Even Prince’s party wasn’t meant to last
It has taken me a week to process Prince’s death. It knocked the wind out of me like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. I can’t quite wrap my brain around his passing. He’s been a staple of the music world for three decades. An icon. An enigma. Always leaving us wanting more. If a Prince song pops up on the radio in the car, you don’t change the channel. You turn it up.
Part of my shock is an age thing. Prince was 57. I will turn 57 soon. To younger folks, 57 seems ancient. Let me assure you, it’s not. You’ve got a lot of living to do at 57. Just like Michael Jackson did at 50. We were the same age too. I still haven’t accepted that Michael is really gone.
I waited too long to see them perform. My bucket list of “must-see” singers keeps shrinking, not because I’m going to their concerts, but because they’re dying. Still left: Carlos Santana, Steve Miller, Stevie Wonder, Elton John.
On the other hand, I’ve checked off Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen, the Eagles and Sheryl Crow, as well as Aerosmith, Tom Petty and Elvin Bishop multiple times. Just for a little flair, I caught Liza Minelli not too long ago, and Cher when her farewell tour began (and then lasted for, like, six years) and even Madonna too. Not too shabby.
I’d see Prince concerts roll around from time to time and think, “Oh, I’ll catch it next time — he’ll be back.” Despite the fact that life continually bashes me over the head with this lesson, I never quite get it through my thick head: You can’t bank on “next time.” Only “now.” Blink, and the moment’s gone, and sometimes that moment snatches someone with it… singer, friend, grandparent — blink — gone.
But Prince. Come on. Wasn’t he immortal? He never aged! He just kept getting better. He exuded the self-confidence most of us can only fantasize about, doing his own thing his own way, comfortable in his own (exquisitely accessorized) skin — no explanations and no apologies.
This is me. Boom. Deal with it.
I don’t actually care.
Excuse me, while I go create a masterpiece now.
And the talent. Stunning, stellar, pure, raw musical talent. Prince was to music what Baryshnikov is to ballet. He defied musical gravity. Sure, he was one slinky Sexy Muthafuckah with catchy tunes and sizzling moves, but strictly as a musician — Prince was a virtuoso. As a composer, he was a genius. Mention guitar gods, and we immediately think of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Prince deserves a spot right next to them. Strictly as a musician and composer, Prince may ironically be one of the most underrated performers of all time.
Prince also helped heal our hearts. He and his peers of the day, first and foremost Michael Jackson, but also Madonna, filled the void left after John Lennon was murdered. That was truly the day the music died: Dec. 8, 1980. Think of the early ’80s music that followed. Darryl Hall and John Oates. Duran Duran. The Go-Go’s.
There were a gazillion one-hit wonders: Toto. Quarterflash. Tommy Tutone.
Remember “Never Been to Me” by Charlene? That song is phenomenally horrid, on multiple levels, but it hit the charts in 1982. But Lennon was gone, so who really cares. Let’s play “Double Fantasy” again and reminisce.
But then came 1983. Michael Jackson soared from the ashes of our charmed 1970s youth like a big, glittering phoenix with his “Thriller” album, and captivated the world. Prince followed Michael in ’83 and passed him by the next year, topping the charts with “When Doves Cry” in 1984 and drenching us in Purple Rain.
Turns out, 1984 wasn’t exactly the dystopian future Orwell imagined. On the contrary, it was the year that the dystopian post-Lennon musical world erupted with joy, thanks to Michael, Prince, and Madonna too. Music spun on its glittering heel, rocketed off in a new direction, and never looked back. Sadly, Michael imploded under the crushing weight of celebrity, but Prince kept moving, perpetually fresh and edgy, surprising us, pushing us past our comfort zones… dazzling us.
But for those of us who are the same age, heck, we’re exhausted just watching Prince perform. How the heck does he keep doing that after all these years, when we can scarcely jog around the block without spraining something? Well, that’s the thing. He wasn’t doing it. It only looked that way. He was 57.
Let me tell you what it’s like living in a 57-year-old body: shit hurts. If it bends, it’s stiff. If it flexes, it aches. You can only push a 50-year-old body to do 25-year-old things for so long before it pushes back. Hard. Force it to do things you got away with even 10 years earlier, and it’ll take you to church about who’s in charge. (Hint: It’s not you.) In your 50s, you learn that “pain means stop.”
But, what if you’re a 57-year-old music icon, who’s expected to be 25 forever? How do you feel the agony and do it anyway? Painkillers, that’s how. At ever-increasing doses, until your pain ends one random morning, in an elevator. Permanently.
“Party over, whoops, out of time.”
Ditto for those of us who waited too long to see him perform. Out of time. At least Prince’s music is still with us, and his eerily prescient words too: “Dearly beloved…We are gathered here today… to get through this thing called life. But I’m here to tell you there’s something else: The afterworld — a world of never-ending happiness. You can always see the sun, day or night.”
But in the meantime… let’s all go crazy, while we still can because… “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.”
Not even when Prince is throwing it.