A legend is dead. Prince’s death was confirmed while I was in my car, made official by the radio DJs and the unbroken string of his genre defying hits. I turned the radio up ‘When Doves Cry’ was played and tears instantly sprung to my eyes after an already emotional morning. At a stoplight, I looked at the car to my left and the young man in the drivers seat looked back at me, put his hand over his heart and shook his head. The light turned green and we drove on. But for a moment, a complete stranger and I shared grief and disbelief. And this was possible because a shared icon had died.
What is it about the death of an icon that is so difficult to grasp? Is it the reminder of the impermanence of even our superhuman humans? Or do we believe that people who live in the public eye, regardless of how much they fight to keep their lives private, belong to us? Is it a rally frustrated with the fact that death actually taketh? Our public grief shows signs of all of these truths but makes the death no less difficult to process.
After my morning drive, I got home and turned to the internet to seek solace for my sadness. People shared memories of buying their first Prince CD and the indelible mark Purple Rain left on them. I read a story about a first kiss to “Diamonds and Pearls” and the Class of ’99 boasted their anthem. Millennials wrote of misunderstanding “Cream” while their parents recounted trying to shield their unsuspecting children from the lyrics. Meanwhile others wrote of the permission he gave to be whoever we wanted. Here were friends describing the soundtrack to their pivotal life moments and the death of the curator of those moments. Perhaps his death reminds us of his humanness even when he felt so different--“I’m not a woman, I’m not a man. I am something you will never comprehend.” And that might remind us of our own humanness.
Prince’s musical catalog is now complete. While he may have recorded music which we have yet to hear, he will not produce any new songs. It is hard to believe that we will hear no more from the man that had us longing with “I wanna be your lover” and left us blushing with “Sexuality.” The finality of death is often the hardest to grasp. His gifts evoked a deep emotional response in us and this finality evokes a genuine sense of loss. While we will always want some of his extra time, his time finally ran out.
Prince’s persona was larger than life, but his death was a stark reminder that in fact, nothing is. The flu is common condition infecting millions of people a year and it killed one whose genius was so uncommon. More than a musician, he was a tireless humanitarian, a sexual revolutionary, and a mentor to many. While he was fiercely private, he belonged to us. Death snatched him and his talents away. No matter how good the party, the party isn’t meant to last.
In Memory of Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016