It has been interesting to watch the different and evolving reactions to the unfortunate passing of the musical genius, Prince, in last couple of days. In the first sense, it has been wonderful to see everyone come together to celebrate the passing (all too soon) of an artist who few could argue was not one of the greatest all time performers; indeed Prince was just that–an all-time great. (To be clear, it is anything but wonderful that we lost Prince but wonderful that people came together to celebrate his life). There is so much divide in this world that you savor events that bring people together like this as they don’t come around often enough.
Then there are those who are just fascinated with uncovering just what happened to Prince. In other words, how did he die and why? Indeed, many of us watched as TMZ and other news sources unfolded details about Prince’s private jet suddenly diverting for an emergency landing during a recent trip and new details about what might have actually happened during the artist’s recent admission to a hospital as well as his ill-advised departure from there. Admittedly, TMZ and the other news outlets are merely doing their job; they are reporting on anything that will shed light on what really happened.
Others who were at first saddened to hear of the artist’s passing seemed to somewhat change their perspective once news of an alleged “overdose” came about.
Here’s my take. We always have been–and always will be–fascinated with celebrity and the fame that goes with it. No matter how many times we read of celebrities telling us counter-intuitive stories about what it is “really” like in fametown, we just ignore those reality checks. I guess there is just a natural curiosity that we are built with and hey, that makes us human right?
But more to the point, we should recognize the important fact of the matter. Prince is gone and for that matter so is Glenn Frey and David Bowie and Jimmy Hendrix and Michael Jackson and John Bonham. The list goes on and on and yes, we should pay attention to details about what happened to each of them. We should pay attention because we should encourage others not to do engage in certain activities that could endanger their lives like taking drugs or drinking to excess.
We should pay attention so that artists do not surround themselves with persons who will simply acquiesce to whatever demand the artist has even if it is not in the artist’s best interest. But in the end, the reason or cause for the demise of any artist is really their business isn’t it? I never met Prince and obviously never will. I don’t know what was going on in his life and won’t try to speculate about it. Perhaps the man was not happy despite his overwhelming success and fame. Perhaps he was. In the end, I will never know and despite what others might say about him, his habits and likes and dislikes, I have resigned myself to the fact that Prince was a magnificent artist and that is the only level that I can judge him on. It is not my business to judge him or his life regardless of what is reported about him.
In fact, I will add an even more sobering fact to the mix and one that for me is indeed relevant to my own life. Consider the list of performers–which is not exhaustive by any means–that I stated above. Here is a fact about each of them. Prince was 57 when he died. Glenn Frey was 67 when he died.
Bowie was 69. Hendrix was only 27. Bonham was 32 and MJ was 50 when he died. These are not men who lived long lives to me and in the end, despite the millions of records sold, the awards and accolades and all the honors that went with their respective careers, none of that guaranteed any of them a long life. Maybe, just maybe, they all had happy and fulfilling lives but again, maybe they didn’t.
Also consider this.
Before I got into music journalism I used to do some sports reporting. One of the most profound experiences I had doing that was not being around any particular athlete. No, instead it had to do with a fellow reporter. I remember the occasion well. There was a reporter who was railing on a particular player pretty bad. As I recall it, some of the criticism was unduly harsh and way out of bounds; it bordered on getting personal. So, I remember another reporter approaching this critic and asking him what I found to be a prophetic, but obvious, question. He asked, “you know this guy has kids and a family, right?” The critic responded with a puzzled look as if to say “what does that matter?” The other reporter went on to point out that the criticism that was being written about the player was being read by the player’s family too. The implied suggestion was that reading that could be very hurtful to the player’s family.
The point he was making was that despite the fact that this player could hit a ball 500 feet or so, he was also a family man and a human being. The player had a family and others who loved him for who he was not how far he could hit a ball. That hit home with me. Big time. I began to understand more about these players. They were real people too. That’s a fact that we tend to overlook sometimes and I never forgot that.
Circle back to music for a moment, I remember having the pleasure of speaking with the great Jon Anderson of YES a few years back.
Jon–as we all know–is a renowned artist and also a very gifted and well accomplished artist; indeed, he’s a legend. He’s also a very gracious and nice man. In any event, armed with my real life sports experience that I spoke about above, in the middle of our conversation I sensed that Jon maybe wanted to talk about something different that day and so I went for it. I asked him “what’s really on your mind?” Really. After some thought he said, “do you really want to know?” I said, “yes.” We then proceeded to talk about his recent accomplishment of gaining dual citizenship; a feat that had absolutely nothing to do with music.
So, when I look at Prince’s passing. I am sad indeed. I loved his music and envied his talent. The more I read about his career and his accomplishments the more I marveled at just how special a performer he was. In fact, I just read a great piece about the plethora of unreleased material that Prince had gathered such that posthumously Prince can continue to release records for quite some time. It’s mind boggling. However, what I am the saddest about is not his career. No. It is how young Prince was when we lost him. He was only 57 and he should have had lots of life left in him. And regardless of whatever “Prince Rogers Nelson” did in his life–whether it was being an international performing sensation or just an “average Joe”–I am sad he is gone and that his life is over so early. In fact, I am sure there were lots of people around the world who were also 57 years old and who also died on the same day as Prince and I mourn their loss too, each and every one of them.