Expressing the Inexpressible by Sharon O’Donnell
A few days after the death of Elvis Presley, my good friend Tina and I went to an Elvis movie marathon at a local theater. It was 1977, and we had recently junior high, a rough span in which our childhood friendship had suffered somewhat as we both spread our wings and made new friends. But there we were — sharing this together, as corny as some of our other ‘friends’ might have thought of it — because we used to love to play Elvis records and watch his movies. Even though Bobby Sherman was the teen idol who had stolen our heart, there was still room for an older Elvis because we recognized pure talent when we saw it and heard it. So we turned to each other when he died because we knew the other one would understand the sense of loss each of us felt. I’d felt so bad that fame had made Elvis a prisoner of sorts in his own home and he’d taken prescription drugs to deal with it all. He’d had that something special, and the world clamored for it, and in the process, we trampled right over Elvis, the human being. I remember how empty I’d felt, how I wrote an entry in a journal the night he died, trying unsuccessfully to express what I felt.
Whitney Houston had that something special too. Her voice singing “I’ll Always Love You” expressed for me what I would want to sing to a certain young many I dated in my college years but had to say good-bye to. I’d actually discovered that song when Dolly Parton wrote and released it a few years earlier, and I had the 45 spd. record. And it was good. But when Whitney sang those words and breathed her own emotion into them . . . well, everyone who heard it thought of someone from their past who they had to say good-bye to also and this song — became the anthem for those experiences in our lives. I’d forgotten that her fantastic rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl took place in 1991 during the first week of the first Gulf War, and that it wasn’t just about a beautiful voice but about the emotion and pride in that beautiful voice that was so evident to all. A rallying cry for the nation. I recorded it the other night along with a report about the war that put in all in context, so I can play it back for my sons to see, for my sons to feel. Whitney at her best, Whitney sharing her love for her country, Whitney brimming with confidence that comes from somewhere deep inside as well as from, I believe, a higher being. Whitney.
And yet it is another sad ending. Elvis, Michael, and now Whitney. Yes, this certainly says there is a huge drug and alcohol problem that is running rampant in our society today. But this also says to me, that these souls who yearned to express their innermost feelings through their tremendous talent, perhaps fell short because life and reality could never be what they wanted it to be in their souls, in their visions of what life should be. They made mistakes and bad decisions. But under it all, I believe, was their innate desire to express the inexpressible. It is an emptiness I’ve felt as a writer and yes — as a mother, a void I’ve tried to fill but can’t. It’s impossible to attain that kind of communication and harmony and connection very often. Every now and then some musical notes can capture it briefly.
And then it’s back to reality. Reality is a tough place.
There was a time for each of them before reality affected them as it did. It is that time we should remember — their pure ideals of wanting to stand there on the stage and make us FEEL what they were feeling through their music. That they did.
And that they always will.