death of my father, I’m starting to realize that my family may have a slightly
different notion about death. In Kalamu
ya Salaam’s unreleased manuscript about Robert Johnson, he states of the Delta
that birth and death comingle like night and day, one needing the other for its
completion. Thus, I’ve never feared nor
bemoaned death because I’ve always been more interested in the quality of life
rather than the quantity of life. Since
my father transitioned, I’ve yet to cry because all my memories of him cause me
to laugh. Yes, I miss him, especially
during moments when I’m doing something that he enjoyed.
But, the quality of his life—the joy that he
brought his family and his friends—far outweighs those very few moments when I
miss him. Truly, what makes me sad is
not death but when people mistreat or harm people. My mother and Aunt Iola were special
education teachers, and they both instilled in me that the worst human being is
someone who takes advantage of others.
People hurting people—that makes me cry.
Death only bothers me when it’s the death of a young person or a death
from a senseless act of violence, and, of course, all acts of violence are
senseless. So, when I first heard the
news of the possibility of Prince’s transition, I thought about the rumors that
Prince hadn’t been doing well, that he looked very thin, even for him, and I
said a short prayer for those closest to him, some people I know and some I
don’t. My prayer wasn’t for him because
the Prince I knew was a man completely comfortable with his life and his
faith. More importantly for me, Prince
was a man who squeezed every drop from life.
He found his love—music—and dedicated his entire being to it. I could write some historically important
piece about Prince continuing the legacy of African-American music while his
lyrics introduced to the narrative the notion of the post-Civil Rights (which
is something quite different than post-racial) individual black, but I’ve done
that. And, I’ve done it quite well. For those who want to see/hear that, I’ll be
on local Fox news at 9:00 p.m. and WLBT at 10:00 p.m. briefly discussing
that. (See entire news interview
But, for me, this moment, I’ll just remember
the dude who outworked everyone to achieve his goal. When I was fifteen, reading a Prince
interview in Rolling Stone, he stated something that affirmed everything my
parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community had taught me. “When my
friends were playing, I was jamming.
When they were sleeping, I was working.
Every morning they awoke, I had a new groove.” At that moment, my fifteen year-old self knew
that I could be the best at anything if I was willing to sacrifice and outwork
everyone else. Most people don’t even
realize that greater than fifty percent of the dialogue in Purple Rain is about
rehearsing and crafting music. So,
Prince’s death doesn’t make me sad. I
can only be grateful that I found an artist who motivated me to challenge
myself—regardless of what any other narrow-minded folks thought—to be the best
me that I could be. (I’m so glad that
I’ve never wanted to join an organization just to “fit in” or feel
accepted. I can’t even fathom what it’s
like to live that kind of life.) My only
regret is that we didn’t finish Prince’s book.
I was literally given the keys to the kingdom, and I just didn’t get it
done. We completed enough for about one
and a half chapters, but it all fizzled after that. But, that’s life too. You do well sometimes, and sometimes you
don’t do well. But, you give it your
illness, Prince asked people to save their prayers for a later time. Then, he tweeted a pic of his face with a
tear. Prince has always been cryptic;
that’s what his fans love about his work.
Of course, now people are trying to put one and one together. Here’s what I know: Prince died.
It was of no doubt by something.
And, the coroner will tell us what it was. Yet, to paraphrase Salaam again,
institutions, movements, and people die.
That’s the cycle of life. What
makes the cycle beautiful is when each of us decides to make the time we spend
here worth something, especially to others.
As an artist, I don’t know what else Prince could have accomplished or
given. The man had a number one single,
a number one album, and a number one movie simultaneously. He also earned a number one album fifteen
years after his last number one album.
But, more importantly, every black guitar player that I know, in my age
group, was inspired to play guitar because of Prince. B. B. King stated that Prince was one of the
few people with whom he wanted to work with whom he hadn’t worked. As a person, what little I knew of him, he
was like everyone else, traveling this life to become the best person he could
become in the short span we are all given, constantly battling the innate
desire to be selfish to transcend to being better today than we were yesterday. So, that’s it. That’s all I got. I’ve had a blessed life, having parents,
grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and community people all pour love and
insight into me. Because of this, all I
ever needed from my teachers and favorite artists was for them to expand the
possibilities of my mind. That’s the
primary goal of art—to show us our circumstance and how we can make it
better. Nobody was more expansive for me
than “His Royal Badness.” That’s what we
called him, long before he demolished the charts with Purple Rain. In the hood, before the success of Purple
Rain, he was “That Rude Boy” and “His Royal Badness.” Yet, when That Rude Boy became a man, he
stated, “Too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay.” I can only hope that most of us get to extend
the narrative arc of our lives in the manner that he extended his.
completion. It’s in so many of his songs
in so many ways. So I leave you with
Morris Day’s online post that “Prince died at 57, at 10:07, on 4/21, which
equals to 7.” I don’t know if that means
anything, but it would make for one of those great cryptic Prince lyrics. Later y’all.
Hippies (A Poem 4 His Royal Badness)”
birth 2 royal,
1000 years on us.
“o” the tymes
with his sometimes Dirty Mind always
causin’ much Controversy walkin’
toward da Dawn after the passin’ of 1999
when Purple Rain would flow us n2 a Parade dat marches us Around da World n a Day while we b checkin’
4 dem Sign “O” the Times ‘cause we
learned how to live LoveSexy; Now, he
b one of dem Rainbow Children 2 b
[by C. Liegh McInnis]