I feel compelled to comment upon the loss of both Prince and David Bowie in this short period of time this year. Perhaps my most immediate reaction this afternoon to the news of Prince’s passing has been to stagger backward a couple steps recognizing what a colossal artistic void is left in his wake after his passing, much like I did after I heard the news of David in January. And as the confirmation of the news streamed in through my usual sources on the tv and the internet I found myself acknowledging how so many people around the world will endure feelings of bereavement on this day. Many will leave work early, I think. Many will contact family and friends to share in the mourning, just as we do when a beloved family member dies. In these moments in families many members mourning the loss no doubt think of how this void can possibly be filled ever again. Many perhaps recall suddenly trivial yet vital parts played by that person and wonder things such as who will play Santa for the kids this year? Or who can even hope to bake all those pies at Thanksgiving? Indeed, with such a void, with such a gap now created that cannot possibly be filled by any single one of us, how do we bridge this loss? How do we help the young ones to understand, many will find themselves thinking.
It’s this sort of family loss that seems like the only psychological template that comes even close to matching up in these cases for many of us. For me, with David Bowie it’s always been the Ziggy Stardust record that I know best. It’s one that I played exceedingly frequently during a certain time of my life. Even now, when I hear “Ziggy played guitar. Jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars…” I laugh and think of how the personifications of “Weird and Gilly” and I strummed guitars sitting in my living room many times at various different times in my life. And with Prince I recall feeling sparked by the lyrics “You don’t have to be rich to be my girl. Don’t have to be cool to rule my world.” And then in the last verse, with the ferocity of an unquestionably riled-up African-American woman, and in an upper vocal register I cannot even begin to hit, he exclaims: “Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with!!!” Well, you know the rest. “I just want your extra time, and your kiss.”
Wow. These poetic musical moments and so many more by them both have stuck with me for many years, and I expect they’ll be around in my mind’s theater for many more years to come.
So I see these two passing as a great loss. It’s something I feel compelled to comment upon, and it’s something I think the artistic community in particular must view as one where they wonder who among them can possibly even hope to bridge the void now left in their wake. It’s a tremendous emotional experience for many of them, I believe. And I think as this mourning and acceptance sinks in with artists around the world, they will— as artists will do— respond to their emotions by creating art. Much like we saw after David Bowie’s and other artists’ passing, there will assuredly be numerous tribute performances made by many musicians. But what I suspect, and what I hope for, as we all right now feel the whoosh from the cosmic wake of the appearance and passing of these incredible talents, is that artists around the world will respond less by performing tributes of Prince and Bowie songs, and MORE by producing NEW WORKS of their own perhaps inspired by the emotions they feel— inspired by their gratitude at sharing a moment in the continuum of time with these legendary artists.
Just as with the loss of a beloved family member, we ultimately recognize how blessed we’ve been to share time with that person, for however long it lasted in life. Their wakes are often bigger than we think we can endure sometimes when they pass, and they seem to come when we think we are prepared for them least. And in the case of the passing of these two giants, I think the legacy each of them would most likely prefer to see bestowed upon them is that we commemorate their loss not by dwelling in what they take with them (and away from us), but in what NEW each of us might create that is perhaps inspired by our sharing a place in time with them. “Go be YOU,” I think they would say. You know? It comforts me to think that’s what they’d want.
Rest in peace Prince and David, and heartfelt condolences to all who love them.