During my senior year of high school, my bedroom walls were plastered with posters, photos, and anything reminiscent of Prince.
For as long as I can remember, music had always been a staple of my life. Elvis was probably my first love. Mom had the G.I. Blues album and I remember watching it spin on the record player in the living room while all of us kids danced. Even my youngest brother, who wasn’t quite walking yet, held himself up against the coffee table and bounced his tiny body up and down to the sounds of Blue Suede Shoes.
I had a young aunt who took my sister and me to concerts at the state fair during our childhood summers. Among others I fail to remember, we saw the Captain and Tennille, and Mac Davis. I was always fascinated by those with musical talents. I daydreamed about making a living as a singer. Too bad I could never really sing, and gave up that fantasy long before I hit my teenage years.
By the time I was five years old, I had claimed Donny Osmond as my future husband. (Clearly, he didn’t get the memo.) In later years, I gave my heart to Shaun Cassidy and then Rick Springfield. But my allegiance to “bubble gum” pop began to fade around the sixth grade, when Queen came out with The Game.
I’m not sure what it was that drew me to Prince. He didn’t elicit that dreamy attraction I’d felt for some of my former music idols. He was strange. Flamboyant. He had this weird thing for the color purple. (Also, he was extremely short. At five foot nine by my high school years, Prince’s height put him out of the running as future husband material.)
His music boasted a crazy mix of energy, sexuality and spirituality. He was radical and bold, and he didn’t meet the music world’s typical standards. But he didn’t care what anyone thought. Whether his music and movies brought raging success or phenomenal failure, he continued to produce the art he so loved. You often got the sense that though he shared it with the world, he didn’t do it for the world, but simply because it was what inspired and drove him.
I remember Mom shaking her head at my bedroom wall tribute to Prince. When I played his albums, she’d warn, “If I hear one dirty lyric…”
Some of his lyrics were dirty. But lucky for me and for Mom, his style was so new and unique that we didn’t always know for certain what he was singing about.
I remember going to see the movie Purple Rain for the first of many times. When the movie ended, people in the theater actually began to applaud and cheer. So weird! There was no one actually there to receive our applause, but I found myself joining in. I think that’s when I first realized that Prince was something really big.
Over the years, my fanaticism for Prince faded, but like many, I’ve maintained a sincere appreciation. When I first heard the news that he’d died, I was surprised that the sinking feeling in my heart was tangible. While others around me speculated with morbid fascination, I felt a quieting sense of loss. I imagine this is what my mom must have felt in the summer between my fourth and fifth grade years, when Elvis died. When a person’s impact moves you that much, you can’t help but hurt when they’re gone.
Something felt so off. I hadn’t given much thought to Prince in years, so what was it that made this tragedy weigh on me so much? For a person I never even actually knew?
Maybe it was because he was one of Minnesota’s own. Maybe it was because he had given so much to the Minneapolis community in such quiet ways. Or was it because he inspired loyalty by staying here, in the place where he’d grown up, instead of moving away to places where the rich and famous tend to dwell? Maybe it was because as much as we all thought we knew about him, he’d remained such a mystery to the world.
Probably it was because his music formed the soundtrack for my coming of age.
The local news these past few days has been saturated with stories of Prince. Not just his passing, but all of the ways he positively impacted people here in Minnesota and around the world. Although I certainly live close enough, I didn’t join the masses who have gathered the past few nights at First Avenue to celebrate Prince’s life with all night dance parties. That wouldn’t be my style. And besides, I’d have to stay up past my bedtime. But I love hearing the stories of what’s happening as people come together to mourn and honor him. With nine shootings in just four days in the neighboring city of St. Paul this month, it’s comforting to hear that Prince’s passing is creating harmony and love among people of all generations, social status and races. Can’t we all use just a little more of that?
I imagine he was a hero to many, and a sinner in the eyes of many others. There’s speculation that drugs may have been the cause of his unexpected death, and that would be a shame. But every one of us here on earth is broken in some way. And all we can do is try to rise above it as much as possible by offering something good. Prince did that so well. And like so many, I still can’t help but contemplate his amazing life. I think what I admire most is that he did his thing, unapologetically. He didn’t wait until he felt ready. He didn’t wait for approval. He just did it and kept doing it. Maybe his message contained some darkness. But there’s no denying it was largely about love and harmony. He made us think deeper. He changed more than one generation. He made us break out of our self-imposed shells just a little bit. He showed me that it’s possible to not fit the mold, and yet … achieve greatness.
I know I’m not saying anything new here. But I join the masses in admitting that I feel his loss and he will be sadly missed. Rest in peace, Prince.