I’ve been trying to process why Prince’s death feels so much worse to me than Michael Jackson’s or even Whitney Houstonâ€™s did. When I think about the timing of their adulthood careers and my age, I feel like the deaths of the latter two should have hit me harder because I was able to understand so much more of their lyrics and apply them to m life so much earlier than I was able to comprehend what Prince was singing/saying/ministering. â€œHow Will I Know?â€ was one of my crush songs as soon as I was old enough to have crushes. I was aware of the Gulf War, talked about it in my fifth-grade class. â€œHeal the Worldâ€ was released shortly after it ended.
When Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston died, I was shocked. And sad. I stared at my phone where I received notices via text message and Twitter, then at the television, not really believing what I was seeing. Then I wanted music, to hear their voices emanating from every playing device I own.
But I donâ€™t remember crying. Even during their crazy-long, live-broadcast funerals. (I laughed a lot about how confused white people were by the term â€œhomegoing serviceâ€ when Whitney Houston died.)
This time, as soon as I could make out clearly what the DJ on the radio station playing in the gym was sayingâ€”â€œ..we have confirmed, Prince Nelson Rogers is deadâ€¦â€â€”I left without finishing my workout so I wouldnâ€™t have to wash sweat salt and tear salt from the weight machines.
I cried when I called my mom.Â I cried walking home.Â I leaned against a wall in my apartment and sobbed. Then I put my gym shoes back on, grabbed my headphones, and listened to his voice as I ran until something else hurt.
And despite how much so many people around the world are grieving, I donâ€™t quite understand my emotions this time. My blackness has been questioned as much as Princeâ€™s was before he released then pulled The Black Album, but growing up, I didnâ€™t process how he was challenging narrow definitions of blackness. Iâ€™m quite happily feminine, always have been, so I never cared about how his 5â€™2â€ frame towered over masculinity in ruffles, lace, and high heels. I have no nostalgia about defying my parents by listening to his music. He wasnâ€™t the rebel my parents were afraid of; he tied my family together, multiple generations dancing to vinyl with his name and mascara eyes on it.
So Iâ€™ve decided I feel the void Princeâ€™s death has left in my life because of all that I internalized about Prince and his music without knowing it, without processing it. And theyâ€™re all things I want to know and process and love, about myself. Iâ€™m marveling now at how secure Prince was with himself, how clearly he loved his blackness, his “weirdness,” his sexuality, his God, his genius, and all of humanityâ€”all at the same time. He was whole, and he was content with his wholeness.
Iâ€™m not there yet. I think Iâ€™m kinda brilliant, but Iâ€™m still afraid no one else will see it. Iâ€™m not as pretty as Prince isâ€”wasâ€”and over the past few months, Iâ€™ve felt the dissatisfaction. I love my blackness, but my social awkwardness concerns me. And man, I want to get to the point where I could perform something like â€œDarling Nikkiâ€ and say in an interview, â€œI pray every night. I donâ€™t ask for much. I just say, â€˜Thank you.â€™â€
I told a friend about the popular tweet:
Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.
â€” Juliette (@ElusiveJ) January 11, 2016
And then I told him Prince taught me that I love music, that love to dance. â€œAnd eventually, he helped me learn that I like sex.â€ I didnâ€™t know the last lesson when I was dancing to his music at the age of two or wanting to go to his concerts at four. And when I think about how otherwise southern black Christian most of my upbringing was, I realize Princeâ€™s presence in the house was supposed to help me learn to be a whole person.
I donâ€™t know if I can fault anyone for my not picking up the lessons, but Iâ€™m getting it now, and getting there. Finally.