The death of Prince yesterday at age 57 made the world --particularly my native state of Minnesota-- a lot less funky.
As I've written about before (see "Celebrities Die And So Will You") there's something odd about mourning for celebrities, who are after all complete strangers even if their art is part of our lives.
Still, I have to admit that Prince's death is bumming me out in a way few celebrity deaths have (only the deaths of George Harrison and Leonard Nimoy made me this sad). I grew up in Minnesota, where loving Prince is practically state law. My aunt went to school with him in Minneapolis, where he was reportedly a quiet kid. I only saw him perform once, but it was an unforgettable show at an outdoor music festival in downtown Minneapolis not far from First Avenue, the club he made famous in Purple Rain.
And of course he was a widely respected, consummate musician who fearlessly blended genres and identities to create his own musical and sexual identities while challenging predominant notions of race, sex, and music. His creative output is perhaps only matched by Minnesota's other favored son, Bob Dylan. Last night I realized I hadn't kept up with much of Prince's recent work and found his 2014 album with 3RDEYEGIRL, Plectrumelectrum, which I'm tempted to describe as "funky doom metal." He wrote numerous songs for other artists, and there are probably thousands of unreleased tracks in his Paisley Park Vault. Charlie Jane Anders points out that he was a fantasy storyteller; long before every other movie was a superhero movie, his soundtrack to Batman (1989) set a fantastic tone.
Prince's Funky Momento Mori
Although he died far too young, Prince's death, along with the other celebrity deaths in recent months, reminds us that our pop culture icons are human and like all humans, they will die. In my post on the topic a few months ago I suggested that artists may give us the gift of a momento mori. If a person as talented and larger than life as Prince can die, so will you. Facing death is something many of us try to avoid these days, but doing so is part of what it is to be human. As I said before,
None of this means that facing death is easy. But maybe the passing of celebrities could help us accept death rather than deny it. Contemplating our mortality is part of what it is to be human just as much as the artistic endeavors to which these people dedicated their lives. Perhaps their final gift to us could be to help us accept the reality of death, which, like art itself, is a way to explore what it is to be human.
Prince's momento mori, like the man himself, is one of the funkiest and most original we've seen yet.