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, she became.
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 death.
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.
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 the Acropolis.
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 revolution.
This seemed strange to me at the time, but I understand it now. I've been playing Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" ("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.
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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.