As many of you already know: Prince died this week. While the details surrounding his passing remain obscure, his influence on pop-culture, sexuality and freedom of expression is indelible. I believe that he died in his studio, surrounded by what he loved—music. Past that, we don’t need to know the specifics, unless foul-play was involved. Our fascination over celebrity drama and demises can be quite ghoulish, and we can all do our part by not becoming another piranha in a feeding-pool-frenzy, should one arise. Prince will be missed, just as David Bowie will be missed. These men were stars that changed the landscape of music and culture, and for that they should be respected.
I must confess: I’m not a fan of either musicians’ music. I find Prince’s work too experimental (though it’s beautifully orchestrated), and Bowie’s too abstract. Neither artist ever resonated with me. However, their personalities I deeply admired. Take Bowie, who married Somali model, Iman. For a mixed-race child, seeing a celebrity so openly loving someone beyond the ill-perceived difference of skin color, was cathartic. Even then, even as a very young child, I knew how important this expression was—and likewise the denunciation of the opposite kind of thinking, of hate. Racism is still a prevalent and explosive issue, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve made any progress. But we have, and people like Bowie were part of that crawl toward change.
Now my first introduction to Prince’s perpetually nubile self was on the cover of Lovesexy.
I remember seeing that, then blushing as if I were peering at the top-shelf magazines in a variety store. I looked at the cover from the corner of an eye. Then I looked again, bravely, at this naked man posed like the Goddess in The Birth of Venus—a pose that only women were supposed to take—and wondered: “Who are you?” I bought the album, didn’t quite like the music, and yet, Lovesexy remains one of the few relics of my youth that I’ve carried with me into my 30s. The legos, stuffed animals and Magic cards have been lost, while Prince’s vixeny CD remains. He was a man that challenged sexual perceptions (racial ones, too), just as Bowie challenged racism and politics with his work.
People like these gentlemen, who come into greatness, and who use their greatness to further a positive social message, are the kind of human beings we must respect, regardless of how we feel about the method of their preaching. Respect and admiration from afar are different from turning a politically correct blind eye to something with which you truly don’t agree. Respect comes from a place of compassion and empathy, of wanting to understand, even if you never will. We need to practice that more, as a society, with our children and ourselves: how to listen, how to accept what is different. (In the pursuit of universal acceptance, however, we don’t want to create a world that’s free of contrary opinions, or the necessity of debate.)
Prince and Bowie made us pay attention, and discuss. They made us examine hatreds and internal bigotries we thought we might never have. In the age of social media, where the trend is tweet and forget, let’s not forget one of the most important gifts men (and women) like these gave us: a consistent, ongoing dialog about social issues and conflicts. Let’s keep that dialog moving, and alive. I think that would be the finest tribute to these fallen stars.
All my love,