A Prince among men

Greetings, all —

As most of you (probably all) know, the world lost another creative genius yesterday. There was — and continues to be — an outpouring of grief and tributes on social media and of course callous and occasionally troll-ish responses. Such is the world in which we live these days.

I bring the death of Prince Rogers Nelson up here because a comment by fellow author Jill Malone on Facebook captured, I think, what so many of us feel when an icon like this dies.

The first part of that comment goes thus:

I get it. Sometimes the outcry over the death of a celebrity feels phony. You didn’t even know that person. What are you crying about? But we chart our entire lives by art. I remember what I was listening to at every milestone of my life. I define whole years by certain albums.

“We chart our entire lives by art.”

THAT distilled, in one sentence, why the death of an artist like Prince resonates with so many people, and particularly people of a certain generation.

Every generation has its musical icons, and that music means different things to different people, depending on the circumstances and contexts of their lives. Jill went on with her comment to tell a story about how she was running errands and went to various banks and the first two tellers didn’t seem to care one way or the other about Prince’s death, but the third — he got it. He was of that generation that discovered Prince, that found acceptance and refuge in Prince’s music. He and Jill shared a moment of grief, in which the teller talked about his younger coworkers who didn’t seem to care, and said, “they don’t know. They don’t know what he did for me when I was fifteen.”

Prince screenshot, 2007 Superbowl halftime show
Prince screenshot, 2007 Superbowl halftime show

Before the current era of music, in which it’s no longer “a thing” to purchase entire albums and listen to them over and over again, there are still songs by certain artists that will resonate with people, and that will provide a soundtrack for our lives.

And for many of us who struggled with both internalized and external homophobia in the era before Internet music, or who were just “different” and “weird” and struggled with acceptance in general, Prince’s music provided a port in a storm and for a while, we could lose ourselves in the basslines and the hooks and the playful, gender-bending lyrics and the teasing sexuality that defined so much of his early work. And when the 80s melted into the 90s and Prince took his battles with his record label public and started to redefine how music was conceptualized with the burgeoning Internet, we saw how much of a visionary he was beyond creating music, and how he seamlessly bound creativity with business into a model that would change the face of music as we then knew it.

When the decade changed again, so, too, had Price’s views about music and messaging — they evolved along with him, and the sense of social justice that had been a quieter part of his early work began to infuse more of his modern work, though Prince was more of a “quiet” activist. Musician Chely Wright shared a story yesterday about how in 1999 she founded a nonprofit called Reading, Writing, and Rhythm that provides musical instruments to public schools nationwide — often the only access some kids would have to them. She said that in the 2000s, Prince made a generous donation. “He asked us to not make a big deal out of [it],” she said. “He loved music and he knew that music was the only door some young people would ever have the chance to walk through.”

Prince knew what it was to get a start in difficult and seemingly overwhelming circumstances (the movie Purple Rain is a loose biopic of that start), and he knew how important music can be, especially to kids who have few, if any, outlets.

But ultimately, Prince’s impact will resonate most with those who came of age listening to his music, who delighted in the sheer rebelliousness of his clever turns of phrase about sex and love and how he defied genres yet incorporated so many into his songs. It was because of Prince that we now have warning labels on some albums, and for those of us who remember those battles over the delicate sensibilities of America’s youth, we would play Prince’s music extra loud and dance extra long and extra close and we’d wear the cassettes out and buy them again as adults fretted about the evils of “that” music.

And like that bank teller Jill mentioned in her comments, and like Jill, “I used to lie on my back on the carpet and stare up at the ceiling and cry to Prince. He knew before I did. And I feel like he was trying to tell me.”

Prince and his music made it okay to be weird and different and even joyful, made it okay to acknowledge sex and sexuality, in all its messy, painful, awkward, beautiful glory. He made it okay to feel and grieve and experience, and for some of us, at least, he made it okay to be us.

“We chart our entire lives by art.”

