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Friday, April 22, 2016


I think that the way people react to deaths of famous people can be very telling. From person to person, the comments or responses vary wildly. The reactions may range from dismissive to devastated, and everything in between. There are those who will ridicule others' sadness, and those who will respect it. And of course the numerous know-it-alls that declare that Mr. or Ms. X died as a result of drug overdose or HIV/AIDS or because a higher power was punishing them for being a BAD PERSON.

I'm not the kind of person who revels or rails at someone's passing. I love, respect, and honor far more people than it will ever be in my capacity to hate. As far as judgement is concerned, if a person is wildly different than me but has never broken any laws or inflicted any harm on other people or creatures (or encouraged others to do so), why would I feel the need to judge them? There are numerous truly terrible people now and throughout history that we can commiserate about. Why try to bash someone who is just living their life?

What has put me in this frame of mind is the passing yesterday of the musical artist Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson). When I turned my misbehaving computer on yesterday morning, I saw a large picture with a graphic saying "Prince Dead at Age 57." I was so shocked that I gasped. Trent was surprised and frightened by my reaction because he didn't know what I had seen. When I told him, he was shocked as well.

As the day wore on, the rumors began to fly. As with any untimely death, the "I wonders" and "I bets" flew like snow in a blizzard. Let me simply say this: none of us know what happened. Instead of trying to blame him for his own death, let's just let it sink in that a great musical talent is gone from us. I don't want to speculate about what happened. I just want to allow myself the memories of what he and his music meant to me. 

In the early 1980s I am sure that I listened to and enjoyed songs by Prince before I actually put them together with his name. Shortly after the release of the movie Purple Rain I fell in love with the soundtrack, having never seen the film at that point. I made friends who loved his music and introduced me to this artist, a person who I found both talented and intriguing, and very different from what I had known before.

I would listen in my car or my room, or with headphones on as I mowed the lawn. He was the boldest artist I had ever heard sing, and he could play the piano beautifully and make a guitar sing. His voice ranged from bass to falsetto and the sound of it could be vastly different from one song to the next. I was impressed (actually thrilled) by his this-is-who-I-am attitude, especially because it was balanced with you-be-who-you-are as well. And he could pull it all off when I wasn't yet able to do so.

On an evening in the first week of one long ago November, I had my only experience seeing Prince in concert. Many artists sound very different live than they do in the recording studio. Their voices may not be as strong, or the tones may be different. Not Prince - he sounded as good or better performing live. I was also remembering last night that Gram was talking to her son on the phone a day or two before I went to the concert, and they were ridiculing Prince. They had decided for themselves that he chose the name Prince because he was copying Elvis, who was known as the King of rock and roll. I didn't waste my time telling them that Prince was the name on his birth certificate. What difference would it make? They just saw him as a strange little African-American man. Only they didn't use those exact words. Their words had sharp teeth.

I had no idea as I enjoyed the concert (sitting, standing, swaying, dancing, singing along) that my life had hit a turning point. While I was reveling in the music that had given me such enjoyment, an enemy was growing in my body. What at first seemed to be a cold ended up being pneumonia in both of my lungs. I was too ignorant regarding illness to realize how bad off I was, but I soon found out. For the first time ever, I was so sick, and the healing process so slow and debilitating and depressing, that getting well seemed almost too hard to do. I would lay on my bed with tears streaming down the sides of my face, listening to music and trying to let it carry my sadness away.

By Thanksgiving, I was feeling substantially better, and my relatives were shocked to hear that I had had pneumonia in both lungs and hadn't been hospitalized. I simply shrugged. I didn't know yet that I was a tough old
young bird that was too stubborn to succumb to an illness whose magnitude she couldn't comprehend.

As November waned, I came down with a horrendous sinus infection. I remember telling Gram one evening that my legs were so swollen that my thighs were rubbing together and getting red. A few days later, I was convinced that the pneumonia was back. My chest hurt so much that I couldn't sleep all night. I called Doctor Mike on a Sunday and was admitted to the hospital's Cardiac Care Unit by that evening. Within a few days, I knew that I was in kidney failure due to lupus and my life was changed forever.

Through all of the early days when everything was so new and scary, the one thing I could count on to purge or soothe or express my emotions was music. I think that many of us can be transported to times both good and bad, or sometimes a bit of both, when they hear songs that were a significant part of their lives at the time. And this is why we mourn. No, we didn't lose a family member or an actual friend. What we lost is much harder to describe or quantify. We lost the person who could pick us up when we were drowning in our tears. We lost the person who was able to express our happiness in words and music that we could not have created but that spoke directly to and for us. We lost the one who had the words and music to all of our hopes, fears, dreams, and secret desires.

So yes, you might think that when someone is hurt by the passing of a stranger that they are being childish or silly or melodramatic. You never know, though, when the person who has passed is the one who sang their sorrows, their hopes, and their dreams.  

Postscript from The Lunatic: Trent surprised me yesterday when I was talking to him about how much I loved Prince's music from those older days and how I was so shocked and saddened to see him go. Knowing how I feel about another performer, he asked if I liked Prince more than I did Fred Astaire. I thought for a brief moment and said no, but I liked him as much. And while I was thinking the exact same words, Trent replied, "But in a different way." So very true.


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