Some of us will always stay behind

This has been a strange year, and as it drags on with so little being accomplished, I feel more and more things slipping away from me. Living with anxiety as I do makes feelings like these into a very cruel sort of game (and a very difficult one to express): which ones are real, and which ones are all in your head? You can never quite answer correctly, either, because you will worry either way. It will either be justified worry, or it won’t, but either way, it still steals my energy, my hope, my time, and leaves me feeling sore and defeated.

Some of these things, I know, are real. Neither of my parents’ lives have any stability left in them, even as they near the age when you are supposed to retire. In reality, I have no idea what will happen to either of them, nor do they. My father ignores this, and my mother just accepts it. I do envy her ability to cede all illusion of control, but perhaps that’s something that can only come with age, and too many years of life disappointing you. My roommate seems to enjoy regularly reminding me that there is no stability in mine, either, in all sorts of thoughtless ways. Projects, relationships, hopes, all seem to be falling away from me, on all sides. My mind used to dare to give me the occasional hopeful dream, but these days I just have regular, obvious, exhausting nightmares about falling off bridges or buildings or through floors, getting swallowed up by tangles of dark things I cannot see. I have gotten much better at managing my anxiety this year, it’s true, and that is a hard-fought victory. But at my core, I remain the same difficult person I’ve always been, the one who does not fit anywhere. If she says otherwise, she is a liar.

This may be a darker part of the reason why my experience with drowning never scared me much. Apart from the lack of pain, and the fact that both my breathing and my flawed little heart stopped within just a few minutes — this is an easier fate for your body to accept than you might expect, at least when you’re enveloped by something as powerful and ambivalent as the ocean — it felt somehow appropriate to me, even then. It’s not a particularly violent death, and if one were allowed to choose what eventually removes them from life someday, I’d opt to just lose to the ocean again. (There are certainly far worse ways to go, and I know too much about most of them.) I have a lot of dreams about that day lately, too. The familiar, inevitable feeling of the endless water surrounding me at all sides until I could no longer struggle or see — like everything else in life, like my mother, I fought it until I had nothing left with which to fight — until I simply slipped away.

She walked in through the out door

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© 1985 Time & Life

So, here’s the thing: If you’re a member of my generation (or a bit older, likely anyone born and/or raised in the ’80s), as a favorite blogger of mine put it back when MJ died, you either grew up in a Michael Jackson house, or a Prince house. That might have been true even if not for their (near as anyone can really know, mostly played up for publicity) artistic “rivalry” during that decade. I’ve been a dancer since I was four years old, and that means mine was a Michael Jackson house. It’s his feet and handwriting I’ve got tattooed on me, to try to remember my strength and beauty, to continue looking forward.

But the other thing is: I fucking love Prince, too. I always have.

I run all the social media accounts for my job, and when I saw his name trending on Twitter recently, knowing how brutal this year has been with musicians only four months in, my immediate reaction was, “Oh, HELL NO.” And then everyone calmed down; he’d had to cancel some shows, his plane had made an emergency landing, and he was ill, but he was alive. Thank fucking god, right? I was (and am) still in shock from Bowie. And I think we’re all still trying to brace ourselves for what’s shaping up to be a period in which a monster generation of musicians will be entering a risky age period, and anyone can go at any time. But Prince? 57 is young. I still considered, as I’m sure many did, Bowie young, leaving us for his home planet at 69.

When Michael died at 50, it seemed simultaneously impossible that he could ever die — the same way I imagine a lot of us, myself included, are feeling right now about Prince, collectively reeling — and seemingly incredible that he’d even made it to that age, after everything his own life and the culture that produced him had put him through, every decade of his life. James Baldwin knew, though he didn’t want to know, what would happen to Michael. I can’t recall now, in my shock, whether he ever wrote specifically regarding Prince, too, and if so, whether it was anywhere near as prescient. All I know right now is, when Michael died, Prince said he had loved him.

I can only respect how maddeningly stringent Prince was about the usage of his music, because it was his, too many Black artists have died penniless and out of control of their artistic output, and he had the right to do, frankly, whatever the hell he wanted with it. But I can’t say it doesn’t make me sadder today, knowing it’s going to be tricky for those who need his music now to find it. You won’t find him on Spotify, and if you want to hear him on Pandora, you’ll have to skip through a lot of other artists. I’m pretty sure the only place you can find his music without jumping through some annoying hoops is Tidal. He’s nowhere to be found on YouTube. He was infamously vigilant about taking down anything unauthorized on any platform, but particularly that one. (Hell, my favorite artist of them all, Peter Gabriel, is quite strict about where you can find his catalogue as well, and with good reason; streaming services, across the board, do not treat nor pay their sources well.)

Prince had a phenomenal amount of output. Because of its volume, there is much greatness within it, and also plenty you can pass on. He did baffling things with his self-branding, most notoriously going by a self-styled symbol for a time. He was a monster guitarist, and an all-around underrated musician, not just a great singer and songwriter. (I mean, he produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on his debut album in ’78. How in the hell.) An unreal, nearly alien amount of talent — like Michael, like Bowie — that I seriously doubt we’ll see again, at least not in my lifetime. Right now I kind of feel like listening to everything, and yet I’m stuck on a song that my own mother isn’t much of a fan of, despite being quite a fan of Prince’s herself, but that I’ve always loved: “Raspberry Beret.” I’ve never been able to explain to her why, exactly, I’ve been such a fan of it for so long — he has so many great tracks, particularly from that period, and I love so many of those, too — but this one just fills me with joy; it makes me dance. There’s something in it for me, lurking under the bass line, moving through the strings… I’ve had it on repeat for the last 20 minutes, and I don’t give a damn.

Turn on the radio. Go digging for the few tracks you might find hidden on DailyMotion, Vimeo, and SoundCloud. Put on your records, your cassettes, your CDs. Go do that thing we so often do when we just need to be out in public with strangers while the music of someone we’ve lost is piping through storefront windows and doors. Driving in to work today, as the news was breaking over the radio — and it feels appropriate that I did actually first hear the news from a DJ on the radio — I was the only car that had his music blasting out the windows, but hopefully as people find out, there will be tons of ’em driving around, all over the city. We’ve only got a handful of albums in stock at my record store, but I know I’ll be playing them all day.