So Prince has died.
I heard it on the radio in my car last Thursday, several hours after the news had broken. The DJ announced it so casually. (What?! I couldn’t have heard that right. Did he say PRINCE?) And then he- OOF… launched right into “When Doves Cry” without even letting me take a breath to absorb the news. I think I scared my daughter when I burst out and yelled at the cars ahead of me to GO, ALREADY!
I needed to get home. Quickly.
Not being far from home, we pulled into the garage and I turned the car off. Quickly turned the key again so we could listen to the song play out. A combination of rock guitar and pure, sweet, melodic poetry. A song that I never really “got,” but never really needed to in order to enjoy its groundbreaking sound.
When Michael Jackson died, and Whitney Houston, and so many other iconic artists, I felt almost a sense of relief for them. Their suffering, their torment, was over. They were free now. Robin Williams. Philip Seymour Hoffman. River Phoenix. David Bowie. How many artists have we lost in my lifetime? Too many to count.
But Prince. PRINCE. He was still making music. Playing concerts. It feels like his life was cut short. Please, please, please, let it really have been the flu. I can’t bear the thought of another death- accidental or intentional- from drugs or a desperate act to ease his suffering.
He died alone in his elevator. Too sad. Too sad.
It was 1983 when the song “1999” was first on the radio. I was ten. Without paying too close attention to the lyrics, I imagined what it really would be like on the last night of 1999. I imagined myself as a 26-year-old. I would probably be married, have two kids already. I would be too OLD to party. Funny to think of that now.
“If you didn’t come to party/ Don’t bother knocking on my door”
On Friday, December 31, 1999, my husband and I (no kids yet) reunited with a large group of friends from college in Richmond, Virginia. We laughed hysterically at dinner, celebrated one couple’s engagement, then party-hopped across the city as we reveled in our relative young-adult freedom. We were grown up and responsible, but we could still PARTY.
“So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999”
Around 11pm I said, “WAIT. We have to play ‘1999,’ y’all. It’s 1999. And we’re partying.” As I imagined similar scenarios playing out across every time zone. Prince’s reach was massive. So we’re searching this random house in which we’ve ended up. Looking in their CD towers for the album. The song. Starting to get frantic when we couldn’t find it. And finally, another guest at the party says he has it on a tape in his car. On TAPE, of all things!
And we played it and it felt like the night- and the next century, even- was saved. Anointed. Blessed by Prince. He knew it was going to be a great party. He knew. The year 1999, which seemed impossibly far away to a 10-year-old kid, is now 17 YEARS in the PAST.
So many other songs of his had an impact on my life. If I searched my brain, I could probably come up with a specific, happy memory to go along with each one. They were the soundtrack to my childhood. And into adulthood too. “Kiss.” If it played at your wedding, I embarrassed myself on the dance floor. Hell, if the DJ played it, it’s probably because I requested it. At your wedding. Yep, I was that guest. But it was “Kiss!”
“But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last”
On Thursday, the day we heard, we were all in shock. The Purple One can’t be gone. We never saw him in concert. Oh, no.
On Friday, sadness set in.
I was on a long road trip with my son. It was the eve of his fourteenth birthday. We came across a station on satellite radio that had miraculously, graciously, turned itself into a Prince tribute station. And more than just playing his music (which, believe me, I needed to hear desperately), the DJ took hundreds of calls from people sharing their stories about Prince’s music, their memories, their connection to or friendship with him.
Listening to them made me feel like my immense grief over a person I had never met was not out of proportion. Their stories ranged from the deeply personal connections to Prince the man to one caller’s simple request- that they air the song that played in the background when he lost his virginity. Prince provided the soundtrack to our reckless, intense, fearless youth, and now it’s over.
“They say two-thousand zero zero/ Party’s over/ Oops, out of time”
I was too young to understand what “I Would Die 4 U” meant at the time of its release. However, the intensity of feeling in his music and lyrics still came through for me at a young age. The beauty of Prince’s music was that it stuck around long enough for you to get the message. I have two children now. And I know.
I was eleven when the movie Purple Rain came out in theaters. I was too young to go see it. I still have never seen it. But the music inspired by the movie, or vice versa, is a part of my heart. Someday soon I will watch it and be inspired all over again by the man. The music. The poetry. The artistry. The gentle soul who left us far too early.
“I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away”
The party of Prince’s life is now over, but the music and the memories he left us with will last.
Thank you, Prince, from the bottom of my broken heart.
And during that road trip on Friday? It rained. Out of big, purple clouds in front of a glorious setting sun. Of course it did.