It seems like the people who got us through the worst times, even though they never knew us, even though we never knew them, are leaving us all at once, just when we need them again. These dreadful, dreadful past few years. This horrid year. The U.S.’s steady descent into defiant bigotry. Presidential candidates who are suitable for nothing but fodder for late-night TV show hosts’ opening monologues. We grew up but we still needed Lemmy. Bowie. Natalie Cole. Glenn Frey. Alan Rickman. And now, Prince.
Prince Rogers Nelson seemed to have a joyful and seductive spirit. He made us dance. He made us stare in frank lust. It annoys me when talking heads mention that he was physically small. I never saw him as small. I saw a man with absolutely no self-consciousness who would do anything to make sure that the audience had a good time with him. Yeah, I know exactly how that sounds. But he appeared on our radar as this guy dressed like he had just walked out of one of those paperback pirate romances that hit the height of their popularity in the mid-80s, at about the same time that Prince became one of the “pop stars” who dominated MTV.
References to Prince as a pop star also irk me. He was a guitar god. The Eric Clapton quote has been going around the Internet all day. “What does it feel like to be the world’s greatest guitar player?” Clapton: “I don’t know, ask Prince.”
Prince was 14 years older than I am. He was one of the artists whose music filled my teen years. I followed his career, sometimes actively, sometimes casually, until his death yesterday. Less than a week ago I read that he had the flu. I expected him to recover and be with us for a long time. As of the time I write this, the cause of his death has not been announced.
Prince, like David Bowie, had the ability to evolve musically and keep creating and keep engaging fans for decades. Like Bowie, Prince went through personal stylistic changes, some dramatic, some just weird, but he never lost us. He went from 80s pop star to 2000s rock star. He took total command of the stage. I remember people making fun of him, his style, his overtly sexual music in the 80s. By the time he died, he was a respected artist and a superstar. He was respected for his songwriting, his talent with the guitar, and as a person who did not let down his fans. You can see all that in the partial video of his Superbowl halftime performance.
There isn’t going to be another artist of Prince’s calibre, or David Bowie’s, or Freddie Mercury’s, although we lost him so long ago. It seems that there is no new ground to break and it’s all style of some sort, not appealing in any way to me, over substance. At least we still have their music. I hope that Prince and David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and all of the ones we’ve lost know somehow what they meant to each and every one of us.