On summer evenings in the early 1980s, as I worked late in my Boston
office, I'd open the window to listen to "Concerts on the Common"
across Tremont Street.
One evening, the act
opening for some well-known group could be heard better than usual,
because the singer's voice was so powerful. I and others in
connected office buildings were hanging out the windows, calling to
each other, "Who is that?!"
Though one needed a
ticket to see the performers inside the temporary fencing, I walked
across the street to see the makeshift marquee and, for the first
time, the name Whitney Houston.
Later, in 1985, I heard
that voice on the TV that my boyfriend usually had tuned to a music
video channel. I was delighted to find "my discovery" singing
"Saving All My Love For You" to an enchanted cameraman, and thought
to myself, "There is the next great female star" — which, of course,
A few years later, I
was staying overnight in a central Massachusetts hotel prior to an
early morning speaking engagement. "The Bodyguard" was available on
pay television. I indulged in the movie and room service, and
enjoyed crying through "I Will Always Love You" as Houston and Kevin
Costner went their separate ways. I bought the CD and, along with
many others I'm sure, played it this week at the news of Houston's
How sad it was to watch
her self-destruct through the years, and then, totally, from drugs
and alcohol. Yet what is immortality but the rich memories of
something extraordinary? I remember the above events in the category
"Music of My Life."
Since this is my
birthday week, I'm indulging in a column about other special musical
events, focusing on those that were experienced on some site, not
while watching a movie or television.
Barbara overlooks Galway Bay at sunset
My mother sang Irish
lullabies. I especially liked "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen."
When I was 5, I talked my neighborhood friend, Bobby, into running
away to Ireland with me. We got caught on the shore of Elk Creek, so
it was another 40 years before I got to sit on the shore of Galway
Bay and sing, "If you ever go across the sea to Ireland ..."
One night in Mexico
City, where I lived as an exchange student, I sat on the flat roof
of my Mexican family's home, watching the moon go into partial
eclipse. From a rooftop a block away, the sound of someone playing
"La Paloma" on a guitar drifted in the summer air.
Another night, another
partial eclipse, this time outside Athens: A guest with a guitar and
a sweet voice singing, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus
Christ Superstar." Not very Greek, but I also recall with pleasure
the sound of bouzouki music coming from the tavernas at the foot of
What I did not hear
emanating from Greek tavernas over the two years I lived there was
the music of composer Mikis Theodorakis, of "Zorba the Greek" fame.
The former leader of a communist youth organization was banned for
eight years under the junta of the army colonels. The theory was
that his music could arouse passions in the people, giving rise to
This seemed strange to
me at the time, but I understand it now. I've been playing Jefferson
("Look what's happening out in the streets. Got a revolution. Got to
revolution. ...") ever since our 2008 presidential election.
For some reason when I
was backpacking in Austria, I didn't go to the mountainside where
Julie Andrews sang "The hills are alive with the sound of music."
Instead, I spent time in Salzburg during the Mozart Festival — not
dressed in a gown in a concert hall, but sitting in jeans on the
ground under an ancient archway, listening to a sidewalk performer
playing Chopin on a portable piano. Close enough.
I can also recall
listening to Edvard Grieg's "Piano Concerto in A-minor" on a fjord
near his native Bergen, Norway. Grieg and Chopin are within reach of
my limited classical music experience. Closer to my usual taste, I
listened to a CD of Spaghetti Western themes by my favorite
composer, Ennio Morricone, while driving in Colorado and riding
Amtrak in southern Wyoming.
My partner, Chip,
considers listening to Jimmy Buffett during his "misspent youth" in
the Florida Keys as some of the music of his life. He took me to
some of the old Buffett sites there.
We also once stayed in
a little Baja town that has what the locals insist is the actual
Hotel California, cited by the Eagles as an apocryphal limbo from
which one cannot escape. Tourists and natives alike cannot escape
Eagles music playing constantly in Todos Santos.
The weekend that
Whitney Houston died, I tried to watch the Grammys to see its
planned tribute. Between awful noisefests including an exorcism,
there were awards for the lovely Adele with the rich voice. As one
star exits after wasting so much of her gift, another new star
rises; we can wish her a happier life than Whitney's as we add
"Someone Like You" to the "Music of Our Lives" list.