I Didn’t Realize Prince Meant that Much to Me

The opening fuzzy ache of the electric guitar, followed by the undulating rhythm of the drums, and the agonizing moans that preceded the first lyrics, “Dig if you will the picture, of you and I engaged in a kiss,” took me back to high school.

To dark-lit school gyms and tinny records spinning all the popular artists of my 1980s yearning and dreaming. To my fantasies of first love, of true love, of happily-ever-after, of what sex would be like, of wanting and being wanted.

To beliefs of my-life-can-be-anything, I can be anything, I can change my life and the trajectory of the planet.

That’s what I heard when I listened to When Doves Cry, yesterday.

I listened to Prince all day long yesterday, downloaded his The Very Best of Prince album. The day prior, I was in a work meeting and during a break, glanced at my phone, to see the news.

My jaw dropped. My mouth slacked open. Was this a hoax?

Now, I’m not one to mourn the loss of celebrities I don’t know. I find it funny, actually, that we claim people we’ve never met as our own, as important for our lives, as part of our circles.

They are as we see them. We don’t really know them. We know what they stand for, the public face they put out there, their music or their writing or their acting.

We project onto famous people what we want them to be, what we hope they can offer for our lives.

Salvation. Success. Against all odds, something BIG.

And when they die, whether young like Prince or near the end of their life, it gives us a chance to reflect on what they brought to the world, how they changed us, personally and collectively.

So it was odd to me that, while driving my little guy to school yesterday morning in the spitting rain, I started to cry as When Doves Cry played on my car radio.

I swiped the tears away to keep my focus on the road. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I said to Shaya, and turned the music up loud.

All day long, I listened to Prince. On Sirius Channel 50, the weekend-long tribute to the dearly departed artist, and on my phone as I jogged through the neighborhood in late afternoon sun.

I sang out loud going down the streets of Huntington Woods, glad that my daughter wasn’t there to witness this embarrassment.

I know all the words.

Every dip of the guitar strings, every high-pitched moan. They are the story of my sexual awakening, my journey toward adulthood, my yearning to find love.

But you see, I didn’t realize Prince meant that much to me. I didn’t know that he had seeped inside my sense of self and decorated my identity with lyrics and refrains from his songs.

I didn’t even know how great a talent he was, really. He was incredible. And so now, in my mid-40s, I see him in a whole new lovely light, as a person who never walked the line, who carved his own path, who created his identity again and again to represent what mattered to him and what edges he wanted to push.

That’s someone I can model my next half-century after.

The first half-century was wallpapered with songs about running to the place where your horses run free, partying like it’s the end of a century and the brink of something wholly unknown, loving someone so completely you would actually die for them.

Prince was weird. He was different. He defied description and category and community. He was an entity unto himself.

And he was ok with that.

Which made the rest of us consider that it might be ok to be different ourselves.

The man lived in Minnesota, for goodness sake, not Hollywood. He created a landscape on top of the free-American ethic and, from the outside, seemed to be someone who discarded judgment and conformity for the unique talent of living your own life to a pleasing degree that, when you finish, you have absolutely no regrets.

And you see, here I go, putting onto this man that I never knew all the values that he gave me. The messages I associate with him. The confidence his work and profile gave me to be who I am, rather than who others want me to be.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life, it means forever and that’s a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else. The Afterworld. A world of never-ending happiness. You can always see the sun. Day or night.

…Instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby…In this life, you’re on your own.

I don’t know if I believe these words, but I feel so energized listening to them. Like there IS possibility. Like there IS something else. Like This Horrible Difficult Disappointing Moment will end and something beautiful will come.

We have to believe this to go on living.

We have to feel that there is hope.

We have to live as if we matter, as if someone is listening, as if our presence changes the world for the better.

Without this, what is the point?

For me, Prince created a soundtrack of possibility that is my life’s foundation. That’s why the tears yesterday. That’s why I listened to his songs all day long in the cool spring sun and felt like I was home, back in a place where I had the long stretch of tomorrow ahead of me and it sparkled in sunlight, beckoning to me to walk straight ahead without question.

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