"Sometimes It Snows In April"
"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life..."
I honestly do not think there has been any celebrity death that has affected me as much as Prince's this morning. I have a [bad] habit of checking Twitter on my phone once I wake up every morning, so today's start hit me with the news of a death at Paisley Park. I joined fellow Twitter users on my timeline in automatic denial that turned into despair. Prince is supposed to immortal; how could this happen? That first hour was painful. I stayed lying in bed, sobbing for at least 30 minutes after the first confirmation of his passing, then slowly got up to play all of his vinyl records that I own. But quickly the timeline turned to exaltation and we were all celebrating the life of a creative genius through his work. Hell, seven hours later and we're all still doing that--I'm writing this blog post after all.
Why is Prince's death affecting me to this extent? To be completely honest, I never truly listened to his music until about 3-4 years ago. I knew "1999," "When Doves Cry," "Little Red Corvette," his assless pants, his Love Symbol, and his reputation as a diva, but for a man with almost a 40 year career like his, that barely scratches the surface. Thanks to some combination of Bomani Jones' waxing poetic of Prince's ability and catalogue and The Music Snobs podcast's infinite knowledge of his life and career, I finally found the opportunity to learn and listen. And that I did.
So here I am, just a few years since becoming a fan and now hours after his death, trying to decipher why exactly I'm feeling the way I do.
"Until the end of time, I'll be there for you. You own my heart and mind, I truly adore you..."
Well, firstly there's the music. The fact that I find music to be a truly spiritual experience only makes my appreciation for Prince's discography a perfect marriage. Purple Rain itself feels like gospel, just listen to "Let's Go Crazy" and its sermon, or the context of the closing tracks, "I Would Die 4 U," "Baby I'm A Star," and "Purple Rain." But my spirituality isn't faith based--it's all rooted in feeling and emotion. If I, myself, can feel an artist's despair, hope, joy, anger, whatever, through a song and thus be able to embody it within myself in my soul, well shit, then that's my spirituality. I want to feel what you feel; I want to experience why you created this piece of art. Prince allows that in his music. And it's accentuated so much further by the fact that he is an incredible songwriter and unparalleled instrumentalist--he embodies the perfect synthesis between feeling and technicality that I will forever search for in music.
Then there's also what Prince has represented over time. Sure, he has done and said some problematic shit--as have all of your favorites. But the way that he has represented gender fluidity and nonconformity to masculinity is one of the most important ways he has influenced our culture. Here is this skinny, five-foot-two, racially ambiguous but yet still very much a very black man, dressing in purple blouses and briefs while singing in falsetto... and he is one of the most important, influential people to ever exist in the 1980's. He took, and throughout his life continued to take the image of masculinity, throw it in the dirt, and dance all over it while playing the sickest guitar solo you will ever hear. Not only that, but once he dropped his name thanks to his record label, he created the Love Symbol: an image meant to synthesize the definition of male and female together into a cohesive, love-filled bond. Add all of this to the fact that his consistent collaboration and building of female music careers only helps his undermining of male dominance in pop culture. Whether its co-writing with Wendy and Lisa, writing for Chaka Khan or The Bangles or Sheena Easton, or helping launch careers for Vanity and Sheila E, Prince was a lightning rod for talent, helping to further push a woman's perspective in music. I'm all about this; masculinity is mad overrated.
"I'm not a woman, I'm not a man, I am something you'll never understand..."
If there is anything that I have learned from Prince, though, and probably what made me be a such a big fan of him, is how he is always and forever unequivocally himself. He has an individuality that can never be mistaken for anyone else's, and it is always apparent through his mannerisms and music. Whether it was his intent or not, he gave people comfort that you shouldn't be ashamed of who you are and want to be. And it was so easy to find yourself through his music; there is so much conflict, ambivalence, and mixed emotion within his entire 40 year catalogue that no matter who you are, you will find a piece that will resonate with you. It is through these extensions of himself that he wrote that we are able to find extensions of ourselves as well. If there is anything that I have taken away from Prince at all, it is this. I want to be so comfortably and unwaveringly myself at all times. Everyday I strive to accomplish that.
Maybe it all comes down to the fact that his music is just so damn good. I'm a sometimes-musician, and honestly listening to his work makes me wish that I at the very least had a tenth of the talent that Prince had. And through listening, he also makes me think that I can do anything. Anything. And in a very Prince way. Of course, not exactly in the way Prince made his art--he is one of the biggest musical geniuses of all time--but for the fact that Prince made and always attempted to perfect his craft because he absolutely loved doing it. I want to take every ounce of my life and being and put it into everything that I love to do, just has he did for his music.
He gives me hope. I may not be the best at any particular thing just as Prince was the best at being Prince, but there's the hope that I can push myself to create the best content and art that I possibly can, because it is god damned possible.
"Love come quick, love come in a hurry..."
I look back at Twitter today after the news I am so thankful that I can share a love of Prince and his music with thousands, and most likely even millions of people across the world. Everyone has learned to love him for different reasons, from different songs and albums, at different moments of their lives. If anything has become apparent, though, it's that a man who only stood at 5'2" in actuality is one of the biggest entities to ever exist. So big that we are all wrapped together, sharing his life together, and I am glad to be a part of it.
Here's some of my favorite Prince stuff to listen to:
- His guitar solo at the end of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for George Harrison's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction:
- Computer Blue
- The entire Prince (1979) album
- Thieves In The Temple
- Gotta Broken Heart Again
- I Would Die 4 U to Baby I'm A Star to Purple Rain
- The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
- She's Always In My Hair
- And the best song ever written, of course, When Doves Cry
Rest in purple paradise, Prince.