The theater was packed, some even stood in the back, leaning against the wall in anticipation. My friend Marty and I had the perfect seats. Popcorn in hand, we were excited by what would come, but had no idea what to expect. Then the lights dimmed, and the place erupted in cheers as the film Purple Rain began.
Prince died today, and I can’t believe that the death of a man I’ve never met, could break my heart so much.
Although I never sat down and had a conversation with him, I did meet Prince —through his music. I was a little girl when my sister brought home Prince’s second album, there was something special about this man with the falsetto voice, desperately singing about love and loss. For most of my life Prince was there —I just assumed he always would be.
Marty and I left that showing of Purple Rain as lifelong fans. Even though we didn’t always have the latest release, Prince was and still is one of our favorite artists. To this day I know all the lyrics, and the exact order of each song on the Purple Rain soundtrack. I remember the incredible experience of seeing the man himself in concert, how he made all of us in that large arena feel as if we were at an intimate show, and he was performing only for us. It’s a memory made even more special after his shocking, and unexpected death.
For many people Purple Rain was their introduction to Prince; but even before the film took him to the heights of superstardom, His Purple Badness had several releases that preceded that groundbreaking album. 1978’s “For You,” was Prince’s first studio release, followed by his self-titled “Prince” album in 1979. In 1980 he released “Controversy,” and in ‘81“Dirty Mind.” Then came “1999,” the album that spawned the hit single of the same name; which was an anthem at every end of the century New Year’s Eve party. All in all Prince had 39 studio albums, five soundtrack albums, four live albums, five compilation albums, seventeen video albums, and twelve extended plays. He never stopped, even after the furor of Purple Rain died down, even after he battled with his record company, and changed his name to a symbol. Who else but Prince could succeed as an artist with no name?
I was only half listening to the radio the day Prince died. Only partially paying attention to what was usually the inane chatter of the morning radio show. But I noticed that the DJs sounded different, the absurdity was gone, replaced by a solemnity that told me something terrible had happened —Prince was dead. And on a station that had relegated his music to Throwback Thursdays, that day they paid a fitting tribute to a man whose music continues, and will continue to inspire artists and fans of all ages.
As I scanned the internet, hoping that the news of Prince’s death was an awful mistake, it became evident very quickly that it all too was true. And with each story the reality sunk in, and the sadness hit harder than I ever expected. Far too many of my artistic heroes have died; first David Bowie, and now Prince. As someone said on Facebook, “I hate you 2016.”
As it is with every celebrity death, there are those who refuse to allow us to grieve. You know the type, the ones who proclaim from their high horses that, whoever it is that has passed on, wasn’t worthy of such admiration. These are the folks who tell us every negative aspect of the deceased’s life, in order to prove just how undeserving they are.
A few days after Prince’s death, I saw a posting with a man holding a beautiful baby. The caption underneath read, “Some of you are mourning the passing of the Iconic black funk singer Prince who lived a life of luxury, and excess…but do you know the name of the last American soldier who was killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan?”
Why were they even comparing the two? Mourning the death of Prince isn’t belittling the heroism of this brave soldier. It isn’t wrong to feel sadness when someone who, through their craft, touched your life in some meaningful way. To try and shame those of us who felt compelled to honor the life of Prince in some way by using the death of this heroic soldier, is in itself shameful .
I have no idea what kind of man Prince was, but I do know what kind of musician he was —brilliant, and that is what I’m honoring. As a kid, and even today, I use music as a way of escape, a place to go when I just don’t want to deal with real life. Prince’s music was there for a kid who wasn’t popular, didn’t have a boyfriend, and sometimes felt all alone. It helped me to forget, for a time at least, the hurt and pain that life can sometimes bring.
No Prince wasn’t a hero in the sense that he rescued a bus full of kids from certain death, saved his battalion from a group of rogue terrorists, or nabbed a murderer before he could commit a deadly crime. He’s a hero of mine because of what he was able to accomplish musically. Because his songs touched me in ways that I can’t even verbalize, and because his music is part of the soundtrack of my life. His was a life worth commemorating, and a death worth mourning.
Rest in Peace Prince Rogers Nelson. You will truly be missed.
Like this story? Want to participate in future “Theme Weeks”? Look out for our June prompt later this month.