Prince Rogers Nelson was a singular talent, a musical genius the likes of which we'd rarely seen before and probably won't seen again. He wrote consistently and fearlessly, always there and always breaking tired conventions until the end.
Like the recently departed David Bowie, Prince seemed above the eras in which he worked, a gender-bending, sexuality-questioning revelation of a human being who simultaneously felt from the future and outside of time altogether. “Time is a mind construct,” he once stated. "It's not real."
He was beautiful and different, stylish and sexy, powerful and inspiring. But above all, Prince was loving. Or maybe more accurately, Prince was love.
Artists in general and musicians in particular can be competitive and jealous people. Success for one artist often and understandably is viewed as a minus for another, a sort of zero-sum popularity contest for the admiration of the public that can tear groups and people apart. But Prince never fell into those games. Throughout his career, he championed artists young and old, his love of music so clearly powerful that he was unable to fall into the same jealous patterns so familiar to many of us.
In an interview late last year with Entertainment Weekly, Prince in one fell swoop called Joni Mitchell a "genius," Erykah Badu "hilarious" and "smart," Kendrick Lamar "the truth" and Janelle Monáe "brilliant." Prince could and often did seem like a mystery, but if you pulled back the curtain of ambiguity, it was really quite simple: He loved music, and the people responsible for creating it, too.
Certainly, he had many more complex messages to convey to the world. But today, as we remember his life, it's his more easily digestible thoughts on death and how to live the life that comes before it that sticks with me.
"Yeah, everybody's got a bomb," Prince sang on "1999." "We could all die any day. But before I'll let that happen. I'll dance my life away."
The line is simple, almost comically famous and on its face not particularly revelatory. But while most of us on our better days talk about making the most of life, Prince actually did it, and that's the difference. He left us today, but when he did, he left us with more than a lifetime's worth of memories. Most of us can only hope to do the same, but maybe we should try harder to do so, too.
Earlier this year, after the death of his former protégé Denise Matthews, also known as Vanity, Prince told a short story about her during a concert in Melbourne, Australia. He had suggested he was going to throw her in a pool during a fight. She suggested he was too small. Eventually, one of his bodyguards did it for him. "I probably shouldn’t be telling this story," he said, "But she’d want us to celebrate her life and not mourn her."
Prince was right to approach Vanity's death that way, and we'd be right to adopt that same approach now. When the people we love die, it's fine to feel pain. But we should struggle to appreciate who we had when we had them. It's a cliché idea, and I can't believe I'm writing it, but hey, sometimes clichés just work. As Prince said himself: "Life is just a party, and parties weren't meant to last."
So f**k it, in Prince's honor, turn off the computer and dance.