I have to stop myself from saying or agreeing to overblown statements like, “Everyone cool is dying lately!” But… it feels that way. Until you think about it and you realize we (in our late 20s, 30s, and early 40s) are at an age where the people we admired growing up are entering into a dangerous zone of old age, disease, or part of their careers where they may not be making healthy choices.
When you burn bright, sometimes you burn out faster, I guess. Whether that means substance abuse, or a body giving up after a grueling schedule of creating and performing.
I think it’s the unexpected deaths that hurt the most. I could mentally prepare myself for Joan Rivers passing away. She was old, she had a great career, and even though I think her death could have been prevented, I was able to process it even though I still miss her. As the Joker says, “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying! I, tomorrow… a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan.”
I think it’s harder when you didn’t know anything was wrong. Celebrities are pretty good at hiding how sick they are.
So when the world is shocked with a beloved performer’s death they weren’t expecting, the shockwave slams through all of us.
I will be totally honest. I never really cared for Prince’s music. I’m a 90s grunge kid, and his beats didn’t do much for me. Full disclosure, my friend Erin and I used to make radio shows using cassette tapes, and we made one once called “The Worst Songs on Earth” which featured “When Doves Cry” (It was #3 after “Sister Suffragette”). Now I can appreciate his cutting edge innovation and especially the gender-fluid image he cultivated.
I mourn for his family and friends, of course, and for all of those who lost someone whose music filled a hole in their hearts. I know what it’s like and I think it’s important that we take time to acknowledge the impact an artist has had on our lives. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t know him personally. That’s the badass thing about art – you share part of yourself with your audience, and those little pieces of you become part of the viewer’s experience of reality, part of their life, especially if your creation helped them discover something about themselves.
This grief is not a contest. It is not a chance to prove who the biggest Prince fan is. It’s a chance to connect with others who held Prince inside of them for one reason or another. Even if it was just admiring his daring and genius from afar or enjoying his story being told on Chappelle’s Show. So wear purple, throw your tribute dance parties, and to hell with authenticity. Your grief is your grief and you’re allowed to express it however you wish.
(Personally, with all episodes of mourning in my life, I choose the Jackie Kennedy school of stone-faced immobility. Because if the country saw her freaking out, it would destabilize America. As a teacher and a mother, freaking out helps nothing, and yeah, I might be repressing some stuff, but it’s better in the long run.)
But Lest We Forget…
Where did all the coverage on the Japan earthquakes go? How about the migrant crisis? ISIS? The Syrian Civil War? The most recent Kabul bombings?
It’s all been lost in a purple rain cloud.
American media wants us to be this insular little world where the universe stops because an iconic celebrity died. And obviously, for the reasons above, we need our time to mourn Prince, just like we needed it to mourn Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and David Bowie.
But seriously. Turn on Al Jazeera once in a while and get a dose of reality. We’re in the middle of a huge election right now, and world events are going to impact who we choose based on their foreign policy strategies (or we should be considering that when we vote).
Jackie knew that the world had to continue, and our country still had to function after JFK was murdered, so she didn’t cry in public. We have to be able to pull back and see the bigger picture, too. Thanks, Jackie.