I sat alone in a diner waiting as my car was serviced when I noticed silent clips of Prince performing on the far wall TV. I squinted to read the flashing news lines thinking, oh no, something must have happened, not prepared for the headline PRINCE DEAD AT 57.
For a moment I could not breathe. I looked around, not understanding why people seemed not to notice, carrying on as usual. I did not know my waitress, but wanted to hug her, ask her, did she hear the terrible news about Prince? My Facebook friends were already talking, debating, hoping the news was a hoax, as confirming reports came in. Thus began my descent into a grief I didn’t understand but couldn’t deny.
Circumstances left me alone throughout that day and well into the evening. I longed for a place to go, somewhere to be, someone to be with who shared my grief. It felt personal, his death. I always admired Prince, considered him an icon, a genius, deserving of every gushing description he’s now receiving, but I couldn’t call myself a fan, feeling I did not deserve to place myself in that category. His hits were among my all time favorite songs, I turned the radio up whenever I heard one, but I never attended a concert, didn’t own any of his music and hadn’t even seen Purple Rain. Yet I felt devastated he was gone.
For the next two days I couldn’t get enough Prince, listening to every news outlet, alternating between news and music. I learned the full extent of his genius: playing so many instruments, laying down all the tracks of his early music, writing songs for others — performing, producing, managing his catalogue, building his “vault.” Rarely do we see anyone so talented in even just one area, let alone all he displayed. Yet that didn’t explain why I was feeling such an unshakable sadness.
People were calling in to EW Radio to share their personal Prince stories. I thought of watching him guest star last year on the sitcom “New Girl” with Zoe Deschanel. The episode captured classic Prince, the balance between his superstardom and humanness. He gave Zoe’s character the opportunity to “freak out” at meeting him and then went on to share an evening with her like a new best friend. It was a look behind the curtain for someone like me who only knew his mysterious, remote, untouchable side; a glimpse into what I heard one fan describe as his ability even in a full concert arena to make each person feel like he was performing just for them. It seemed I could connect to his positive energy even through a flat screen TV. I wanted more of him.
After sadly slogging through two work days wanting only to talk and think about Prince, I decided to go out on Saturday night, despite facing work again the following morning. I am fortunate to live five minutes from Daryl’s House, as in Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates; it was my first visit though it’s been open over a year. That night acoustic guitarist Andy McKee, with whom I was not familiar, was playing. I thought, hoped, maybe in a music venue I’d get the shared mourning experience I was craving.
Andy McKee’s guitar playing was indescribably soul touching, soothing and restorative. Even watching with my own eyes I could not understand how he got so much music out of one instrument. He performed with no mention of Prince or the terrible news, and I thought perhaps his niche was too different to hold a strong connection. It was getting late and I thought about leaving just as he finished his set. The filled room drew him back for an encore, and then he started talking about Prince.
In intimate detail, Andy shared his story of being invited by Prince first to collaborate and then to be a part of his upcoming tour. We shared in his surprise and disbelief at receiving the first email invitation, the thrill of visiting Paisley Park, jamming with Prince, and planning for the concert tour. Andy would play as the show began leading up to Prince’s entrance, and Andy hilariously described Prince’s specific idea about what Andy should wear for the occasion (involving a long fur-lined cape) starkly contrasting Andy’s usual casual style.
And then Andy played for us, as he played for Prince then, his acoustic guitar version of Purple Rain. Beginning softly and building to the throbbing intensity a proper Prince entrance would demand, you could almost feel Prince’s spirit filling the room. This was exactly what I needed, more than I could have asked for, and I felt unspeakably grateful for this answer to my prayer.
Gabrielle Bernstein says in her book Miracles Now! the light we see in others is our own light reflecting back at us. By all accounts Prince knew exactly what he wanted and went about making that happen with exceptional precision. He was more than his music, he was an example of a life well lived. We all wanted more.
Thank you, dear Prince, for showing me what it looks like to dive fully into being exactly who you are. I see what can be accomplished even in a too-short lifetime by someone who is not afraid to fail, who reaches heights only attained by taking risks that leave people shaking their heads in disbelief. I hope I can be at least a little bit like him. Purple has always been my favorite color.