They say Bob Dylan was the voice of his generation — a modern-day minstrel cutting through the chaos of the 1960s with clear words, poignant questions, and honest emotion.
50-some-odd years later, 20-somethings have their own set of world woes to smoke pot to. Rebelling against our parents’ petty focus on peace, love, and equality, we’ve shifted to angsting over the real issues at hand: how to get into, out of, and over relationships.
With this as our focus, we need a siren of song whose words stab at the core of our hopes, dreams and fears — one who can take complex issues and break them down into focused lyrics with clever rhymes — someone who has been down that winding, pothole-filled road before. The answer is clear: The voice of our 20-something relationship angst is Whitney Houston.
Throughout her years reining over the pop charts, she gifted us some of the most poignant lines of our time. It is this ability to express what we didn’t even know we were feeling that makes Houston our Dylan. The examples are countless, but a few shining moments really speak to the power of her messages — messages that really are the battle cries of our times.
From gay-bar fave “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” come the words that finally capture the feeling that seeps in while you’re drinking alone in your bedroom:
I’ve done alright up till now
It’s the light of day that shows me how
And when the night falls our loneliness calls
When the night falls — our loneliness calls. Chills.
Within that same song is her no-holds-bar confession about where she’s been and what she really wants out of love:
I’ve been in love and lost my senses
Spinning through the town
Soon or later the fever ends
And I wind up feeling down
I need a man who’ll take a chance
On a love that burns hot enough to last
I need that man too, Whitney. Only I’m not woman enough to admit it.
In the classic “How Will I Know?” (if only Dylan could have been so direct), she admits that sometimes it’s all beyond our control:
There’s a boy I know
he’s the one I dream of
Looks into my eyes
takes me to the clouds above
Ooh I lose control
Can’t seem to get enough
And really no song goes by without that same kind of honesty. From “So Emotional”:
I remember the way that we touched
I wish I didn’t like it so much
I get so emotional, baby
Every time I think of you
I get so emotional, baby
Ain’t it shocking what love can do
Shocks me every time.
From the title track from her hit feature film (is there anything she can’t do?) Waiting to Exhale:
Everyone falls in love sometime
Sometimes it’s wrong, and sometimes it’s right
For every win, someone must fail
But there comes a point when
When we exhale (yeah, yeah, say shoop)
She does not mince words. Nor is she afraid to address the more taboo issues of the times.
A few stolen moments is all that we share
You’ve got your family, and they need you there
Though I’ve tried to resist, being last on your list
But no other man’s gonna do
So I’m saving all my love for you
Friday night you and your boys went out to eat
Then they hung out, but you came home around three
Now if six of ya’ll went out
Then four of you were really cheeeap
‘Cause only two of you had dinner
I found your credit card receeeipt
It’s not right
But it’s okay
I’m gonna make it anyway
She is as smart as she is talented.
But none of these hold a candle to the song that so captures the spirit of our time that it may as well be re-packaged and delivered as Obama’s second inaugural address:
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
An anthem if there ever was one.
She may have smoked crack, screwed Clive Davis and stayed with Bobby Brown for an insanely long time, but the fact clearly remains: Whitney Houston is our poet laureate.