Photo cred: Billboard (Billboard.com)
As everyone has heard by now, on Thursday, April 21, the world lost an icon, a music legend, and naturally gifted performer — The Purple One, Prince. A celebrity death that many will retell years from now with “Where were you when you found out?” stories. Hearing of his death was incredibly sad, especially considering that we lost another icon, David Bowie, only a couple of months ago.
I’m not going to lie — I was never a Prince “fan.” He was before my time, and while the internet and streaming services (before Prince yanked his music from them) make it easy to discover classic artists, I just never got around to it. But in a way, I didn’t really need to listen to his music to understand his unparalleled status in the music industry. I grew up listening to his music through my parents. I’ve seen him perform (on TV). I’ve heard him speak and accept awards. His omnipresence in my life was due to his omnipresence in music.
So when he died on Thursday and I joined the world in reflecting on his life and career, I came to realize just how important Prince was in a cornucopia of ways.
-He was a proud black man and openly criticized how record labels sought to exploit black musicians, himself included. He created songs that promoted messages of unity and criticized systems that keep power structures in place, particularly in terms of the oppression of black people (“Dear Mr. Man”). He used music as a form of activism against injustice.
-He was a sexual icon and presented genderfluidity to the mainstream before transness was part of the collective consciousness. He himself has said “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something you will never understand.” He regularly wore high heels onstage, rocked crop tops, and wore long, curly, and feminine hairstyles. The Love Symbol is a melding of the male and female symbols to represent his undefined gender expression. His fashion choices and unapologetic sensuality challenged traditional black masculinity. He proved you didn’t have to be strictly male or female, but you could be a little of everything to create something entirely unique.
-He was a pioneer in artistic freedom and intellectual property by raging against his own record label. He did not yield to their demands and instead told them to go fuck themselves. For his entire career, he fought to have complete artistic control over his look, sound, and creative vision, and wouldn’t settle for anything less than what he wanted.
-And of course, the man was a multi-talented musician.
After a couple of days reflecting on his life, I realized something. I want what Prince had. What he has, even in death.
I want a legacy.
Prince left an indelible mark on not just music, but popular culture in general. He made an impact so great that the world is a different, and some would argue better, place having had him in it to share his art with us.
I want that for myself. About a year ago, I had an epiphany. I got out of bed and wrote in my journal a simple statement: I want to inform. This is why I’m here. I believe that my art is writing, and through my writing I can maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place. I want to help people to see the world differently. I want to let people know they are not alone. I want to encourage people embrace their quirkiness. In a society that tells us to hate ourselves for who we are, I want to show people that loving yourself is not only a radical act, but a necessary one. I want to make people think, and I want to touch people in places they never thought they would be. Just like Prince did.
This was a second epiphany that builds on my first one. I don’t want to just exist here. I want to be remembered. I want my work to be passed around and read for years to come. I want my name to be spoken of with fondness and familiarity. My greatest hope is that when I leave this Earth, the people in my life and the people in the community I eventually become part of (whether writing, blogging, social justice, or otherwise) remember me as a person who wrote love, truth, and positivity into the world.
That is what Prince made me realize. I don’t just want to live. I want to leave a legacy.