Prince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.
That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.
This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.
Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.
Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.
Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it? My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.
Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.