Mourning and Celebrating: What Prince Meant to Me

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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.

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Mourning and Celebrating: What Prince Meant to Me

  1. What a touching essay. Thank you for sharing. Music and art DO matter for sure, and we should make an effort to see those artists that most inspire us while they’re still around. Hugs and kind thoughts going out to you.

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  2. Beautiful tribute! Prince was a bit after my time so his sad death didn’t hit me as hard as you, but your post reminded me of how I felt when my own youthful favourite, Marc Bolan, died. Like you, I remember people not understanding why someone could be so upset on hearing of the death of someone they didn’t actually know. But I did know him – through his music and style and influence. And the one consolation is that these are the things these great artists leave to us when they’re gone. A cause for celebration indeed.

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  3. What a great piece. I think I’m sort of middleish in terms of my attachment to Prince — he’s great, his music’s great, and I still didn’t feel a sense of personal loss at his death — but it’s been really, really lovely to see all the tributes from so many different people whose lives his work touched. And I know what you mean about taking people for granted — Prince was one of those musicians I just assumed would live forever. 😦

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    1. Oh, thank you, Jenny. I felt sort of outside the mourning of David Bowie – I’d never really listened to much of his music. So I think I understand. I, too, seemed to think he’d live forever – he was so vital, you know?

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  4. Oh Laila. . . I don’t know anything about Prince or his music but this left me moved.

    I loved this “He was masterful and playful and soulful and deeply funky,” and this “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.” And also this, “But now I think I am ready to listen to his music and watch his movies again and celebrate – and dance.”

    What a heartfelt, articulate, and authentic response to something that matters so much to you. I’m in awe!

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  5. This is very nice and I am agreeing and appreciating the wonderful comments that you have inspired, too. I saw something the other day that made it all make sense – that mourning for musicians is mourning or a reminder or an appreciation for how the musician’s art shaped us. I wish I could remember the exact words but it helped me explain to my husband who was not being very nice to people who were reacting, let’s just say, ‘too much’, if you know what I mean.Words aren’t lining up the way I want them too, sorry if I’ve been too wordy here. {hugs}

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    1. I think I saw a similar phrase on Twitter or Facebook or both over the weekend. And it’s true. Art does shape us, in ways we might not fully understand until the artists is gone. Thank you for your kind words, Care.

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  6. Thanks so much for sharing this touching story! It’s been so wonderful to see all the essays devoted to Prince and what he and his music meant to people! You’re so right that we should not take favorite musicians for granted. I should listen to my favorites today keeping that in mind 🙂

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  7. This was so lovely to read. I was shocked when I found out about Prince and that shock was quickly followed by sadness. It’s not just him and his music, but all those whose careers he helped launch, all of the music he and his generosity helped create. I live in Minneapolis and the night of his death the streets around First Avenue, the club where he got his start, were jammed with people dancing to his music and celebrating his life. I was not there but I know a few people who were and they shared video they took and it was beautiful. His light went out too soon and he will be missed.

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    1. I would have loved to be there celebrating his life with other fans. It seems like he had a tremendously positive impact on Minneapolis. Thanks for your heartfelt response to my post. I still can’t quite believe he’s gone.

      Liked by 1 person

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