Everybody has remarked upon it: It seems like all the great musical stars of our age are dying this year -- David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard and now, most recently, Prince. These deaths cut deeply for people of my generation, because many of these musicians are no longer distant figures in the past. They are celebrities we came up with, those who made their name when we were still learning what our own would mean...and so folks of my generation feel it extra deeply, as we enter the slip stream of middle age and become unmoored from our wayward youth -- a lighthouse in the distance.
I couldn't bring myself to grieve the first few days. I was in that stage called denial. Maybe the news organs were misinformed. Maybe the corpse in the elevator was a bodyguard. Maybe this was one of those popular PRINCE IS DEAD rumors that surface periodically on the internet, like a giant squid from the bottomless depths attracted by the lights of passing ships. My friend -- a musicologist -- informed me of the purple one's passing on Facebook, but I told her that I would not be posting any of this news until it was confirmed on my Wall. And even though I now know his death to be true, even though the autopsy is done and the body cremated -- the memorial held -- I can't bring myself to create that digital tombstone.
Last night, I had dinner with my friends and celebrated his life: tri-tip smoked with apple wood, grilled vegetables, a bottle of fine Pinot. The potatoes were baked in ashes--a simple, unfussy meal. I'm not sure if that would have been his meal. I hear he was a vegetarian. But it was great to listen to the hits that made Prince our own personal star -- a light that guided our way when we were lost in the ocean of puberty.
We set up a large screen MAC at the head of the table and, amidst the groaning board of clinking cutlery and the percussion of tinkling glasses, played selections of his classic music--snippets of his videos, his live performances -- the music of our coming of age; and yes, we were startled to realize that Prince had produced so many of the songs that fueled that muddled time of jumbled lust and desire and rebellion and nonconformity -- that time that would give way to orderly adult lives: Erotic City and Darling Nikki, Purple Rain and Nothing Compares 2 U, Little Red Corvette and I Wanna Be Your Lover.
At some point, we played 1999 -- a year that floated in the horizon like the monstrous head of an uncertain future...but which, now, is the mile marker of a distant era. Maybe it was the wine or the company. Maybe it was the good music. But we all agreed that our music was the best music -- that the young people of the next generation were unlucky to be born into recession and mediocrity. We had our Prince and this felt like, all our lives, we had been eating like Kings.