One week ago, I came home from my part-time morning job in an office in a great mood. The sun was shining and the weather was finally warm enough for me to sit in my outdoor office and work on some other things. I had some captioning to finish and then launched into social media work. As soon as I logged on to Facebook, I saw a post from my manager that Prince had died.
“Holy $h!t” was my response and then I clicked, thinking it couldn’t possibly be true. More and more posts kept scrolling past, each one confirming something I couldn’t wrap my head around.
How could Prince be dead? At 57 (which didn’t seem like his possible age), he should still be raring to go. He never seemed like a druggie nor an excessive partier. I mean, I was devastated when Scott Weiland died a few months ago and wallowed for several days, but I wasn’t totally surprised. He had been a mess for years. But Prince?
2016 is going to go down as the infamous year where too many celebrities met an untimely passing. Too many beloved parts of my past have been leaving. Perhaps it is some kind of Armageddon that we didn’t know about? Weiland, Bowie, Rickman all shook me. But Prince rocked me to my core.
In a way, that makes sense as he rocked me to my core when I was a young girl. I was only 7 when Purple Rain, the movie, was released. Technically, I was too young to watch the movie. But my cousin, who is three years older, brought it over for us to watch one day. I was immediately transfixed, and didn’t fully appreciate why until last week.
Prince bared his soul to us in that movie. If I remember correctly, it was somewhat based on his life, or at least that was the impression that I had. He had some struggles finding himself and his music, getting lost along the way, as many musicians do. This was the first time that I saw someone who had mixed race parents, though that was lost on me at the time. He had to deal with abuse and protecting his mother. Then there was all of the politics involved with being a musician back then, landing your gig and finding your voice and making an impact on the fans. How do you stay true to your own craft while embracing the talents of others around you? That anguish of being so deep in love and wanting the other person to also be successful in his or her own ventures.
And then the music. With Prince, it was always the music. I couldn’t possibly fathom at the time the greatness that I saw on the screen before me. I just knew that I felt something in every single song that he sang. I couldn’t comprehend the power between his lyrics and the masterful musician behind the captivating music. I just knew that I loved all of the songs, but Purple Rain got to me every time. Yes, part of my young mind was probably entranced by the fact that Prince loved the color purple and wrote a song about purple rain. I was, and still am, totally attracted to the color purple. I am penning this post while wearing purple pajamas and sitting in my bed of purple bedding. I even had a purple car through the majority of adulthood. But there was so much more than that.
Take a look at this clip from the movie.
Watching it as an adult and really paying attention, there is so much more going on here. I knew that this was the point in the movie where he made amends for his missteps. He is apologizing to Appollonia and to Wendy and Lisa, his bandmates. This is the performance that redeems him in the eyes of the promoters and fans. That much I was able to figure out, even at a young age. But now I notice the emotion. That man wasn’t acting at that point. He is exuding raw, heartfelt emotion and love for those in his life, and is seeking repentance for his mistakes. When he sings, you can feel the power of his penance and cry inwardly for him. Or, maybe you are crying outwardly. I know I can’t watch it now without getting teary, though for me that is nothing particularly new.
Looking back now, this was perhaps the song that taught me that even pop music could have feeling. This was likely one of those moments that helped to shape who I am today, though I wouldn’t have realized it at the time. This song is often stuck in my head for one reason or another. In fact, I was just singing it to myself within a few days of Prince passing away. Once I got the news, it started to play in a loop in my head and just won’t stop. When I finally hear it on the radio or online, I get super emotional all over again.
Lately I have been seeing posts on social media complaining about people focusing more on the loss of Prince and other celebrities, instead of focusing on “real heroes” like those who gave their lives fighting for this country. Here are my thoughts on that.
Yes, we need to mourn those who give their lives to protect our rights. Yes, the media circus has been kind of crazy. I mean, I heard a ton of Prince-related conversation on NPR this week, which I was not expecting. But the thing is, celebrities like Prince are significantly more personal to us than a soldier, unless that soldier is a personal acquaintance. It sounds shallow, but it is reality. Music is the soundtrack of our lives. Songs will elicit memories, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Those memories are a part of our core being. So when one of those celebrities dies, we feel like a part of ourselves has died. You don’t have the active and live reminders of things that you cherish about yourself. It hurts.
This is not to say that I do not feel sad when soldiers die. This does not mean that I am not concerned about the flooding in Houston, which was another complaint that I saw floating around. The difference is I do not know those soldiers who have died. I may have a few acquaintances and friends who live in Houston, but I am not the one who is living there. But I do have numerous personal connections to Prince and his music.
Watching Purple Rain was one of the ways that I could pretend to be cool around my cousin, to whom I looked up because she was older, and therefore, cooler. My childhood best friend sent me a message on Facebook reminding me that the first time she had ever seen the movie was over at my house. It was one of our bonding moments and something that we alluded to for years. When Prince released Diamonds and Pearls, one of my friends was lucky enough to get her hands on the tape and dubbed a copy for me. I was over the moon when she gave it to me. When 1999 rolled around, you can bet your arse we were dancing to that all night long. (I would post a few pics from that night, but some of my college friends may not be too happy with that.)
Prince’s voice was unique, his musical stylings unable to be truly replicated. His face became as familiar to me as a personal friend or a member of my family would be. While watching videos that fateful night after I heard he had died, it was reminiscent of looking at photos of my father or grandmother, who both died five years ago. It’s that familiar face that you have memorized but want to memorize even more because you know you won’t see it anew ever again.
A week later, it still hurts. There is still a hole left inside of me and millions of his fans. We have bonded over our love and memories for a man who was the most talented musician of our lifetimes. I was never fortunate enough to see him perform live, though it was always a goal of mine some day. Instead, I will just revel in the videos that have been left behind and will still try to make sense out of all of this while reminiscing my childhood and jamming to some amazing music.