Jesus, but Prince dying was awful upsetting. I was on a generational cusp for David Bowie, but Prince meant something to me. I felt his music. I had kisses to his songs. Although I never knew the man, he made me feel things sometimes. And so, he marked me.
There’s a common denominator of mourning tied up with the memory of our past selves. The death of a famous person is like remembering an old relationship. You don’t mourn the person you were with, necessarily. You mourn the person you were, when they made you feel things. This sort of nostalgia burns you a bit, like when you know you’re in the sun too long, but it feels too delicious to cover up just yet.
When I hear Prince, I remember lots of detail from years past of sitting in my bedroom, daydreaming. Doing homework. Studying late, thinking about someone who didn’t notice me, and counting down the minutes to smoking a fag out the window when everyone else was gone to bed. Exploring new independence. Slow-dancing with a boy I liked a lot, or slow-dancing with a boy I wasn’t sure I liked at all, because it was better than not being asked.
Just like I didn’t know what his music meant to me at the time, I didn’t know what that version of myself would mean to me later. Going back to the music, because of Prince’s death, brings me back to that self, which is also gone now.
The memories are visceral, because the feelings I had then were character-forming. I listened to Prince when I was learning about people. Music is powerful that way. Watching the tributes to Prince brings me right back to those feelings. And just like a great dream, you try to take hold of them, but they’re slippery, and you know it’s fleeting, but you’d give anything to freeze the way you feel right now and be able to call it back again.
A great book can do the same thing. The older and more cynical I become, the more reading seems to have an effect on me, especially when I find a book I fall messily in love with. Books and music are the only things that can make me feel now like I did when I was constantly curious about adulthood.
It’s nice to be able to go back to that. To be transported to a place where I get the feels just like I’m 16 again and feelings are everything. The strong feelings we get when reading or listening to music take a mental snapshot of who we are, more evocative and powerful than any photograph.
I listen to Prince and remember nice things about the person I used to be, which is especially lovely for a generation – X, to be precise – who grew up competitively finding fault with themselves. He was our guy. I mean, just look at the sorrow in these big eyes.
RIP Prince. You inspired a lot of people. You left too soon. But few people will ever leave a legacy like you.