A few years ago, Prince came to town, to play intimate shows at The Showbox, a venue which might be my favorite in the city, and is definitely way too small for an artist of his stature.
Like an idiot, I didn’t go.
Tickets ran north of $250, a deal-breaker for some, but not for me. At least it shouldn’t have been—$250 seems like a bargain for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially when it involves seeing one of the music world’s greatest artists, whom I’d never seen before, in such a setting. But I hemmed, and I hawed, and spent so long trying to decide if it would actually be worth the money that the opportunity passed.
Like I said, like an idiot.
For most of my life, Prince had been in the background, his greatness ever-simmering. As a child, he was the artist my mom didn’t like for reasons I didn’t understand. As a teen, he was the most favored musician of my high school theater teacher, to the point of obsession. As an adult, I split the cost of his 2004 album, Musicology with another intern at a music magazine—he got to keep the CD, but I got to rip a copy to my computer. And in recent years, “Purple Rain”, one of the rare eight-minute pop songs that somehow maintains its transcendant brilliance throughout, has closed down many a night of drinking.
Prince was possibly the greatest musical artist of my lifetime. And now, he’s gone.
Yes, I realize.
My great-grandfather died three days after I was born, having emerged from a coma just long enough to learn that my mother had, in fact, given birth to a baby boy. My father died when I was five, having been blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb. But the first time I remember seeing the news that someone had died was Kurt Cobain, when I was ten.
In the years since, it’s almost always come back to Kurt, as it has twice this year already. He was my first celebrity death, the first time a death of someone who wasn’t connected to me impacted me. As the years have gone by, one might think that I’d be growing desensitized, less shocked by people I admire leaving this world all too soon. But the opposite is true, somehow, and I can’t tell if it’s simply because this year has seen the death of two of the greatest musicians of all time, or if I’m betting understanding loss somehow.
Times like this, there are never any good answers.
Last night, a friend invited me out to karaoke for his birthday at a room-rental place in my neighborhood. It was supposed to be a celebratory event, but Prince’s death cast a pall, and the set list wound up jam-packed with all his greatest hits. After our time was up, we went outside to catch the final moments of a Prince dance party that shut down a couple of blocks of my neighborhood’s streets before the cops broke it up.
Tributes to icons always take different forms. Some earn candlelight vigils, some days of mourning. In the town where I grew up, Elvis’s birthday is still celebrated with a week of festivities every year, even as the last few people who claim the King still lives concede that’s increasingly unlikely at this point. One day, there will hopefully be a rocket named after David Bowie.
For Prince, though, the decision was simple and universal, and the last few nights have seen the world blanketed in a shade of purple as people paid their respects by singing, dancing, and getting crazy. When I think about it, the nature of that tribute is simply stunning. The rainbow only has six colors, and one forever belongs to Prince.