, and that I was going to need some pretty major encouragement if I was to survive the next nineteen-and-a-bit miles.  And thus was born my Extra Special Whitney Power-Ballad Playlist.  It really works.  Every key-change is like an instant bottle of Lucozade.  The higher the strings get, the faster the pedals go.  Even the little oboe solo in "You're still my man" can charm tired muscles like a snake-charmer's honky thing charms a snake.  But the real incentive, the real beauty, the joy, the absolute peachy pleasure of cycling from Surbiton to Finsbury Park at half past twelve on a school night with Whitney beasting in your headphones is... you are alone.  It is just you and her.  You Have Total Freedom To Sing Along.

It is not often in London that you can pelt out "Eyyyyeeeeeyyyeeeeeee will always love youuuuuuuuuueueueueueueueu" at the top of your lungs in the sure and certain knowledge that no one can hear you.  Your average London house is just not that well sound-proofed.  In fact, in seven years of London living, I do not believe I have ever had such a fine opportunity for a recrimination-free airing of my prodigious Whitney karaoke chops.  Such moments are not to be squandered...  And squander this one I most certainly did not.

"You're still my maaaaaaan, nothing can change it..." I proclaimed lustily to a deaf sky as I coasted along a cheerily empty road.

"Didn't we almost have it all?" I passionately enquired of a pack of mute rabbits as they darted away from my wheels.

"Where do broken hearts goooooooo?" I demanded of the trees, as I mounted a wide, empty expanse of pavement, enjoying the double thrill of singing That Which Ought Not To Be Sung whilst cycling upon That Which Ought Not To Be Cycled Upon.

And then, onto my iPod, came it... the One Whitney Power Ballad To Rule Them All...

Have you ever seen a screaming baby change gear?  When normal screaming isn't having the desired effect, they can somehow transform their whole body into a perfect, dedicated amplification system.  Their face goes red as all their blood gets diverted to their vocal chords, and before you have time to fetch your industrial earmuffs, they begin producing a sound so focused, so piercing and so damn loud that it can drill through steel walls.  Well, I did that.  Alone in my beautiful Whitney-centred world, I channelled my whole being into becoming the perfect, dedicated cycling-and-Whitney-belting machine... and I let rip.

So the pavement slabs were streaming in a glorious blur beneath my wheels as I proudly bellowed to the void around me that I had indeed decided, long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow, and, furthermore, that should I fail or should I succeed, I knew I'd lived as I believed, and that yes, dammit, no matter what they take from me they can not take away my dignity...

Because The Greatest Love Of All was on my iPod and nothing but nothing beats the extraordinary joy of singing about it as loudly as you possibly can, safe in the knowledge that no one can hear you.

No one, that is, except the bus-stop-full of teenage girls, unexpectedly camped by the side of the pavement.

It gives me a cold sweat to recall it, but at the precise moment when my path took me past the proscenium arch of their shelter, I believe I was adding dramatic emphasis to the words by standing on my pedals and punching the air with my fist.

I don't know whether Whitney is still considered cool among the teenage girl demographic, but even if she is, I'm pretty certain she's not cool enough to redeem the sight of an almost-middle-aged white man on a comically small pink bike fist-pumping enthusiastically to her music.  Nevertheless, my surprise audience were exceedingly generous with their applause as I sallied past them. Some of them even whooped.  I think I was still blushing when I finally arrived home, fifteen miles later.

If you are still reading, by the way, hello, and welcome to my inaugural blog post. I hope you are enjoying it. If any of my old English teachers are reading this (hello Mrs Harris) you may not be entirely surprised to learn that what was intended to be just a few amusing paragraphs with a semi-serious point at the end has somehow ballooned over the several months that I've been writing it into a (still unfinished) five thousand word essay on the human condition, of which this post is now forming but the first part. Funny how that happens.
So all that you have read thus far is, I'm sorry to say, merely the preamble to the real reason I wanted to write about this song. For you see, this song is significant for more than just its elevated position in the list of all-time-humiliating-songs-to-accidentally-sing-to-a-dozen-teenage-girls-late-at-night. No, this song also happens to be number one in my very own special Pop Song Heresy Hall Of Fame.
What's the Pop Song Heresy Hall Of Fame? And why is this song currently at number one? These are the questions I faintly optimistically hope you are asking, because these are, of course, the questions which will be answered in the next post. Or possibly in the next five posts. Depending on how out of control things get. So please come back and read more.

At the current rate of progress it will probably be at least another post, maybe two, before I get to the serious point I wanted to make, so there's no need yet to worry about being made to think, or anything tiresome like that.

1 comment: