In Dawn Porter’s newest documentary, “Luther: Never Too Much,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the world is reintroduced to the magic, the man and the musings of one of music’s biggest and best voices: Luther Vandross.
Weaving together the story of Vandross’ rise to fame — starting from his humble beginnings singing on “Sesame Street” and singing background for David Bowie and Roberta Flack to his breakout success with “Never Too Much” and a successful solo career — the film is a bittersweet look at an artist we all know and love.
However, what stood out as one of the more surprising elements of the film was the revelation of Luther’s persistent longing for love — “any love” — to fulfill him. On one hand, you can understand an individual’s desire to have a romantic connection and how the absence of that can wear on you after so many years. But on the other hand, this was Luther Vandross.
This was a man who, with one tonal inflection of his voice, could invoke emotions felt so deeply and fully. This was a man who was LOVED…not just by his female fans who may have been wishing and praying for one night, “if only for one night” with him, but by the rest of his fans, close friends and confidants, family and collaborators.
After watching interview clips in which he espouses his desires for love and expresses his sadness that he hadn’t found it — or rather, that it hadn’t found him yet — I couldn’t help but wonder if our love for him just wasn’t enough? Or if we could’ve shown him more love and adoration while he was still alive that would’ve served as a salve for his secret loneliness?
When the documentary showcases how the media often let his fluctuating weight overshadow interviews about his musicality, you can see Vandross’ frustration in being reduced to one thing and not being fully seen or embraced for who he was and what he had to offer to the world.
If “Never Too Much” makes one thing clear, it’s that Vandross was a man who had so much music, art and love to give freely until his last breath. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disheartened at the realization that maybe that love we had for him just wasn’t as deeply reciprocated in the ways he needed.
But just like a million days in a lover’s arms, a thousand spins of any of Vandross’ hits is “never too much.” So if there’s any way to still extend our love to him in the hopes that he can still feel some heavenly reprieve, I’ll just keep pressing play over and over again.