I was at work Thursday, about to go to lunch, perusing the internet during a down moment at the desk, when I read that Prince was dead. I gasped, I got chills, and I said to my co-worker in disbelief, “Prince is dead.” I immediately started to cry. I had to go into the break room. I cried for a few minutes, trying to get a grip on myself, and then I went ahead and took my lunch. I couldn’t eat or read for half of my lunch break, I just cried. I could feel that my co-worker didn’t get my reaction. It’s okay that she didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about Prince’s music. I’m sure there are some of you reading this that didn’t feel much about his death beyond the normal (one hopes) human response of sympathy for the passing of another human being. It’s totally cool. There are so many awesome musicians and artists in the world that it’s hard to listen to everyone, and people like what they like. Timing also plays a huge part in one’s musical taste. I was a child in the 1980’s, a teenager in the 1990’s. The music from those decades molded me, shaped me, stayed with me as I became an adult.
Prince was a huge part of my musical landscape. From the moment I heard “Little Red Corvette” on the radio (I was about 6 years old) I was a fan. I didn’t see Purple Rain in the theater, I was too young. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it on DVD over the years. (Despite its heavy moments, there is so much humor in that movie! Prince could be marvelously funny!) One of my best friends in middle school and high school and I went through an intense Prince/The Time/Purple Rain/Graffiti Bridge phase, and my memories of the movies and the music are all tied up with my memories of our particular friendship. I remember listening to Purple Rain‘s soundtrack in another friend’s parents’ basement, and as a matter of fact, the compact disc I still have has his name on it. He gave it to me when he was digitizing his collection, I think. In college, all of my friends were into Prince, and it seemed that no house or room party was complete without playing his songs: “Kiss,” “SexyMF,” and “Gett Off” were in heavy rotation on the dance floor.
I was lucky enough to see him play live once, in my hometown, in 2004 on the Musicology tour. It was a long set full of hits. He was masterful and playful and soulful and deeply funky. He was fully engaged with us and we were awestruck by him.
In recent years I didn’t listen to him much. Sometimes you take your favorite musicians for granted, you know? I tend to seek out new songs now, inspired by the AltNation station on my Sirius/XM radio. But I did have “Little Red Corvette” on my phone prior to Thursday. It’s still a favorite.
I have read many beautiful tributes to Prince in the last couple of days. It makes me feel less alone to participate in this mass outpouring of love and celebration and grief online. I needed to be a part of that on Twitter and Facebook, to know that I wasn’t crazy in my inability to stop crying, in my need to listen to his music, to watch his performances on YouTube, to remember. Justin Timberlake’s heartfelt post on Facebook made me cry. There’s a good piece from the L.A. Times by Marc Bernardin about how Prince gave black kids permission to be “weird.” Roxane Gay and others on Twitter have made similar comments. I’m not black but I always appreciated the way in which Prince owned his fashion, his style, his diminutive physical size, his sexuality. He encompassed so many different things all at once – man/woman, black/white, God/sex, all the supposed dichotomies all rolled together into one sly, brilliant, talented package. He was truly a musical genius. And he never apologized for who he was.
The takeaway for me from the past two days is this: Appreciate your favorite musicians while they’re still here. Go see them play live, no matter how much money you have to spend or how many days you have to take off work. I will never regret one dime of the money I have spent seeing my favorites in concert. Not even back when I didn’t have any money and I put it all on credit cards that I had to pay off years later. If we are lucky, we are on the planet at the same time with our favorite artists. We need to remember to stop and appreciate that fact. I am guilty being “too busy” to listen to music, of neglecting my favorites. But they are my favorites for deeply held, deeply felt reasons, bordering on the spiritual. Music matters. Art matters. Our personal connections to it shape and define us in ways we may not be able to feel until we are much older.
I hope that Prince knew how much we loved him. I think he probably did. I consciously didn’t realize how much he meant to me until he was gone. There’s a lesson in that too, right? Thursday night I listened to “Purple Rain” and cried and cried. But now I think I am ready to listen to his music and watch his movies again and celebrate – and dance.