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Prince's final revolution: How the Purple One transformed the way we grieve

Prince's recently gilded star outside First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Prince's recently gilded star outside First Avenue in Minneapolis.

You’ve heard this before. Typically it rolls out of the mouths of virile young people for whom the specter of death is mostly hypothetical. The “deep” rhapsodizing goes something like this:

“When I die I want there to be a celebration. I don’t want my death to be a drag. Let’s party!”

It’s a fine sentiment. But much like hoping for world peace, magnanimous politicians, or Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota, the odds of the wish coming to fruition are severely stunted by the bureaucracy of natural law and order.

Death is a drag. Grief is an all-encompassing emotion. It’s almost impossible to see light and celebrate when held in its gravitational pull.

With one exception.

Of course we’re talking about Prince. A singular human being if there ever was one. A person who transformed artistic possibility. A man whose evolution constantly contradicted our expectations.

Appropriately, his death on April 21 has become something of a revolution with its own singularity. There is just no comparison to the response seen in the wake of our loss. Now weeks removed from the news, it’s even clearer.

Regardless of whatever’s in those vaults, Prince’s final and perhaps his most vital, beguiling stunt, the one that will resonate the furthest, is how he transformed the way we grieve in public. This is territory previously unknown. We are celebrating at the funeral.

In the aftermath of death, we say things like “what a life” or “we were blessed to have known this person,” but these are platitudes. It’s small talk for people with nothing to say. No platitude can soften the blunt emptiness brought with this kind of permanence. The only real shelter from grief is time.

When we lost Prince, however, once the gut punch was over, the party began in full swing.

It started with 89.3 the Current’s immensely attended block party that came literal hours after the news broke. It continued with First Avenue’s weekend of all-night, all-Prince discos. It reverberates through today and will continue on. 

For those close to the man, the past few weeks have likely been somber ones. As far as we know, no members of the Nelson family were seen boogieing at any all-night tributes. The hope is that someday, when the real grief softens, they’ll be able to look back and appreciate how we bonded in a radically new kind of exuberant memorializing.

For now, the world has not and will not move on. Prince has been radiantly celebrated in this transformative manner all over the globe. The man was a gift to the earth, no doubt, but here in the Twin Cities the outpouring has been especially and intensely inspiring.

All the parties. The stories. The confluence of the color purple. Just turn on the radio. Local pride is at an all-time high. Even for a city that celebrates itself, Kanye-style, at any and every opportunity, the last few weeks have been torrentially awash in native patriotism.

It’s easy to be a little sour on our town's self-righteous inferiority complex. The constant back-patting veers obnoxious, suffocating in the scope of its unearned earnestness. They say in New York City, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” If you can make it in Minneapolis, you’re probably pandering to a niche carved out by others or you’ve got important friends in the “scene.”

But today? Even the most hardened haters are wasted on the purple Kool-Aid. We too are the naive ambassadors. Did you know Purple Rain was filmed at First Avenue? Look at all the parks! There are so many great restaurants! The people are super NICE!

Cynicism is melting like April snow. This is a fucking lovely city and none of us are alone anymore.

We owe this and many other joys to Prince. There’s a new way to see the world. There are so many sounds and images, emotions, and textures to sort through. So many purple-tinted memories. What are we without these? Where is our culture? What does music sound like if it never had a Prince? How blessed we have been.

Here is what we can learn from Prince, clichés be damned:

We can make whatever we want of our lives.

We don’t have to compromise.

To be ourselves is a gift divine.

We’ve heard this all before, but now it really feels true. It is true.

Another thing that gets tossed around when death reveals itself is that we need to appreciate the time we have. You just never know. We should cherish all that we have. Don’t wait until it’s too late to count your blessings.

This is, again, a wonderful sentiment, but the application is often impossible. We could never fully appreciate Prince while he was alive. How could we? The perspective offered in death is necessary to comprehend the full wonder of a life like his.

It sounds crazy, but Prince’s death can be empowering if you view it in the right light.

Imagine a writer constantly questioning and second-guessing his talent. Dreams come and go, and almost none of them come true. Imagine any young artist agonizing over her debut and thinking, “This is garbage. I’m a hack and soon everyone’s going to know it. I’ll have to move to Kenya and get lobotomized if I want to escape the oncoming onslaught of shame.”

But you know what? Fuck that. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. We’ve got one short life. We owe it to ourselves to make something out of it. Something we can believe in.  

Prince challenged so many preconceptions. He challenged the meaning of masculinity. Of ownership. The meaning of feminism as it pertains to men. The meaning of blackness. He broke through walls previously perceived to be impenetrable, if we could perceive them at all. And all the while he gave no fucks. He believed in himself and in his work — right up to the end.

We can learn from this.

Last week saw Paul McCartney’s return to Minneapolis. It was a brilliant show, and part of what made it so brilliant was the new prism of perspective brought by Prince’s death. We were seeing something that will one day be taken from us. A common thread of conversation before and after the Prince-dedicated set was the mortality of McCartney. This sounds morbid but it wasn’t. We were able to better appreciate the Beatle because of Prince.

As it goes, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” For a time. None of us escape unscathed.

When the giant LCD screens showered Target Center in purple light and the obligatory Prince cover began, one concertgoer, this stranger in a Twins hat, turned and said, “I really hope this never stops.”

And it won’t. The celebration will go on and on. It’ll be December 31, 1999 forever in our marvelous corner of the world. Reminders of our Prince will remain ubiquitous. It’s just how the city operates.

Prince is permanent. Ours forever. Remember this. The blueprint he gave us is on the table. Believe in you. Have lots of sex. Make with this life something true that will outlast your flesh. Then maybe when you die, someone will be able to celebrate your thing called life.