The sudden death of a famous musician is always a time for fans to come together and memorialize and mourn. What I am seeing and feeling with the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson is something different. Of course there is sorrow, a feeling of loss, regret for not having seen him in concert, but there is something else – a vibrant outpouring of love, music, and togetherness. It is more than just shared sorrow, and I could not quite put my finger on it before, but it may be one important physical fact about Prince is why this seems less about loss and more about celebration.
Prince stayed in Minnesota. Fiercely so. He was ours and we claimed him with a passion that can only be understood by those who happily endure winters of bone-numbing cold and summers of sweat-drenched heat. When someone local rises to the level of celebrity, it is a moment of pride for us. Then, usually, they leave to pursue their dreams. They escape to the coasts, or to wherever the rich and famous go to be rich and famous. Prince remained anchored here in a way to which we were not accustomed. F. Scott Fitzgerald left. Judy Garland left. Bob Dylan left. This mercurial musical genius who had the world worshiping his music, his persona, his energy, not only stayed, but helped define one of the most vibrant music scenes in the nation.
The music. It was the soundtrack of my teenage years. And my twenties. I lost touch with him for a few years as my tastes diverged from his projects at the time. Then, he started creating some of the most intense rock music of his career with 3RDEYEGIRL. Wow. He spilled genius like others spilled milk.
As with any genius, he had his eccentricities. I imagine he reveled in them, and considering his well-known sense of humor, he may even have crafted some just because. Kevin Smith famously cued us in to some of them, and I suspect Prince could be difficult and strange. He made music on his own terms, so it is unsurprising that he certainly experienced life on his own terms. But, he did not submit to the usual downfalls of fame: drugs and alcohol. He was not dogged by scandals. He apparently had an astounding self-awareness. He loved Dave Chappelle’s skit about him so much that he used a shot of Chappelle in character on the album cover of his “Breakfast Can Wait” single.
It sounds self-serving to say that he was one of us, but he was. He was uncompromising, something we northern types admire, even as we politely conform. He was a brilliant musician. It turns out he was an incredibly generous philanthropist, something his faith did not allow him to make public. He was goofy, sensual, intense, enigmatic, fascinating, frustrating, odd, complex, energetic, focused, spiritual. He was human. He was us. He was a Minnesotan right up to the day he left us.
And he left us some of the best music ever written.
Don’t rest in peace, Prince. That wasn’t your style. Funk it up.