I’m ashamed to admit that as you left us yesterday, I finally understood just what you were trying to teach us these last several years. It’s a lesson that should have been easy enough to grasp, if not all that easy to embody…but please believe me: I get it now.
As news of your departure from this thing called life trickled down, I found myself desperately looking in all directions. Co-incidentally, the music I was listening to had stopped, as if it knew that a moment of silence was in order. My eyes scanned page after page of the information system I’m contributing to right now, and all over it I found hundreds of people like me. People who loved you…people who missed you…people whose lives were shaped by what you brought to this world. However, despite message after message of love and loss, I couldn’t help shaking a particular feeling:
I felt alone.
The people physically around me were unmoved. Some shrugged, some mumbled, some made no acknowledgement. It was clear that there was nobody whose eyes I could look into and share a sad look. Nobody I could hug, nobody who knew what you mean to me.
There were plenty of people around me, but nobody was present.
For the last several years, that presence is what has consumed you. You didn’t want people at your parties to be staring at their phones. Nobody attending your concerts could be consumed by taking photos and videos. Your music was never there for the sampling, only ever for the consumption. People who spoke to you in the media couldn’t even record the conversation.
For some, this might seem like you were being a technophobe; but the truth is very different – you wanted the people around you to truly live and experience everything the world around them had to offer.
You wanted us to be present.
It’s there in your music. From the most philosophical cosmic wish, to the dirtiest sexual suggestion. In song after song, in note after glorious note. You urge us, encourage us, practically beg us to connect with each-other and feed off the energy of friends, family, lovers, and perfect strangers. You waned us that in this life, we’re on our own…and that only by gathering together would we make it through.
What’s more, you wanted us to experience it all, not just the slivers we believed we needed most. You wanted us to open ourselves to the ups and downs of an entire album, the solos and singles of a three-hour set. In a world that was becoming more and more self-centered, you wanted us to open ourselves-up to new things. Your music was just as much about capitulation as it was about commotion. From lulling pianos to blistering guitar chords, it commanded us to think about something other than ourselves; to think about the musician, the instruments, the room, and the effect. It demanded that we be a part of it, and for that we would need to stow our distractions, and give in to the moment.
Those moments you have asked me to be a part of have been joyous. They included singing with full abandon to your singles as a boy, hymns of thanks to my cousins who brought your music into my life. They included dancing like a rhythmically challenged idiot as a teenager, surrounded by some of the most creative friends I would ever know. And they included being witness to you standing on a stage and bringing arenas and theatres to life, while the person I care about most bore witness next to me.
All of these moments were lessons, all of them were gifts. So perhaps – harsh as it felt – it was fitting that I had to mark your passing alone. It was only in my solitude that I fully understood the lesson, truly appreciated the gift. Soon enough my solitude was broken. Before the day ended I was able to be with those I care about…those who truly cared about you. In those moments, I remained saddened, but revelled in feelings of love for one-another.
For this I thank you, and I honour you. I won’t worry about how much of my time is left, just how much of my mind is left. I will soak-up life’s albums from the singles to the cuts and share them all with the people I love most. Every diamond, every pearl.
I expect that you are on your way back to whatever furthest reach of the galaxy you escaped from fifty-seven years ago. I expect there that the skies are a glorious shade of purple, and everybody sings on-key. Down here on earth, things are sometimes uglier and sometimes less harmonious…but it’s all part of the journey. You want us to experience that too, don’t you?
Maybe from feelings of isolation can we grow to appreciate true communion.
Peace, Love, and Purple Rain,