First off: I’m not about to deny any of you have real emotions about Prince’s death, just because you didn’t know the man. In 2009 a man I’d met only once properly – Michael Jackson – died, and I was devastated. I still get upset about it, seven years on.
And I realise how hypocritical this is, adding to the pile of words being written as we speak on the subject, by saying you should stop writing about him. What can I say? I’m a twat.
But, agh! I can’t take another one. What grates about these constant tributes and social media comments and solemn blog posts (hello!) isn’t that the emotion behind them isn’t real, but that it can apparently be summed up so succinctly in 140 characters.
When Michael died, I did tweet something. First I tweeted the noise I made when I first found out. I was at home, alone, and let out what I can only describe as a loud drawn-out moan (my neighbours still look at me weirdly). Then, on seeing the tributes rolling past my eyes for a man that once meant more to me than any boyfriend ever has, I had to say something, anything, so I tweeted again – some rubbish telling him to rest in peace, but mentioning my connection to him (that felt important) – and instantly regretted it. My tweet lined up with all the rest, rolled up and off my screen. Poofff. Gone. What a pointless exercise. If anything, it left me feeling more bereft.
But I’d felt this desperate need to say something – anything – because it felt like it was so much more important to me, that no-one tweeting or being interviewed on TV even loved him as much as I did, felt as much as I did, and soon the desire to be heard became so intense I gave in and spouted some nonsense to draw attention to myself.
So I’m guilty of it too. I don’t want this to sound all high and mighty. But that tweet and every subsequent post I’ve written on the subject that tried to put into words what I felt has failed, because what I felt (feel) is too great to put into words.
So what makes me suspicious of people’s motivations is when they can – hours after their idol has died – sum them up in a few words. I can’t sum Michael up seven years later. I certainly can’t explain why I love him so. Why do you love your mother? Why do you love your best friend? Being instantly able to pinpoint what it was about a person that moved you just smacks me of a desperation to be heard. Look at me! Look what they meant to me! Look how sophisticated and subtle a consumer of music I am! But music is not about words – it’s about feeling, about how it makes you feel, not thought and analysis.
I fucking love Prince. Do I love him cos he’s a great guitarist? No. Do I love him because he’s multi-talented? No. Do I love him because he broke the gender rules and made sex seem mutually fun? No. Do I love him because he gave back to his community, or because he was prolific and a visionary and “pushed the boundaries”, or any of the other stuff people have been spouting in the last 24 hours? No.
All of those things are true and admirable, but they’re not why I love him.
I love him because his music makes me strut up and down the street (/slash my bedroom) like I’m king of the world. I love him for ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and the desperate, pleading desire that radiates off it in waves. I love him cos he’s fucking funny (even if he did compare my beloved Michael to Helen Keller). I love that he’s five foot two and still incredibly sexy; when he speaks at the end of ‘If I Was Ur Girlfriend’ I feel like he’s speaking directly to me. I do some of my best air guitar work to the first 55 seconds of the 12” extended mix of ‘Raspberry Beret’ – he actually makes me feel like I’m a guitar-playing superstar hero when I listen to that. I was bloody miles away from him in the O2 in 07 (ooh, get me) but I still swayed and hollered like a madman when he started playing 7. When he sings, “Kat – we need you to rap!” in ‘Alphabet Street’, I fully imagine he’s asking me to step in (and I do – on the bus, in front of my computer, anywhere – I know every word and my shoulders jiggle like you wouldn’t believe). And I actually still *blush* when I listen to ‘Gett Off’ – on my headphones, when no-one else can hear. (It’s not even the lyrics, the sound of that bass is enough to do it – how the hell does he make even that sound rude??)
I love him for how he made me feel. I love him despite him not knowing me from Adam.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps all these comments are just what I felt in 2009. The hurt then was so much I had to say something – anything. When I heard the news yesterday it felt so enormous I wanted to grab total strangers and tell them. But then those comments are followed by rafts of videos, and clips, and gifs, all accompanied by words carefully crafted to sound as if this isn’t the first time the person in question has seen them.
- “Reminded of how great the guitar work on this is” (“reminded”)
- “One of the greatest Superbowl half-time performances of all time” (because you’ve watched them all and decided) (and anyway, it wasn’t – Michael’s was)
- “Er, yah, I got to see him in an intimate gig at Koko last year. #legend”
Get out of here. In the torrent of bollocks written about Michael Jackson in the days after his death, it was my friends who’d camped outside his hotel and queued all night with me to be first in line when the stadium gates opened who were notably silent. (Not to mention his actual family and true friends – but I’m not comparing their feelings here, just ours.)
So this isn’t a denial that you’re feeling something. You are. Prince was amazing. He was so great, a small part of us impervious to reason and vulnerable to the mockery of our peers thought maybe – just maybe – he’d cracked it, and he wouldn’t die, just like Michael or Whitney or David wouldn’t.
Just be honest about it. You’re feeling something, a tiny feeling among all the other billions of people feeling something. Stop trying to make your voice heard by putting what he “meant” into words, as if he meant one thing to all of us, and you’re some genius for working out what it is, or what he meant to you is somehow better than what he meant to everyone else, or trying to explain why you’re so upset. Just be upset. It’s fine.
And if you must say something, how about trying instead to voice how he made you feel? If he really meant something to you, you might find you can’t.