Indeed. And Prince is part of many, many soundtracks to many, many lives.

Happy Friday, everyone. And may you always have art in YOUR life.

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17 thoughts on “A Prince among men

  1. Prince changed the course of music and influenced so much in the years to come–in music, fashion, and how we perceived ourselves and others in terms of gender and sexuality. He was most definitely gender bending–he was both “feminine” and “masculine” at the same. He was such a big part of my teen years. I was a lonely child–and a loner–and music was my refuge. His sounds and lyrics just blew me away and I loved them. And, yes, I played the Purple Rain album start to finish, over and over and over, until the needle on my stereo wore out (yes, you youngsters out there–NEEDLE!). It’s an interesting point you bring up, Andi, that buying a full album isn’t a thing anymore. It doesn’t allow for the full exploration of a musician’s artistry.

    There will never be another Prince.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love what you have written and it does strike a chord with me. I remember wearing out needles RG and playing tapes so much they stretched and sounded wierd… And the album went on and got played over and over till my mother shouted upstairs to turn that damned thing off and I was just hoping she didn’t hear the opening lines of Darling Nicki cos somehow that was my secret…. I also loved the fact that he sang (and maybe more!) with Sheena Easton who comes from the same very traditional part of Scotland as me. Wow someone from Bellshill can meet an icon – maybe I can escape from here…. I remember lying on the carpet staring at the ceiling wondering and wishing and loving every single clever word…. What a talent… What a man… RIP Prince

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Prince wrote “Sugar Walls” as Alexander Nevermind. Sheena Easton paid tribute to him. See HERE.

    And yes, “Darling Nikki.” ::fans self::

    I’m so glad that he left us the music he did. I only wish he could’ve been around a little longer to make some more and to finish his memoir.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I listened to one of my Sheena Easton tapes every night while falling asleep for about two years during high school. Loved, loved, loved her stuff (and maybe had a little crush…)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You’ve expressed your thoughts beautifully, Andi; as beautifully as Prince might have sung them. Those of us who are most hurt by his sudden death (or by the deaths of other artists… Phyllis Hyman for me) are fortunate because we allowed ourselves to be enveloped by their skill and talent, by the possibility that had they known us, they would have understood us. When we sang their lyrics or danced to their music we never imagined the shape their absence would assume in our hearts. Our lives were enriched by their presence. My life is enriched by knowing writers like you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Renée, I freaking love you and all that you do and think. You personally know how important music is to me, and growing up in rural Colorado in a town of 3000 was a chore in so many ways, because I was one of those “weird” and “different” kids in ways beyond just my sexual orientation.

      But I had music. I had penpals in the UK and Europe, and we exchanged mixtapes of music, and when I could, I would use my allowance to buy other cassettes. A high school friend of mine recorded “Purple Rain” for me onto a cassette and I wore that f*cker out on my walkman (remember those? lol). When the movie came to town, I and half my high school friends went all three nights it was there — not because it was a brilliantly acted piece of art (you know it’s not, but it’s nonetheless a piece of my past)– but because the music was SO GOOD and because Prince was like nothing we’d ever seen but oh, how we wanted to see. He was larger than life, a tesla coil of creativity embodied in mechanically perfect production and harmonies. And omg, my little heart went pitter patter at his gender-b(l)ending, and at Wendy and Lisa…who among us doesn’t remember the intro to “Computer Blue”?

      “Wendy?
      Yes Lisa
      Is the water warm enough?
      Yes Lisa
      Shall we begin?
      Yes Lisa”

      Or the lyrics to “Darling Nikki”?
      Or “Kiss” or “When Doves Cry”?

      And holy crap, the crush I had on Sheila E, who worked with Prince. He wrote her “Glamorous Life” and “Love Bizarre,” two of my fave tunes to this day. He worked with so many women and mentored them, too, which was something you just didn’t really see then. You hardly see it now, actually. But Prince did it.

