I am dehydrated as hell because of Prince. After 24 hours of crying, drinking wine from a can, more crying, and drinking more wine with friends, even this 33 oz bottle of club soda I’m drinking doesn’t seem to be enough to replenish me right now. I’m sure I have more tears to come, when the confirmation of his death came via the AP I boo-hooed like a small child who got some candy stolen. I can’t remember the last time I did that.
I swore I wasn’t going to “think piece” Prince, and I don’t think that’s what this is, but after a 2016 of crushing musical losses, this was the one that broke me in two. I do love Prince, but I am not a superfan. I don’t have an enyclopedic memory of all of his b-sides and unreleased tracks (that’s Nine Inch Nails for me) But Prince was one of the first musicians that really made me want to devour it, envelope myself in it. He was one of the first artists that led me to start a relationship with music — as a listener, a fan, and later a musician — and to take that relationship seriously. I remember my sister (I think it was my sister) telling me that he played all of the instruments on his first album and how quietly awed I was at that, that music was this special gift for him, this superpower.
Prince knew how to channel ambiguity through music like NO NOBODY ELSE. I get a particular thrill when I hear “Let’s Go Crazy” – it’s really the most gleefully fatalistic song, and being a gleefully fatalistic person, even as a child, this spoke to me. From that beginning organ swell, it’s this almost unbearable buildup of elation, fear, anxiety – all of these things at once, and it culminates in that final, explosive wail…”TAKE ME AWAY!” It’s like feeling my chest explode. It puts into the universe that love of life and fear of death that I thought about but couldn’t articulate. He was answering questions I was afraid to ask. That’s some hardcore shit for a kid, but it showed me what music can do to you, for you, when it’s powerful.
Sex, death, love; these most thrilling and terrifying topics, Prince immersed himself in them, and took us along. He didn’t just give us permission to be weird, but to exist in ambiguity, without apology. I have read quite a few essays from people who say Prince empowered them to assert their own identities, that he made it OK to be a weird black kid from the Midwest, or to be genderfluid. As a weird black kid from the Midwest, I get that feeling, but I was even more attracted to the fact that he wasn’t like me, that he had this magic that was his own and that he gifted us with it.
That’s not to say that I thought Prince was perfect; he could be a weird jerk to the people in his life at times, from what I’ve heard. In his battles to hold to on the integrity of his art, it sometimes seems like he punished those fans that loved him most. But even that made him a rare breed, especially now. He made demands of his audience, it was a relationship between artist and fan that felt earned. He never let us forget the worth of his art. It feels like the end of an era where we interacted with music in that way, the loss of a particular kind of intimacy that one can feel with music you’ve made a relationship with. I desperately hope I’m wrong.
I just put on Let’s Go Crazy and that thrill is bubbling up in me again. It’s eternal.