15 May 2016

Farewell, my Prince

Growing up, I had two separate lives. There was my school life, with one set of friends and family, and then there was my summer life, with different friends, a different family, in a different part of the country. There were times I felt like two separate people, these lives were so at odds.

In one, we were poor and indulgences were few and far between. The other left me feeling spoiled, like I could have everything my heart desired, where fridges were full and there were weekly trips to the mall, where I was allowed to choose things to take home. I almost always got music or books, reading Anne of Green Gables, Sweet Valley High, listening to Madonna. In one world I was often left home alone, the apartment my domain. In the other I was surrounded by grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, the Morman family next door with their eight kids, including one of the best friends I would ever know. In that world I had the run of two towns, where I could cross state lines on my bike all day long.

It was my summer life in Minnesota that first introduced me to Prince. His Minnesota connection made the state embrace him in a way the rest of the world just couldn't. His songs were always on the radio. MTV played his videos all the time. When 1999 came out in 1982 I was at the age where I was beginning to discover music on my own terms. His voice, his music, became a part of the very person I would become. (Even if, at the time, the true meaning of the lyrics were completely missed by my young mind.)

When Doves Cry was the song I chose when I did karaoke for the first time. Prince's soundtrack to the 1989 Batman was the sole reason I was obsessed with the movie, (and possibly its best quality). To date, whenever I hear the opening notes to Raspberry Beret or Batdance I am instantly transported to the red house on 14th Street whose living room saw all my best dance moves.

Last month I was back in Minnesota, taking care of my grandmother who is fighting her battle with cancer. We were at the Roger Maris Cancer Center for appointments and treatments on April 21st. The infusion was going to take several hours and so while she rested I went for a walk to get some food. When I returned, Fox News was on and a few minutes later they broke in with the announcement of Prince's death.

At first I was stunned. In my mind he is forever the twenty-something talking about the girl who walked in through the out door. How could he possibly be dead? Wasn't he one of the few who would live forever?

And I guess, it is a truth that being an artist does make you an immortal. Even after the last breath, the body of work the artist leaves behind will continue living its own life.

I watched the news, already emotional because the appointment with the doctor had not gone as well as we'd hoped, grateful to have the camouflage for my tears.

On Facebook and Twitter I watched as the news began to spread through my friends and celebrities, all the artists and writers I follow. I was not the only one whose life had been influenced by Prince. His admirers were widespread and there were many responses and many tributes.

That night I sat by myself in the living room, the same living room in the red house where I'd watched countless Prince videos growing up. I watched as MTV played video after video, including live performances. I scrolled through social media, feeling less alone as I began to grieve the death of someone I had never met, knowing that the emotions inside me were twisted and tangled, about more than the loss of one great artist. I came across the following tweet by @ElusiveJ:
Thinking about how we mourn artists we've never met. We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.
What a profound truth in less than 140 characters.

It is no exaggeration that books and music have saved my life, have made me a better human being, have taught me empathy, have broadened my world view, have allowed me to experience things far beyond my own life. Music has pulled me out of what Anne (of Green Gables) would call "the depths of despair."

Even in a world without Prince, I know that in the dark days that are yet to come, that are forever haunting the horizon, I will still have his music and it will make me dance, it will make me smile, and it will remind me there is always hope and always inspiration.

"I've seen the future and it will be
I've seen the future and it works
And if there's life after, we will see
So I can't go like a jerk"

Watching MTV's tribute to Prince, April 21st, 2016

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