mid-century maunderings for men who know better
This morning I learned of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. I am bereft.
“I am just like anyone else. I need love and water…I live in a small town and always will.”
If you know who I am talking about, then you will find the above statement disarming. He was a man without peer. He was a colossus, a leviathan, a strange mystical character who was utterly driven to make the most original music he could. Unimpressed by celebrity, he wrought fine material from sturdy cloth.
Now I am in a hotel room looking up at a TV screen playing tributes to the man, while listening to a radio show devoted to his work on my computer. I had not expected to feel so isolated by his departure. I would never have described myself as a fanatic. I stopped buying his records in the twentieth century, halfway through his career. Like Miles Davis, I presumed he would always be around. We depend on people like him to help maintain equilibrium in a disturbing world.
In September 1991 I was walking around a flea market and I could hear Miles Davis’ trumpet drifting over the crowd. I knew the owner of the cassette player broadcasting his quintet. I wandered over to say hi when a punter asked who it was.
“Oh, just some old jazz guy who died.”
I sat down shocked. What an awful way to learn such tragic news. Nearly twenty years later I would walk past the hospital where he died and feel hollow and ashamed.
This morning I arose and had barely walked two metres before I had to sit on the staircase to collect myself. I have mixed feelings when it comes to public grief over public figures. It seems ludicrous to weep over individuals you have not met and do not know, especially when they have enjoyed wealth, power and fame throughout their lives. It is something I would prefer was kept private. But, public figures galvanise the public and give meaning to the term society. People will always look to public figures for guidance. It is to his eternal credit that Prince gave few interviews and no advice or pronouncements on how we should live. You can look to his songs if you need any advice on how to live. Here is what I have learned: