I was driving when I learned that Prince died. I immediately plugged my phone into the car to play his music, letting those amazing songs transport me back to childhood. I was singing along, sad, but happy to know that these songs will always be a part of me. What a wonderfully weird little dude. He was strange and colorful and undeniably sexual. I didn’t know what I was singing about when I was a little kid in the 80’s, but as I grew older, I learned to appreciate the beauty of unabashed desire. A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I was “singing Little Red Corvette, baby you’re much too fast, while driving the speed limit in my Toyota RAV4. This is it. This pretty much sums me up.” With the exception of a few years after high school, I’ve lived a cautious life, doing things I thought I was supposed to do according to my family and society. The whole time, my jealous eyes have been fixed on those who drive much too fast. Before hearing about Prince’s death today, I was struggling with the same stifling fear that has always stopped me from taking risks. Driving home today, I listened to the music that I played when I was a fearless child full of hope and possibility. I was almost home when Purple Rain began to play, but I had to pull over and cry.
In my most angst-ridden days of high school, I tortured my unlicensed best friend who I drove to school every morning by playing Jeff Buckley’s Grace over and over again. “The moaning! How can you stand it?” she would yell. I just smiled at her because I wasn’t going to stop singing just to ask “How can you not?!” It helped that he was beautiful. I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty frontman or songwriter, but if he was just a pretty face, I wouldn’t have been so invested. “This beautiful, beautiful song was created from his pain!” She agreed that it was painful and made me promise to put fun music on after school. Later, she told me that she isn’t a music person. My mind was completely boggled. How can that be? It turns out, she’s not an anomaly. There are other people who listen to music passively without letting lyrics alter the course of their life, or at least invoke the possibility of doing so. Fortunately, my social circle has been expanded with other music people. These friends know why I have to see my favorite band every time their tour bus rolls into my town. We buy music and merch at shows because we want them to keep touring. Forever. They’re not allowed to die. You hear that, Old 97s? You’re not allowed to die. My music friends understand.
In the last few years, (ugh, yes, years) I’ve been pondering my unfulfilled desires. When brave, creative spirits like Prince and David Bowie depart the earth, I feel especially ashamed for not living life more fully. I am not nearly as talented as these iconic artists, but knowing that they will never create again, sparks an urgency to create without fear, or in spite of it. Music makes me dream. As the musicians of my childhood start to die, I understand that I don’t have forever to turn my dreams into something tangible. I won’t be leaving a catalog of genius recordings behind, but I hope that at least one person, hopefully my daughter, will find beauty in something that once only existed in my mind.
As we process the death of another musical icon, I am profoundly moved by my love for music and my gratitude for music friends. I call myself an agnostic, but there is a divinity that I turn to when I need to celebrate, to cope, to mourn. Music is my God and my faith is abiding.
RIP, Prince Rogers Nelson.