Why do we grieve for pop stars as if we knew them personally? Why do they deserve the attention? What makes them worthy? Since the death of Whitney Houston, I am hearing many of these questions asked, much like the questions that were asked following the death of Michael Jackson. Why glorify addiction? Why is our focus not on the more honorable deaths of our military?
Maybe the answer is that we allow these people into the very fabric of our lives. They become a part of our history through their music. They provide our soundtrack. I know exactly what song was playing for my first slow dance when I was in 8th grade. If “Dance to the Music” comes on the radio, I am transported back to summers at the pool; I can almost smell the chlorine. There are dating songs and breakup songs, wedding songs and songs that I sang to my children. My son was rocked to sleep to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, my daughter to Dream On. I listened to my first Aerosmith song when I was 14 years old, and I sang their “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” to my grandson when he was a toddler. I can’t listen to “Fire and Rain” without thinking of my now deceased best friend. Go to any wedding and watch the reaction from the females in the room when the song “I Will Survive” is played; solidarity on the dance floor.
Maybe the very fact that those famous people have problems is one of the reasons we connect with them. They have it all, and yet they have the same frailties as the rest of us. Women connected to Oprah in her weight struggles. We cheer Robert Downey Jr. and his overcoming of addiction and return of his career. Whose heart didn’t break for Jennifer Hudson following the murder of her mother, brother and young nephew? Their problems make them human, more relatable. Imagine every embarrassing or painful thing in your life being played out in the tabloids, on the news, on TMZ. Imagine the lowest point in your life being the subject of jokes for every late night comedian. We laugh and judge when they fall, and yet when they inevitably die from the pressure, we grant them Sainthood.
I think that Roberta Flack’s hit, “Killing Me Softly” sums it up well. In it she tells of walking into a club where a total stranger seems to be telling the story of her life while she sits and listens, sure that everyone in the room must know that the song is about her. She feels exposed. We all have songs like that; songs that seems to speak about us and to us. No wonder then, that when one of the artists who has become such a part of our lives passes, from whatever cause, we feel as though we have lost someone we know; someone who knows us and who was a part of our life. Because really, didn’t they provide the background for every special moment we hold dear to our heart?