I didn’t know Prince. Though I was lucky enough to attend a few of his shows, I actually passed on several opportunities to meet him. Growing up in Hollywood, I’d developed an intense aversion to celebrity worship and any sort of fawning or buying into that hierarchy. I’d heard enough firsthand accounts of the fickleness of Prince and the precariousness of interacting with him to know that, given my tendency to be awkwardly forthright, I’d “accidentally” say hello to him without being invited to or I’d spout off about some detail of some facet of some thing that crossed some seemingly arbitrary line.
In retrospect, I was a fucking idiot. There was always the chance that my spirit would have resonated with Prince’s. Or, perhaps more likely, I would have been banished in humiliation. Either way, I’d have a memory to cherish.
It’s reasonable to say that without Prince my own precious children wouldn’t exist. Mathieu (my ex and father of our kids) credits Prince with fueling his passion for music and sparking his desire to move from France to the U.S. to work in the industry.
When we first got together in our early twenties, his preoccupation with Prince struck me as juvenile. I had long since outgrown my “Prince phase.”
Even though my own step-dad* had worked with Prince and I had grown up in the music business, I had NO idea the scope of his genius. I got schooled. Fast. Rare footage, unreleased tracks, hours of exposure. Prince on bass, Prince on drums, Prince on piano, Prince tearing up the guitar, Prince singing a cappella, falsetto, baritone … hours and hours of eduction that segued into exposure to Prince’s influences: George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic), Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Shuggie Otis, Richie Havens, Betty Davis, too many to list, most of whom had slid by my radar while I was busy following the popular tide from Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, toward alternative music and only occasionally looking back to worship the Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Guess Who and a few other rock and rollers embedded from my youth.
Mathieu’s love for Prince as an artist transcended idol worship. It was founded. That’s why I was able to appreciate it. Prince was blended into the fabric of our relationship in a way I never realized until his death—his music the soundtrack to the most consequential relationship of my life. It doesn’t necessarily make it anymore personal or profound for me than for others, it just contextualizes my own swell of emotions.
On the heels of Prince’s death, my kids and I traveled to Toronto to attend a Canadian music industry event honoring my step-dad for his years of artist management. It was one of the highlights of my life to see his decades of work acknowledged. Prince had said of him that he was, “one of the good ones.” Quite a compliment, and I agree.
Following the festivities, we headed to Montreal to visit my grandmother. She had recently turned 99. Yes, 99.
Though several years had passed since I’d seen her, I’d been forewarned that she was in bad shape. No longer speaking coherently. Immobile. Photos of her broke my heart. I steeled myself for the visit.
I’m sure no one loves visiting old folks’ homes. I have a particular aversion. My biological father died of brain cancer when I was 12. His final weeks were spent in a convalescent hospital. Watching this handsome, vital 42 year old man, disintegrate into a corpse, fostered my subsequent preoccupation with the lack of fairness and probable futility of life. Further fueling this cynicism were the haunting memories of hallways full of abandoned elderly men and women. My guilt for not rescuing them, with their pleading eyes, is only assuaged now because they’re all deceased (it’s been 32 years).
The corridors of my granny’s nursing home evoked scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Classical music played from an unidentifiable source. Lining the walls were rows of wheelchairs filled with photo-doubles of the elderly I’d struggled both to look at and away from three decades prior. It hurt. I’m a grown woman and my teenage boys were with me so I kept it together, but my chest was full of ancient emotion welling up and threatening to burst.
99 years is a long, long, long time.
There she sat. Once the paragon of dignity—having been widowed and charged with raising two children alone—the matriarch, the vocal, self-possessed, sassy, always donning matching jewelry and coiffed hair, strong-willed woman—was now relegated to a babbling, half-blind, subsisting, almost-angel with thin strands of hair inadequately shrouding her scalp. She’d be mortified if she knew. I prayed she didn’t.
We had what was, under the circumstances, a wonderful visit. My teenage boys were delightful with her. There was no way to discern if she knew who they were, but she set her one able eye on whichever boy was in front of her and the light of life and love shone through. If she wasn’t marveling at the radiant innocence and promises of futures that stood before her, I certainly was. And as I watched my step-dad kiss his mother’s forehead, witnessed him somehow, magically rouse giggles out of her, connect beyond the crassness of common interactions—those we take for granted, fail to follow up on for confirmation that our words have been comprehended, that our intentions represented, our love received—as I watched this subtle exchange, I felt both profound grief at the inevitability of loss and relief that the essence of devotion exists in another realm. In that moment, there was palpable evidence.
Prince was 100% Prince. More-so than most of us will be our full selves for even a week, he was his full self for decades. That’s not a projection. I’m not pretending to know him or pulling this out of my ass. It’s common knowledge. One of the strongest sensations I had in the aftermath of his death was a desire to muster the courage to be myself. Just to know what it feels like to take all the constraints off and be a vessel for something pure to emerge. I know that sounds like esoteric new-agey word salad. It is. But, I’m trying here. I mean, the specter of death looms for all of us. We’re always balancing our will to live and thrive against our awareness of mortality. What we do in between means absolutely everything and absolutely nothing.
My granny lived a more simple life. Her purpose was to put food on the table, raise decent humans, eventually love a second husband until his death, be a granny, and now … I guess, keep living until she doesn’t anymore. I really struggle with this, the notion of purposefulness as pertains to someone confined to a life without the option of purpose. Maybe her purpose is to expand the hearts and compassion of those who love her. I don’t know.
This past January, my granny had her 100th birthday. My father died at 42. Prince passed at 57. People die tragically young everyday, yet my 100 year old granny continues to breathe enough oxygen to stay alive. I’ll never be able to reconcile the randomness of that. Trying to make sense of it just plunges me into an existential vortex reminiscent of my teenage episodes.
What’s it all for?
I wish I could impart some concise profound wisdom, but we all know it’s impossible to fully intellectualize our existence in this realm, in this incarnation. I feel pretty certain it’s a worthwhile pursuit to strive to be our uninhibited selves and to connect with the world and each other from that authentic place. Beyond that, for now, I’ll defer to the simple, jarring eloquence of the Purple One:
You better live now before the grim reaper comes knocking at your door.
*I only used the term “step-dad” for clarification since I had two fathers, but in every meaningful way, my step-dad is my real dad.
Your powers of observation and sensitivity always astound me. You have always been and continue to be, one who is able to jump through time, forwards and backwards and move into “what if”, and speculation and great compassion. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. It made me tear up and smile at the same time.