“You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died”
– Sign O’ The Times, Prince, 1987.
Here we are again. Going through our day feeling, what some might say, is a disproportionate sense of loss for someone we didn’t know personally. People are distraught; our collective grief palpable. Facebook is, yet again, our funeral parlour. I cried in the kitchen this morning as I listened to Purple Rain on repeat very, very loud. Again we are mourning. Prince is dead. Another king gone.
My entire Facebook feed is purple, and it seems as though people are ironically battling against Prince’s very own wishes for invisibility and mystery (and commerciality), via the ban of his music and video on streaming sites, as they hunt for video clips to show their favourite moments. Desperate to show that they loved him, what he meant to music, how much he gave us…
From today on, you will read many obituaries containing many impassioned words of praise and loss. Loss mainly. For we have lost something massive – we have lost a creative energy that surpassed most others – his talent was something super-human. The mind boggles when trying to quantify neatly his contribution to music. And his contribution to so many of our personal lives. For me, like you, he was a soundtrack to my coming of age. His sexual energy – how he worked a stage, danced with ‘his girls’, how he ground his hips as he played that damn yellow guitar – was so much a part of many a person’s own sexual awakening.
So, in that way, we did know him personally. This grief is not disproportionate. His music had an impact on our lives; his music played at our parties and weddings, in kitchens, cars and bedrooms (definitely bedrooms).
His live shows were something almost spiritual for fans. I recall being at his 1992 gig in Dublin and losing my friend, who is an absolute super-fan. My other friend and I were concerned as to how we would find her again (pre-mobile phone) and I said, ‘wait until Prince comes on stage, she will have gotten up on someone’s shoulders and we’ll see her”. We pushed further to the front and watched as his band struck up, Prince arrived on stage, resplendent in yellow, and we pivoted and saw Zoe indeed up on someone’s shoulders, tears streaming down her face, arms reaching forward mouthing ‘I love you, Prince’.
She and I once lived together, and Prince was a very regular feature in our (very regular) kitchen discos. And now I feel lucky to know this super-fan pal of mine as she educated me in all of Prince’s albums, his movies, his lesser-known works, the ongoing story of his life. Today she is carrying one of his guitar plecs that she caught at a concert in her hand like a religious relic. And this morning I bought all his classic albums on iTunes. There is a need to hold him close for fear he will fade.
The tributes pouring out today from the world’s press are sublime, the reverence outstanding, and it’s clear that it is just now dawning on the world that he is truly gone. And because of the beautiful irony of his creation where there is little imagery, audio or video to share, we are seeing some striking new work being produced to honour him. The next New Yorker cover is a graphic representation of Purple Rain – it is beautiful. By protecting the usage of his own creations, he is forcing us to create. There’s something fitting in that.
When Eric Clapton was once asked, ‘what does it feel like to be the world’s greatest living guitarist?’, he said, ‘I don’t know, ask Prince’.
There’s no need for me to catalogue here his myriad talents; his prolific back catalogue, his visionary musicianship, his exemplary writing because you know this. To listen to him is to know, to read your social feeds today is to know. To feel the global grief that permeates this day is to know what we have lost.
Why has this year taken so many heroes from us? Bowie was already so hard – one tweet when he passed said it felt as though we lost ‘something elemental, as though an entire colour is gone’. And it’s the same with Prince. What a poignant way to portray this feeling. Why are we are losing comedians, actors and musicians? Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, our own Frank Kelly. Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan. Bowie and Prince… The people who make us laugh, dance and sing.
We are losing colours. We are losing light.
And this is why we are grieving. This is why we are feeling unsteady and a bit freaked out. Entertainment is important; it makes us feel good and it elevates us from our day- to- day existence. Music and art are the manifestations of life’s finest and highest ideas, they help us to feel things that are bigger than us, those intangible, mercurial things that connect us all – emotions.
We need them.
Pure creativity such as that of Prince and Bowie, opens us up to big feelings and big ideas. It enlivens our senses. It allows us to feel free. Without it, we are a little lost. And that is why today, we are here again – grieving.
For now, let the last words be his, for they have turned out to be painfully prophetic…
“Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last”
– Prince 1958-2016.