Yesterday Prince died. You know this and I know this and I don’t think I need to report on the specifics because if you were anything like me, you read and re-read the news and thought, “No way, nope” until it became “Oh no.”
And then everybody worth knowing and everybody on the internet spent the rest of the day celebrating Prince’s life and his work and what he did simply by being himself. We poured over pieces written about the cultural impact he had, on how musically talented he was, and what he meant to us individually. We had a digital wake. We watched people sing in the streets and people sing on stage and teachers cry in classrooms. We were, for what felt like the millionth time this year, united in grief for someone we’d never met but who still managed to help us figure out who we were.
We mourned Prince — a man who always seemed like he transcended humanity. He taught us too much to be human. He said what he thought (and he said it so beautifully). He evolved and changed when it suited him, his music, and his life. He played a thousand instruments, he delivered one-liners with a knowing smirk, he cloaked himself in mystery, but then he still gave us enough (or: so much/all) of himself that we still felt like we knew him — like we were in on everything with him. Prince made us feel like he was our friend, or family, or a partner, or a teacher, or any number of titles we’ve bestowed on him over the course of these short 57 years.
Prince was an anomaly. He lived his art and he lived his truth and he had courage. He challenged gender norms and obliterated the myth of male masculinity. Prince reminded us that real men could wear ruffles. Real mean could wear bikini bottoms. Real mean could wear plunging necklines or spandex. Real men can and could wear whatever they wanted, and if anybody had a problem, they could (and can) be directed to Prince, the realest man of all. Gender norms are dangerous and they are boring, Prince was neither. Prince was real. Prince was a person who basked and revelled in the idea of being entirely true to Prince. And to add to that realness, he exuded sexuality in a way that made it intriguing and amazing and wonderful and accessible. He made it okay to be weird and sexy and androgynous and quiet and outspoken and you. He made it okay to be you, whatever and whoever “you” wanted to be.
And when we lose entities like Prince, it makes us feel like the part of who became through that person has dimmed. Now, when we tap into the realizations we made through specific art or music or interviews, we’re reminded of who’s gone, as opposed to what we found through that artist while looking for ourselves. And it sucks. And it hurts. And the idea of doing anything but listening to that person’s music on repeat while feeling the feelings seems ridiculous and impossible and like a complete and utter waste of time.
But like with any friend or family member we’ve lost, we know that the urgency of grief will eventually give way to a necessary numbness (a reprieve) that leads to being able to listen to Purple Rain without crying or talk about how great Prince is without that punch to the chest I think we’ve all been feeling. And then, he will be Prince again. Prince as a constant, as someone who is present and here and teaching us things and making us feel.
Because Prince is, and always will be. He is Prince.