Here I am, doing this again... it's been a rough year for musical greatness.
By now I'm sure all of you have heard that Prince died earlier today at his home/studio. The details are as yet unknown, or at least are not yet being shared with the public.
I got a text from a friend saying, "You introduced me to his music." I responded that I was only able to do that because someone else introduced me to it. In this instance, I knew who Prince was, and I had probably heard a couple of his early songs, but it wasn't until my sophomore-year RA, a law student, loaned me his copy of 1999 that my personal experience with Prince's music began.
I grew up in a household where music was on a lot. My father was a big fan of all the Motown artists, plus James Brown, Ray Charles, Sly and the Family Stone, Wilson Pickett, and many others. I knew R&B and soul before I knew any other style or genre of music. And what I loved so much about Prince was how he smashed and fused genres, while at the same time drawing a line from the R&B of the '50s through Jimi Hendrix, 1970s funk, and all kinds of rock, showing us it was all part of a larger whole.
I consider myself really fortunate that I got to see Prince live twice (both times at what used to be called the Worcester Centrum), first on the Purple Rain tour in March of 1985 (the tickets even said "wear something purple" so I wore a skinny purple tie), and then again in October of 1988, the amazing spectacle that was the tour for the album Lovesexy. I wish I could remember more than I do from those shows, but it's enough to know I was there.
He was only 57. That's sad, and also ridiculous. I mean, if anyone was going to be wheeled onto a stage somewhere in his eighties still able to turn a guitar into a flamethrower, it was going to be Prince. That's the thing; we live with the music of a great artist for decades, it becomes a part of us, and it feels like its creator is immortal. Then something happens, and the artist is gone.
But the music does convey immortality, in a way. It lives on, reminding us of all the moments where it played a part in our lives. Being a musician is complex and challenging, but it also gives a gift to the world. Music changes people, transports them, heals them. And I think we're all so lucky to benefit from those gifts, to share our world with these artists. I think it makes being alive so much better.
So let's remember Prince by celebrating what he gave us. He was a goddamn genius.
Update: a fitting tribute from Boston.