By Chandra Thomas Whitfield
One day in 1995, my cousin admitted to me that he just didn’t “get” the latest Prince song. “I Hate U” had just been released off “The Gold Experience” album. And boy, did the song have folks talking.
During our chat my cuzzo, who I likened to a brother, confessed that he’d never been in love before. It was as if little squiggly lines and question marks should have literally loomed over his head as he repeated the lyrics aloud to me: “I hate you, because I love you. But I can’t love you, because I hate you.” Huh?
By then, I’d had my share of rides on the young adult version of the proverbial “roller coaster of love.” The song totally made sense to me. You’re mad because you are in love with someone, but it’s not working out. So, you try to hate them in hopes of wriggling free from their hold on you; but you realize that you can’t because you are still very much in love with them. An all-around sucky situation! I am sure most anyone whose been in love, especially with the wrong person, can relate. Once again His Royal Badness had managed to convert complex feelings into prolific prose.
Fast forward to now, April 2017, exactly one year after Prince’s unfortunate, untimely, and I dare say preventable, death from an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller fentanyl. Now that song rings true for me even more. I hate Prince. Well, actually I hate him because I love him. But I can’t love him, because I miss him. Makes sense, right?
How else can I describe the crushing loss of the musical genius who over the course of a nearly 40-year career helped redefined masculinity, made the world fall in love with the color purple and who managed to sell 100 million records worldwide, spanning multiple genres? I am grateful that he gifted us four films and proud that he was nominated for 32 Grammys and won seven, plus he snagged a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 1985 for the score to “Purple Rain.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he was eligible.
As a faithful fan who has followed The Artist seemingly from the second the Purple Rain album and film dropped during my childhood, I have struggled with his death. He was a vibrant and seemingly invincible force whom, in our minds at least, seemed likely to live forever. His youthful appearance and professed disdain for alcohol, drugs and, at times, even meat and all animal products, seemed to corroborate our hopes that the Purple One would not meet a premature death like so many of the greats before him – from Billie Holiday to Jimi Hendrix. Prince was supposed to live forever, like one of those Greek gods you read about in high school lit. We pictured him rockin’ the nursing home crowd – that’s if he could ever be convinced to leave away from his beloved Paisley Park estate.
It’s a weird state, mourning someone who technically you’ve never met, or hugged or even shared eye contact with (well, except for the times I stared him down on stage at his concerts. I’d swear we “caught eyes” at least a few times). But the sorrow is very real, because in so many ways we all felt that we knew The Artist so well, as he shared his life, his love, his pain, his politics and basically his soul with us through his magical music.
He was magnanimous and that kept us transfixed. The emotions he seemed to effortlessly convey in every musical note and lyric, bonded us to him for decades and we always wanted more. Ironically, it seems that same “humaneness,” to paraphrase from his hit “Nothing Compares 2 U” was what “took his love away” from us all.
In his death, we learn that Prince, for all his purple sequins covered sparkly glory, was more human than we realized. Like us, he struggled with pain, both physical and emotional. He struggled in his relationships. He struggled with money and with trying to keep his business thriving. And, unfortunately, it appears that he also struggled with a secret drug addiction, that ultimately claimed his life. I suspect he struggled with his humaneness most of all.
I don’t really hate Prince. I love him for creating the soundtrack of my life and for doing so for millions of others. I love him for his generosity – sharing everything from beautiful music to charitable donations. I love him for showing us that no matter how amazing we are, we all must take the time yield to and contend with the frailties that make us human. Prayerfully, he is in heaven now, free from all the heaviness of his humanity: living out his purple reign into perpetuity.
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