My first week as a 50-year-old hasn’t been the best. I started the week concerned about a local historic building that is quickly going downhill due to neglect, wound up mid-week with an arthritis problem that has kept me off my feet for three days and am ending the week writing about something I never expected to be writing about.
“Prince is dead”.
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday, and I wasn’t the only one. My phone began buzzing with text messages as the social media engine began spreading the word across the four corners of the world. Somehow, impossibly, Prince was dead with no explanation other than he had been taken seriously ill the week before after performing in, of all places, Atlanta.
Musical artists come and go, their light burning brightly for a brief moment before fading to a dim glow and becoming a footnote in the musical experience of a particular decade. A few, however, build on that initial success and continue on, becoming a star and enjoying the benefit of staying power. Then there is the select handful, like Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna who truly go supernova, their music written on the consciousness of a generation, defining them and attaching itself to the memories that members of that period has of a simpler time and place.
Prince was such a musical giant to my generation that it is hard to put into words the impact that he had on us. For those of us who attended high school in the earlier half of the 1980’s, he had us at “1999” and never truly let go. His music was the backdrop of our proms, our parties, our cruising the town on weekend nights, our tailgate gatherings in front of Western Auto and our trips to Daytona Beach. Anyone my age who hears his songs from that time cannot help but think back on those good years and happy memories that go with them.
Music, like aroma, induces powerful memories that put us back in a place and time that we associate with them. Hearing “Little Red Corvette” reminds me of riding on Friday nights in a brand new 1983 red Thunderbird that belonged to the parents of a friend. It wasn’t a Corvette but it was a pretty darn cool looking car for its time.
“Let’s Go Crazy”, reminds me of the weekend parties, the fast-beat music blasting from a boom box while we all danced with reckless abandon and fueled by a little more alcohol than we probably should have had. I’m half wondering if that song is partly to blame for the achy knees and arthritis I’m experiencing now and then.
And then there was the immortal classic that was, in my opinion, the defining song that became his signature piece, “Purple Rain”.
You can’t hear Purple Rain without thinking of Prince and the summit of his artistic talent and work, all culminating in that one, perfect song. “Purple Rain” was all about the slow dance, setting the perfect mood for winding down a great Junior-Senior Prom. Filled with passion, raw emotion, deep instrumentals and almost pleading lyrics, it became an instant classic that is still played to this day at many a young person’s party and many a class reunion of decidedly middle-aged folks like myself.
I suppose in many ways, he was to us like Elvis was to my parent’s generation. I remember when Elvis died my parents and pretty much everyone their age was in shock. I think I know now what they felt back then.
His music was revolutionary and he became for us, the 45 to 55 year olds, a defining part of our generation, of our school years and of our lives. We were part of the Purple Revolution and still are today. I still sing the lyrics when one of his songs come on the radio now and then, and my wife was astonished last night that I could recite, verbatim, the opening monologue to “Let’s Go Crazy”.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life
Electric word life…It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else…
The after world
A world of never ending happiness….you can always see the sun, day or night….
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills…you know the one –
“Dr Everything’ll Be Alright”….
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life….things are much harder than in the after world
In this life….
You’re on your own – Prince
Rest in Peace, Prince. You’ve made it to that place of never-ending happiness where you can always see the sun….and thank you for sending a bit of that sunlight our way with your legacy of music. We will not forget you.