Prince died yesterday. I feel sort of silly for feeling sad about that. I didn’t know the guy. Am I hyper-sensitive to loss in general because of my own loss? Maybe…but I think there’s more to the phenomenon of feeling sad when a public figure dies. John F. Kennedy. John Lennon. Michael Jackson. Robin Williams. Prince.
For me, I am transported right back to my elementary school bus ride when I think of Prince songs. We not only listened to his songs via boom box on the bus, but had in-depth conversations about him. Talked about our crushes on him. As a kid and teenager, emotions take on such significance. It’s true that those are “informative years.”
My friend, Karla Helbert, LPC, wrote some great thoughts on Facebook on the topic that I will share here.
I don’t think it’s weird when we have these major emotional reactions when celebrities die. Raise your hand if David Bowie’s death really hit you in the heart. If Robin Williams’ death brought you to tears. And today, I was stopped in my tracks when I got the message from my friend Michael really early in the day–before a whole bunch of stuff hit the media–that Prince was dead. I immediately thought it was a hoax. And then it took me about two seconds of searching to find an actual news story where somebody was dead at Paisley Park and then Billboard confirmed it. I felt my heart drop down.
These kinds of deaths of people we don’t actually know, but somehow we *do* know, can hit us hard. Often because they and their art and their influence in our culture, our time, what is meaningful, what we have shared in important moments of our lives, alone and with others, has been such a presence in our lives–they become and are part of who we are. When part of who we are dies, that is shocking, painful. At the very least, an adjustment of what the world is like now that it’s absent that person. And when an icon dies–one who showed up in our formative years; one who truly shaped and maybe still is part of, our values and our beliefs, who informed or who shook some stuff up–maybe our questions about our culture, our world, even our sense of self–well that person and their art becomes a part of who we are. When they die, that is a big deal.
Prince and his art, his music, his presence and his place in my life and times I feel strongly made me very much who I am. I cannot possibly imagine my early teenage years without Prince. The newness of something I had never heard before, the titillation, the fantasy of being somehow part of his movement–of both spirituality and total expression of self–which included celebrations of pleasure and sensuality, of sexuality, of exploration, acceptance, curiosity and fun, from the art of this man who was also at the same time very feminine, and who lauded and celebrated women and beauty and the abilities of women. He seemed somehow both vulnerable and strong at the same time–what an appealing combination! He was outside of time and place–was he a pirate or a vaudevillian, a drag king or a superhero? And he was absolutely ahead of his time. Or maybe more truthfully he was right on time.
I imagined he must know the longing, the wondering, the searching and seeking that I felt at that time in my life and I felt undeniably connected to him and somehow, by listening, singing, watching and practicing the moves I watched on MTV and then, Purple Rain, just a small part of the risque, the daring, the creative something that was all things Prince and the Revolution–some kind of whole world I could only imagine.
I think he represented to a whole bunch of 80’s teens and pre-teens something very similar to what the counterculture and free love of the 60’s must have done for young people at that time. In my time and place and space, there was nothing like Prince. He is a singular talent in so many, many ways. Unique is a rather ubiquitous word these days, but truly he was unique. There is nobody else like him. Not anywhere, anytime and he made everyone who loved him, and loves him still, believe that we could be all that too.
He never wanted to be your weekend lover. He only wanted to be some kind of friend. Strangely, I do feel like I lost some kind of friend. But I also know that he can never leave me because he truly is part of me.