I have to admit that I was caught off-guard by my own reaction to Prince’s death and I’m still processing everything, because he and his music had an effect on my life, especially during my teenage years. Now, I’m seeing that it was more than I even realized. The people and things that affect you and shape your life do so in a way that goes much deeper than just “music” or “image”, especially when you’re in your early teens and you’re becoming more aware of the world around you and learning, probably for the first time, that ambiguity is the norm and that the world doesn’t work in terms of absolutes. The world around you is what it is and what it wants to be. It’s shaped by the sum of our individual actions. No matter how much we want the world and life to fit into a tidy little cubbyhole or category, it won’t and the more you try and force it into a place where it doesn’t belong, the more grief you get. Not to mention you’ve just wasted a lot of time and energy on something so futile.
It wasn’t just the music, although, his music was an important part of it. I’m a square peg. I’ve always been the square peg. I grew up in an environment where those around me, namely my father, tried to force me into that “round hole”, no matter how much damage it caused and they were stubborn enough and insecure enough to keep trying to ram me into a place where I did not belong. They did it because it made *them* feel better about themselves. Strong, smart women were a threat. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, growing up, all the things that girls didn’t do or couldn’t do (even when it ran counter to what I was seeing when I turned on TV or opened up a book.) It’s easier to try to deal with the “threat” because it’s less scary than dealing with things like feelings and emotions. It was easier to make me doubt myself than it was for him to face his own self-doubts.
Prince was someone who defied labels and in a way, let me know that it was not only okay to be that square peg, but I didn’t have to go into that round hole, either. Of course, it would take me a long time (and a ton of bad decisions later) to truly realize this. The music was also an escape–and Prince’s material was one of the ingredients in the salve for all the invisible bruises I had.
I learned that ambiguity is something to be embraced, not feared, because we won’t find out who we truly are unless we become fearless and ask questions and explore and poke at things. And then we have to remain fearless because there will be people who will not like that you are asking questions and some will even try to stop you. But you still have to be fearless because you will not find out who you truly are and what you are meant to be if you don’t ask or poke at the hornets’ nest.
I can see now that in a subtle and roundabout way, Prince also let me know that it was okay to be a girl and that I was not inferior because I possessed two X chromosomes. The fact that he had female musicians in his various bands spoke much louder to that than all the lingerie-clad proteges he had back in the day. The lingerie-wearing proteges are long gone, but Princes’ using female musicians in his band still remain.
That is what music is all about. Joy.
I am only realizing all of these things now. That’s the beauty of how someone affects your life–you don’t realize it until they’re no longer here. It’s human nature to take things for granted–especially our culture. In fact, one of the sociological criteria for something to be a part of our culture is that it is taken for granted.
These artists, these people who create things that bring me joy, especially those who gave me something to hang onto during some of the darkest and crappiest times of my life, will have my eternal gratitude.