A couple of hours ago I learned that Prince had died. I stepped away from the extended family vacation I am in the midst of to just catch my breath and noodle on Facebook for a moment or two. Immediately I saw the news that Prince was dead at 57. Prince. Dead. It seems inconceivable to me. Surprising even myself, I burst into tears. Messy tears that no one around me understood.
When Bowie died a few months ago, my Facebook feed was littered with tributes and condolences. Friends were shocked and mourning. The death of Bowie was a loss, but not personal to me. I felt for my friends, but it was their loss, not mine. I would never have qualified as a Bowie fan, though respected his artistry. But now, in the midst of my own grief, I get it. I get how the death of a stranger, someone you never met or spoke with, could wreck you.
I have always adored Prince and his music. I came to it at a young age — 13 was when I discovered him. An impressionable youth, I was, and Prince was always one to impress. He was raw and joyful, bodacious, fiercely talented, dirty sexy (as my friend Julie just described him), so damn himself, singular. His words were dangerous, his music complex and complicated. My 13 year old self was in way over my head, but I loved it, all of it.
Tipper Gore was having heart attacks about Darling Nikki grinding away, while young kids everywhere were asking, “What’s grinding?” Yep. Prince was a defacto sex ed teacher to me and so many others. The man was sex personified. Just crazy sexy. His eyes, his high heels, his lycra pants, his tiny waist, his winks and pearls just screamed naughty.
Aside from the content of his lyrics, though, something about the man’s guitar just sent me. I could listen to him riff for hours and many a day in high school, I did. His music transported me to places I would never get to without him. Cool places. Funky places. Tough places. His guitar was my first passport to destinations outside my suburban bedroom.
When someone does that for you, when their art has the power to take you places, they become yours in a way. You claim them. I am a middle aged white lady, and I claim Prince as my own. And yes, I mourn him. I know from grief, and what I am feeling in these moments is grief, pure and potent.
It was Prince’s words who got me through my first real breakup. I was in college and it was one of those “you’re gonna get married, or you’re gonna break up” relationships, and, well, we opted for the latter. But I was still ripped and shattered. Prince fed my heartbreak like no other. His words helped put me back together.
Oh, Prince. I am now feeling immensely grateful to my husband for purchasing third row tickets for his Chicago stadium show a few years ago. He had the stage set up with cocktail tables all around it, the stadium seats behind us. Damn, those were amazing seats. I wrote about that show HERE. I was surprised by two things that night: 1) just how itty bitty Prince was — probably not much taller than five feet; and 2) how joyful he was, how much fun he had on that stage, with a total lack of pretense.
The power of joy in Prince’s music is almost as integral to it as its sexiness. When you sing along to “Baby, I’m a Star,” you believe it, you become a star, if only for a few minutes in your kitchen while cooking dinner. Prince made me connect with that sexy motherfucking star inside myself. And, better yet, he made that sexy, motherfucking star in me as accessible as the on/off switch to the stereo.
What a gift.
Right now I am remembering sitting in a dark theater a few years ago. A friend invited me to see the Joffrey Ballet’s restaging of Billboards, a monumental juxtaposition of ballet set to Prince’s music. Billboards was commissioned in the early 1990s, but I had never seen it. Part of me was heartbroken sitting in that dark theater, as it was Chicago’s Auditorium Theater we were sitting in — the last stage that Donna ever danced on. But the lights dimmed and the music started, I was transported, as I so often am listening to Prince’s music.
The performance ended in a resplendent performance of “Baby, I’m a Star” where guests from the audience were invited up onto the stage to dance alongside the lithe, sinuous bodies of the ballerinas. It’s a hokey move, to invite the audience to dance with you, not often seen with one of America’s premiere ballet companies, but it worked because, well, Prince. I wrote a status update about it in the moments after I learned the news of Prince’s death this afternoon:
I felt transformed and transported, fixed, unbroken, whole again, as a theater full of humans were full to brimming with the joy of his music and the dancers’ bodies just clashed and celebrated and moved, so brilliant and perfect and epic. Baby, I’m a star, Prince told us, and we all were. He made us believe.
The joy and the life in that combination of dance and Prince’s music and the utter democracy of that moment allowed me to transcend my grief. I was grateful to be alive, so happy to be, to live and move and feel and breathe.
Thank you, Prince, for that moment.
I salute and mourn the artistry and humanity of one so singular as you.