Prince has been gone for exactly one month. That’s a weird thing to say. He existed longer than I have been on the earth. He has been part of my consciousness for 33 years. Even though none of us mortals really knew him, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do without him.
I was at work, just punched out for my break, when I opened Facebook on my phone and saw that the first three posts said “RIP Prince.” What the hell? I had CNN up on my computer and there was nothing about it there. I Googled it, but nothing was confirmed yet except a male death at Paisley Park. There was no way Prince was dead.
When I found out it was true, I told my boss, who is a few years younger than I am. We were shocked and upset. Like so many people our age, she wanted to marry Prince when she grew up. I texted my sisters who had loved Prince as long as I had. I told a coworker who’s about 15 years older than I am. She was shocked. A few other ladies in the office who are about a decade my senior couldn’t believe it. The 22-year-old student who works in our office wasn’t dismissive or anything, but it didn’t matter to her. She laughed and told me she was amused at how upset I get over celebrity deaths; she was surprised I came to work when David Bowie died.
What quickly became apparent to me on that seemingly normal Thursday afternoon was how different generations—I don’t mean age-wise, but decade-wise—react to the death of a celebrity. Being a fan is very different these days because being famous is very different. Celebrities are (seemingly) more accessible because of social media, so fans feel a different kind of connection to them. I’m not sure if that really makes fans think they’re just like them or if it just reinforces the annoying idea of everyone being a star in their own mind. It’s just not the same as when my generation and older generations were growing up and stars were just that, untouchable stars out there in the universe to be admired from afar.
The most obvious reason that people of a certain age are saddened by Prince’s death is that we are fans. But not only are we fans, we have been fans as long as we have known about music. We have been fans longer than that 22-year-old has been alive. Prince was somebody who had always been out there, always creating and existing on another plane. Those of us who were kids in the 80s loved how Prince shocked adults, we loved his sexy videos and freaky clothes and high-pitched squeals. He was the dirty version of Michael Jackson!
Thriller and Purple Rain (read my blog about it—and my love for Prince—here) were the two albums that everybody in the 80s owned. And I do mean fucking ev-er-y-bod-y. Michael Jackson and Prince were the biggest stars in the world, very different performers yet equally talented and powerful and able to reach across racial, gender, and economic lines. None of us thought about that in 5th grade, of course, but looking back it’s something that today’s young folks won’t understand—and that’s actually kind of a good thing, since kids today don’t think about those differences very much.
The way Prince took control of his vision and his career is impressive and inspiring. These days, taking control of your career as a celebrity means branding yourself: clothing lines, perfumes, endorsements. Prince didn’t need that shit. There was only one motherfucker doing what Prince was doing, and that was Prince. He cared about making music, not about how many records he sold or which magazine covers he was on. When you’re an artist, you are constantly creating because you cannot breathe otherwise. Just as Bowie was unable to go a day without creating, Prince recorded something every single day. How many of us creative types can honestly say we produce every day?
Will the current generation’s popular “artists” have a legacy like Prince? Will they keep (rather, start) creating and honing their craft? Will they build empires based on their talent, or based on products with their names on them? I’m not putting anybody down for grabbin’ that cash while they can, but let’s not pretend it’s about the art. Prince was fabulously wealthy, but he could have been much wealthier if he had put his face on some shitty vodka or rolling papers. Why didn’t he create a line of Purple Raingear? Everything he touched was about the music. That’s his legacy. His religious beliefs forbade him from talking about his charitable efforts, and now that he’s gone we know more about how generous he was with his money and time outside of music. But all he wanted us to know about him was what we got out of his music.
And what those of us who grew up with that music will always know is how it made us feel.