      I escaped into music (still do), and Prince was one of those artists who I felt “got” me, who would understand all the crazy and weirdness I was thinking and feeling. Hell, he performed it. He reveled in it, and he gave it to all of us with heart, soul, and a sly little wink and cheeky little grin. He helped make it okay to be me, and for that, he’ll always have a special place in the soundtrack of my life.

      As always, thanks for your words.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Anne Hagan and commented:
    I’m a writer myself but, sometimes – often – I stand in awe of my fellow authors. This post by Andi Marquette on Women and Words regarding the passing of the music legend, Prince, says things in a way I never could. Enjoy this.

    RIP Prince…

    “Jill Malone on Facebook captured, I think, what so many of us feel when an icon like this dies.

    The first part of that comment goes thus:

    I get it. Sometimes the outcry over the death of a celebrity feels phony. You didn’t even know that person. What are you crying about? But we chart our entire lives by art. I remember what I was listening to at every milestone of my life. I define whole years by certain albums.

    “We chart our entire lives by art.”

    THAT distilled, in one sentence, why the death of an artist like Prince resonates with so many people, and particularly people of a certain generation.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post. Prince one of the geniuses we are lucky to have shared our era with. I’m older, and was utterly amazed at the blow I felt when Bowie died. I was unaware of being a committed fan, though I loved his difference. It was only with his death that I appreciated the fact that he validated my lifelong status as an outsider.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. GOD, Bowie was another one. I came of age cusping on Bowie, just after his pivotal 70s era, but we all knew who he was and what he did, and we all experienced his creative genius. Like Prince, I always considered Bowie timeless — immortal. Like they’d always be around, creating things, doing interesting things, and in 200 years, they’d still be in the news on their 675th album each or whatever. I was shocked when Bowie died, too. He made it okay for artists like Prince to express themselves in new and different ways. The whole Glam Rock era paved the way for Prince, but he made it his own, and created something entirely unique within the amalgamation of his influences.

      Bowie, too, made it okay to be different. And that’s such a precious thing.

      I remember when Michael Jackson died, and I remember thinking that unlike Prince or Bowie, I never thought of MJ as timeless, because of all of the very public issues and health things he had going on. I remember thinking, when I was in my early 30s, that MJ wouldn’t make it past 50. I was so sorry to be right, because MJ, too, changed the face of music and the trajectory of pop culture. Whitney Houston, too. I was so sad over her death, though her very public health issues and private battles made me worry about her throughout the 90s and 2000s. So, so sad. Her voice was like nothing on this earth. And then when her daughter died…that was it. That was the real end, because I think some of us hoped that she’d get it together and carry on in some way. But it wasn’t to be and oh, that was heartbreaking, too.

      I could talk about music all night…heh.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. […] The death of musician Prince yesterday reminded me of just how much music shapes our lives and how it’s the backdrop to so much that happens in the world. When I was growing up, I was lonely and a loner, and music was my refuge. I can pinpoint exactly what I was listening to during so many of the important events in my life, both good and bad. And Prince was definitely a part of that. He was only 57. Death is always a sad thing, but when people are taken so young, it’s such a waste. Andi Marquette put it into words well over at Women and Words. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh yeah sugar walls….

    Forgotten the Wendy Lisa warm enough bit…

    I think one of my favourite lyrics is Raspberry Beret because… Well…

    I was working part time in a five-and-dime
    My boss was Mr. McGee
    He told me several times that he didn’t like my kind
    ‘Cause I was a bit 2 leisurely

    Seems that I was busy doing something close 2 nothing
    But different than the day before
    That’s when I saw her, Ooh, I saw her
    She walked in through the out door, out door

    The way he sings leezurelee.. Busy doing something close to nothing and then different than the day before… Brilliant but it all freezes at in through the out door as we immediately form a picture of this girl…

    Very clever man and it would’ve been great to read his own version of his life and indeed a few more songs

    Liked by 1 person

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