You know I try very hard not to write about Glee episodes before they air, but a clip has just been released of the performance of “How Will I Know” that features some really key stuff around Kurt as WMHS’s mediator for death, yet again. It’s also a great and surprising arrangement of a song I never would have thought of in this context.
The clip opens, you’ll notice, with Mercedes, Santana, Kurt and Rachel gathering around a shrine to Whitney Houston at a locker (as Will Schuester looks creepily on).
While Mercedes begins the song, singing to a photograph of Whitney for advice and everyone is mourning it’s ultimately Kurt who is doing the actual work of it for his community by handling the artifacts of the deceased, enforcing the boundaries of grief (closing the locker), cementing the reality of death (blowing out the flames — gee, I think I remember Kurt and his boyfriend singing a breakup song about that) and presiding over the aftermath (the way he closes off the shot after he sits at the foot of the table following the three girls).
Don’t Turn It Off also rightly noted on Tumblr that Kurt is the only one snapping — he is the time keeper both of loss already transpired and the limits of what is now but not forever.
There’s lots of other interesting symbolism here — we’ve got a four horsemen thing going on; we’ve also got a three muses thing going on. At Delphi they were Nētē, Mesē, and Hypatē — the chords of a lyre, necessary fort he production of music. But the muses, when also assigned as three (instead of the common four or nine), can also be Aoidē, Meletē, Mnēmē — song, practice and memory.
Who can Kurt be here but an oracle telling us all things end, because all things already have? After all, he knows, because he’s seen it. He opens the drawers of his mother’s dresser to breathe her scent, to know the fumes, to see the future.
This number is likely the opener to the episode, and it seems clear that the four characters singing here are in pain personal, beyond Houston, as well. Rachel and Finn have ongoing problems; Mercedes is still in pain over what to do about Sam; we’ve been spoiled for some angst between Kurt and Blaine regarding the impending reality of New York; and Santana’s fear of losing love (And here’s another past song shout-out — remember the Adele mash up?) remains deeply prominent within both her history with Brittany and her unresolved drama with her family.
Connecting these personal pains with mourning for Houston is amazing. It draws a clear line under the idea that the social act of grieving for a public figure is actually an act of grieving for ourselves through the part of the sorrow that is about narrative and celebrity persona as opposed to the life behind that construction that the general public is not granted access to, even when they think they have been. That Kurt hangs Whitney’s picture in the spot all WMHS lockers seem to reserve for photos of boyfriends and girlfriends makes this idea of grieving for the self both particularly clear and poignant.
I’d ready the tissues and expect some magic.