Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful. -Prince
The first live rock concert I ever attended happened December 20th, 1984. Prince and the Revolution.
I fell in love with Prince on the radio, before I ever saw him perform on American Bandstand or in a myriad of MTV music videos.
Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, and that classic Prince mashup of a carpe diem speech and stirring spiritual Let’s Go Crazy. Great songs. Like many, I was drawn to Prince’s vibrant beats and emancipated, envelope-pushing lyrics that stood out on the ballad-heavy pop radio of the early 1980’s. Sure, there was Blondie, Madonna, The Clash, The Pretenders, or Queen for young rebellion anthems, but Prince sparkled bright even in that musical crowd.
When I found out Prince would be making a stop in my hometown, I saved up from my job at a shoe store to get tickets with a friend and made sure to ask off for that date months in advance. I didn’t have the greatest seat, more nosebleed than front row, but when Prince stepped on stage, the energy was palpable. Nobody cared about seat location. We all sang our lungs out and danced our feet off. Whatever our troubles or differences, we forgot them in the Prince universe.
The show fulfilled all my expectations. The lights, the band, the costumes, the music, and Prince.
Prince was a man full of contrasts. A stylistic showman, flamboyant on stage, yet humble and even shy in interviews. A mysterious persona, but revealing much of his inner thought life in his songwriting. Sensual, seductive, over the edge song lyrics, but a devout spiritual person who tried to get people to think past the sensuality to the spiritually sublime. He believed his talent came from God, and strove to tap his genius to the uttermost, and encouraged others to find their talents to help the world be a better place.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. -Prince, “Let’s Go Crazy”
Prince continued to impact the music industry, make his creative visions reality, and help others behind the scenes to achieve their dreams, until he suddenly passed away on April 21st 2016 at the age of 57. Immediately praise began pouring in for his achievements, his talent, his genius, how he impacted the music industry, and how he would be missed. His movies, concerts, and interviews filled the airwaves and social media over the days following his death.
2016 has been a crazy year for losing cultural icons. Besides Prince, some of the famous artistic folk who have left us are as diverse a group as David Bowie, Jimmie Van Zandt, Merle Haggard, Leon Haywood, Glenn Frey, Pat Conroy, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Earl Hamner Jr., Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, Vanity, Umberto Eco, Otis Clay, Alan Rickman, and we haven’t made it halfway through the year yet. Very sad.
Why do we suddenly declare our admiration for someone when they are no longer with us? Why do we feel the need to list the ways we have been influenced or impacted by someone we never even met, and probably never thought about on a daily basis? Why do we bemoan the fact that a person with artistic talents like singers, actors, and writers have died, when death comes to millions daily?
I think the reasons are more complicated that this humble writer can fathom, but I’ll take a shot.
I think we take it for granted that our lives will stay generally the same, what we’ve come to allow in it will always be around, what we deem important at any season of our life will always be there when we want to access it. That way we don’t have to think about change, and the biggest game-changer of all, our mortality.
The ephemera of our lives has a soundtrack running in the background, and particularly in our youth, which we believe will forever be available to transport us back to those times. But the reality smacks us in the face when we realize it actually won’t. We may be able to replay the music or the movie, but the symbols of that soundtrack, the artists, won’t be here forever.
When we face that fact, gratitude, as well as grief, is a common by-product for what was, but can never be again.
I acknowledge someone else’s life by being thankful for what they deposited in my life.
But I wonder what would happen if we didn’t wait until people were gone to acknowledge their contributions to our lives? What if we thanked people, famous or not, for how their lives have made our lives bigger, brighter, happier, stronger? What if we embraced our mortality by appreciating the present?
I have a personal stake in thinking about mortality lately. Today marks one month since what should have been a normal preventative medical procedure turned into a four day hospital stay because I aspirated under anesthesia. After a scary time, I’m still here, my lungs are healing, and I’m regaining strength. It’s not been the best two years or so for me, and I’ve probably been angry and a bit of a whiner about it, but coming close to a fatal situation has really got me more focused on taking stock, being present in the moment, and being content with God’s blessings in my life.
Who are you grateful for? What words have impacted you? What music? What talents? Your grandmother’s baking? The pop star’s music who got you through your teenage bad breakup? A book that helped you feel like you weren’t the only one who felt that way? A teacher who told you that you could do it?
What if we made a mission out of sharing our gratitude to those who enrich our lives? What would that look like in practical terms? A letter, an email, a phone call, a gift? A blog post or a tweet? A dedication of some type? The motivation to succeed at what we set our hands to do? Encouraging and helping others in our sphere of influence?
It’s easy to let time and opportunity pass, because making human connections takes effort that we don’t have the energy for. Still, I think taking the time to share our gratitude with those who bring art, knowledge, or even a little bit of kindness into our days would be a beautiful way to spread more joy in the world. And Prince would probably be cool with that, too.
More thoughts on Prince’s influence:
Laura Lee Carter’s How Prince Made My Life Better