There is the news you’re never ready for, the news that when someone tells you, you think, surely, they must be joking, that this is a terrible joke, that this can’t be real. That was the case yesterday when a coworker casually mentioned that Prince had just died.
No. Not Prince. Impossible. A bad Internet hoax. A rumor.
Sadly, though, yes. Yes, Prince. Possible. Not a hoax. Not a rumor.
I am still unable to fully fathom that I currently live on this planet and that Prince does not. He has been with me nearly my whole life, through so many phases of my life, always teaching me new things. As a kid, I remember watching his videos, hearing his songs, and loving them. As an early teen, through BMG Music Club or one of those similar subscription services that I was always delinquent in paying for, I received the 3-disc set “Hits and B-Sides.” To say I played the shit out of those CDs is an understatement. I learned every single word to every single one of those songs, playing them again and again, making mixtapes with those songs featuring prominently on them.
He was my first lover. He was everyone’s first lover. Which is why his death hurts so fucking much. Before I ever kissed anyone, before I ever made any awkward gropings in the dark with someone, before I ever had sex, or felt the power of touch, I felt it through his music, through his erotic charge that came through so much of those early songs of his. He made some of the sexiest music ever made and it taught me what it was to be human, what it was to be a sexual being, how those feelings were worthy of celebration, were worthy of song.
So there is that, which is no small thing.
As importantly, he allowed me to be queer. He created a space in popular culture for femme, flamboyant males. He lit an alternative path, something other than the normal constricts of masculinity. As an awkward teen, unsure about my sexuality, trying my best to deny it, to not be that word faggot that other kids in high school called me, he presented a confidence and an assuredness in his self-presentation, as gay as gay could be, and yet not even gay. For me, that meant so much, and in retrospect I can see how much an influence he had on me, how his liberated self allowed me to strive toward my own self-liberation.
He liberated me in so many senses. His dancing. His fucking dancing. I don’t dance with the same enthusiasm anymore, but when I first went to college, at all those parties, when all those Prince songs came on, and they seemed to come on all the time at those New College parties, I danced free, in love with movement and with what my body was capable of, of putting on a show, of feeling the music. That was learned from watching Prince videos, from him showing what was possible, those splits (which obviously I was never capable of), and that careening, sailing around the stage. Every time I danced to a Prince song, I was Prince, was trying to be, was trying to have the same grace, sexiness, and charisma while dancing.
I can’t believe this man is gone.
In later years, once I was living in New York, I downloaded his whole discography and went through album by album, amazed at this man’s talent. So all of the above, the space he created with his persona, that’s one thing, but then there is just his insane level of talent on vivid display throughout his insanely huge catalog of music, music that he made almost entirely by himself (session musicians aside). That he played every instrument on his first album (released at the age of 20!) just boggles the mind. A level of talent with songwriting, singing, guitar playing, piano playing, dancing - perfect at every single one of them. It almost seems unfair that one single human could be so talented, have so much skill, but he was hungry and had a work ethic that none of mere mortals could ever hope to approach. But still I hold him and his work ethic up as my lodestar - something to aspire to - to try to approach art and making stuff with the same level of intensity and passion.
I saw him perform twice in concert and both times were religious experiences. The amount that this man means to me had me sitting on the edge of my seat, just blown away, experiencing floods of overwhelming emotions, knowing how lucky I was to see him live, that it would be something I would always hold tight for the rest of my life, those memories.
The music slices right through me like nothing else. Rhythm is fucking life and this man’s sense of rhythm and melody just prove what a life-force this man was. He was just on another plane and had an understanding of things and translating those things to art in a way that is nothing short of breathtaking.
“If I could I would give you the world, but all I can do is offer you my love.”
But Prince, you did. You gave me the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything.