Some of the songs I love are really obscure, and sometimes they have deep and occasionally tragic meaning. Such is the case with the song “Somebody Loves You,” by Nik Kershaw. Neither the song nor the singer is all that well-known (his only hit in the United States, and that a minor one, was named “Wouldn’t It Be Good,” the title of another blog entry of mine; I’m a fan of his). This morning I played the song and soon found out news that made the song even more poignant.
In the first verse of the song, Nik Kershaw sings, “I put my words upon their lips. I put my body at their fingertips ,” making it clear that he is singing about the relationship between superstars (even fairly minor stars like him) and the fans who adore them. The whole song is a meditative reflection on that relationship between stars and their fans, and how stars live off of the support and encouragement they receive from fans.
Nik Kershaw, despite not being a very big star, can speak pretty authoritatively about this, being that his whole career has consisted of rather pointed and insightful works. He’s clearly a person gifted with unusual insight about the world of celebrity. As he sings in the second chorus and bridge: “And it feels like somebody loves you, somebody understands. And it gets like you’ve got to be there, you’ve got to see those hands reaching out, reaching up for somebody, and I’m the only one they see. Lucky break, just as well they don’t realize that I need them much more than they need me.”
Stars need the fans more than fans need stars. Ordinary people may listen to the radio and find songs that speak to the longings and struggles of their souls, but most of us are content merely to write for ourselves. Stars are different. Again, as Nik Kershaw sings, “They know my face. They know my name. They know my shamelessness but my shame.” Many stars, for reasons I am not sure of, seem driven by some dark madness. There seems something twisted and dishonest and corrupt about the whole nature of the entertainment industry, in that ordinary people (or people who struggle more than ordinarily) with obvious and powerful gifts are placed as idols to be adored and even worshipped by many people, only to be destroyed by their demons. There seems like something approaching divine justice about the tragedy of hubris leading to wasted potential and premature self-destruction.
It just so happens that even though this song is one I frequently listen to, that today I was provided with a particularly sad reminder of the song’s meaning, in reading about the death of Whitney Houston of unknown causes (presumably related to her years of drug abuse). Unlike Nik Kershaw, Whitney Houston was a big star, and one who was clearly destroyed by her own demons, like so many other people. Her shared drug addiction with her ex-husband Bobby Brown took her away from the love of millions of fans, took her away from her career in music, took away her voice, and ultimately took her life.
It is useful here to see Whitney Houston’s rather sparse record of tours. Despite a career with almost 25 years of hits, she only had three tours of longer than 100 shows: in 1987-1988 with her Moment of Truth world tour, in 1991 with her I’m Your Baby Tonight world tour, and in 1993-1994 with The Bodyguard world tour. Her next sizable tour after that was her 1999 My Love Is Your Love world tour, and then it was not until 2010 until her next sizable tour, the Nothing But Love world tour, a tour marked by bad reviews and a clearly fading voice  .
For the vast majority of the 1990’s and 2000’s, Whitney Houston’s increasing drug abuse, increasing problems with her troubled ex-husband, and her decreasing musical output kept her away from her fans, the people who loved her, and who would have given her encouragement had they known how much she suffered. Most of us are not vicious people interested in bloodsport. We would rather appreciate someone who could sing powerful performances like her remake of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” than to cheer at the demons destroying her peace of mind and sanity.
But now she has gone to the grave, where no encouragement can reach her, and we can only wonder once again at the waste of talent, remember her performances, which in light of her untimely demise take on a greater sense of bittersweet melancholy, and keep her memory alive, and hope for a better future for her daughter, who is now left motherless. It is a shame that stars are brought so high only to be pummeled and brought so low, and a shame that those same stars often cut themselves off from those they need to feel loved and appreciated. Perhaps stars would be better served if they allowed themselves to feel loved by their audience, and perhaps we would be better served to recognize that the starts we care about so much more beyond their actual importance in this world are usually deeply troubled souls themselves, in need of all the encouragement we can give them.