Dear Prince: Thank You For Making Art Worth Writing About
It's hard to remember how I felt about death before the Internet. Well, maybe how I — we, collectively — processed death prior to social media. Social media gives us a space to prove our love; it is a place to instantly create memorials and collages for those we have lost; it is a virtual room for thumbnail versions of our family, friends and total strangers to gather and grieve semi-publicly. Often, I find that my hyperbolic over-exertion of thoughts and feelings spewed forth on the Internet dictates the way I mourn.
Last week, when I learned that Prince had passed away, I was sitting in a classroom with some of my fellow local music journalists talking to students about how and why we wrote about music. As my friend Ru Johnson stood in front of the class next to a screen with one of her articles on it, I saw the running Twitter feed to the side of her story announce that Prince was dead at 57. I held my breath for a moment and tried to keep myself together so I didn't interrupt her as she spoke about her work. It was weird: I couldn't remember the last time I learned about someone's passing while in a public space. All of my death experiences lately have been in front of the Internet.
Once there was a break in the class conversation, I told Ru that Prince had died. That in itself was surreal; I don't know if I've ever been face-to-face with another person in my profession at an exact juncture when music history was changing forever. Part of my job is to take universal experiences with popular culture, process them and distill them into thoughts that readers can align with, say "Yes! This is exactly how I feel, too," or perhaps incite a response of disagreement so strong that they feel like throwing their laptops across the room. In general, my goal as a writer is to stir something strong enough in my readers that moves them to action. But what could I say about Prince?
Prince was — and still is — a big deal for hundreds of reasons that have since been hashed out, ruminated on and displayed in list form by hundreds of great writers, music critics and fans. There is no question that for those of us who need music like water, Prince's death will have us spinning out for a long while. Sometimes, we can never really stop that spin — I know that I will never get over Amy Winehouse passing away. I'm under no illusions here; I know I didn't know Amy. But what I think about is how much I wish I could hear the kind of music she would be making now, in 2016. Lucky for us, Prince apparently had hundreds of recorded songs that remained unreleased.
Still, Prince was way beyond any version of the average recording artist. We won't just miss his musical output now that he's gone; we'll miss his every action and reaction. His life was just as much about commenting on and operating wildly within popular culture under his own set of rules as it was about making incredible music. As listeners and fans, we learned about the music industry because Prince exposed the predatory and enslaving nature of many standard record contracts. He may have been a notoriously private person, but he was very open about the inner workings of record labels and how they treated the art that artists like Prince had made. Prince made us think about life, relationships, sex (like, a lot about sex), race, gender, art, business, politics — everything, really — and how it all worked together. Prince was the rarest of icons.
For a music journalist, Prince was an endlessly fascinating subject. He was the kind of artist who I imagine could be a dream to interview or a nightmare to handle; hyper-intelligent, complex people can be double-edged swords in that way. I remember, when I was attempting to explain to the students that day why and how I was a music journalist, I'd mentioned Prince earlier, before the news of his death had hit. He was and always will be a figure that changed modern music forever, an endless example of why people like me become critics of popular culture in the first place. I still haven't mourned his death on the Internet as I feel I should have. I posted on social media about it plenty of times, but I wasn't ready to feel it. As with Bowie's passing, I'm still not. But I think something we have to remember is, while there will never be another Prince, there will be — and there are — artists who will continue to move us in ways we can't explain. I look forward to reading those stories from other music journalists who haven't yet put their pen to paper.
Thank you, Prince, for making art worth writing about.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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