For those of you who are sort of sick of Prince-talk and are drowning in the internets/media analysis, memories, and general lamentations, buckle up, because you are about to get one more. I’m still rolling around in it, and that’s just the way it’s gonna bes today.
When I was in elementary school, maybe like 3rd grade or so, I remember my parents had some friends over for dinner. Their kids were friends with my siblings and this was a family we hung out with a lot. We were sitting outside on the patio after eating, kids talking, parents talking, sometimes all talking. For some reason, Elvis came up in conversation. The mom from this family started talking about when Elvis died, and as she talked, she got choked up. I think she may have even full on squeezed some tears out. I remember my sister and I looking at each other across the table like: OMG. What sort of old white lady nonsense is THAT. Of course we were too polite to register our lack of empathy out loud, but inwardly, we were assholes about it, in that special way that kids can be towards people who are our parents’ age.
I also remember when John Lennon was killed. Mostly I remember my parents (and us kids too) riveted to the news as it came in. The Beatles were always in heavy rotation in my house since I was a baby and I knew this was big and important and sad, but at that age someone in the Beatles was like, I don’t know. Not a real person to me. Death wasn’t real to me actually. My Legos were real to me.
When Bob Marley died, that was big in my house, mostly for my older brother. I know that now, you probably think about Bob Marley music as something only young dummies like Seth Rogan would be into, but trust me on this one. Outside of the United States, in countries such as the one my family comes from, Bob Marley was like a god at that time. The confluence of the music and post-colonial/anti-imperialist thought was deeply meaningful in a way that pains me a little every time I hear it blasting out of a local frat house today. I remember my brother playing the albums over and over again when he died, but honestly, I wasn’t sad. Mostly because I wasn’t old enough to understand it, and also because Bob Marley seemed immortal to me so his actual dying didn’t seem to register in my brain.
When Marvin Gaye died, that was the first artist death that I felt throughout my community. Being Detroit-adjacent, his death was talked about at my school and by my neighbors in a way that was different than what I had seen before. I remember the young, hip student teacher at my elementary school misting up about it the day after it happened.
As a teen and adult, there have been others that have resonated more than others. There have been deaths that I felt very sorry over, like Aaliyah and Lisa Left Eye, and ones that I have felt the significance of in my head more than in my heart, like Kurt Cobain. Anyone who knew me when I was a child will tell you that I had a deep love for Michael Jackson back in the day, but by the time he passed away I had long put that away. I thought Whitney’s passing was sad, but for whatever reason it didn’t hit me hard.
When Prince died last week, I was in a meeting, with my cell phone sitting on the conference table next to me. You guys, my phone started blowing up like some sort of family emergency was going on. In the past couple of days, my friends, especially my childhood friends, have texted their memories and thoughts back and forth with me. People I know from elementary school, middle school, high school, and college- all talking to each other and sharing feelings about Prince. I think I may have misted up a couple of times when David Bowie died, but I gotta tell you, I have totally for reals cried several times over the last few days listening to Prince songs. I have been trying to think about why that is, when so many other artists have meant a lot to me too. Here’s what I think, and it’s not that original because you can flip to any page on the internets right now and get an eyeful of think pieces saying the same thing. If you were born when and where I was born, Prince busted onto the scene in a major way when you were about five years old and you just started to marinate in it. This kept going non-stop until early middle school, when Purple Rain knocked you out right when your need to hear good music crossed with your hormones kicking you in the pants, your curiosity about sex is at its most potent/confusing, your want for sheer COOLNESS is like a biological need. Carry this into high school and college and times the marination by a factor of 100 if you are a Midwestern kid of color who has always felt weird your whole life and BLAMMO. Prince is baked into your soul.
That lady when I was a kid who was crying about Elvis? That’s because Elvis was hers. For her age, for her demographic, for her sense of place and time, for her sense of self, sex, music, fashion, formation, love, art, all of it: Elvis was hers. Just like Kurt was someone’s and Bob Marley was someone’s and John Lennon was someone’s and Marvin Gaye was someone’s.
Prince though, man. For me and my friends? Prince was ours.