A few moments later a co-worker came into my office with tears in her eyes wondering if I’d heard the news – she was shaking. Despite this, it took a couple of days for the news to really sink in to my soul and since it has all I want to do is hear his voice.
This has come as something of a surprise to me. I haven’t wanted to hear Prince’s voice for years. I don’t have any of the records or CDs I used to own anymore. The posters that plastered my bedroom wall in high school are long gone. I didn’t even have any downloads of his music in my iTunes. But ever since his music started to fill the airwaves and tributes to Prince populated my Facebook newsfeed following his death, I haven’t been able to get enough.
It’s been years since the chords of “Purple Rain”, the opening bars of “When Doves Cry” the sultry beat of “Darling Nikki” brought tears to my eyes. It’s been years since lying in the candle-lit dark of my bedroom listening to song after song seemed like a great way to spend an evening. And yet, in between all the obligations of life, this is what I’ve been doing over the past week. I’m sure I’ll spend more money in coming days than I already have downloading songs that bring back long forgotten memories and discovering tunes I haven’t heard before. Prince is once again taking his place at the center of my musical life and it’s like coming home.
All week long I’ve been asking myself – what is it about this man and his music that speaks so clearly to my heart, soul and imagination? Why his music and not someone else’s? I could give all the answers that people all over the world are talking about. He was a one of a kind all around artist. He went places musically no one had gone before him. He was a good person, generous, humble, kind. He was a smart business man. He had a clear vision for himself and his music. He was a consummate live performer like none other. He pushed boundaries and stretched conventions. While all of this is true and is certainly part of why I think Prince captured my imagination as a teenager and now again as a woman in her mid-40s, what rises to the top above all else is his voice.
I love the sound of his voice – his impossibly high falsetto, his sultry rich low tones, his courage as a vocalist, the way he used his voice as another instrument in the making of his music, as expressive and unique as his incredible guitar skills. It wasn’t just the vehicle for delivering lyrics it was also part of the whole soundscape that is his music.
Prince’s voice is also unique in the way he used it to stand up for what he believed in, to name human experience, to explore sexuality and gender, spirituality and relationships and to protest injustice in society and in the music industry. Through his music and his example I found ways to explore my own voice, to express heartbreak and loss, to ask questions about my sexuality, to speak hope and love into the world, to sing at the top of my lungs and dance with joyful abandon, and find myself through the tumult of adolescence.
I had the privilege of seeing Prince perform live just one time – at Summerfest in Milwaukee in 2004. It was a performance like none other I’ve ever seen. The entire evening was incredible – his energy, his musicianship, his generosity with the audience and with his time. You could tell he was having fun, his band was having fun and the entire crowd was caught up in the joy of really great music performed really well. I never wanted it to end. Perhaps this is the aspect of Prince’s voice and his music I resonate with most deeply – it was always fun and always funky and I never wanted it to end. Even the ballads make me want to dance. If a Prince tune is playing I can’t keep my body still.
So I thank you Prince, for a funky time! I thank you for the gifts you gave of yourself – your music, your curious mind, your passion for justice, you commitment to lifting up other artists, your joy and love of performing, but most of all thank you for your voice. I will cherish these gifts you gave as I dive deeper into my own voice and share the gifts I have to share with the world.