WORDS BY MARY LUCIA
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April 21, 2016: The day Minneapolis and the world suffered a collective gut punch—when Prince went OUT through the IN door from an accidental Fentanyl overdose. Has it really been seven years?
Am I the only person alive who has adored Prince my entire life, but wants him to remain a mystery? I’ll answer my own question: Most likely I am alone. Nothing new there. I was always the goon saying that I could never envision Prince doing average things like plunging a toilet, waiting for the cable guy, owning a pair of Crocs, trying to find which smoke-alarm battery is dead and beeping, stepping in cat barf, etc.
Since his untimely passing, people far more eloquent than I have tried to sum up what he meant to all of us. Many have done a brilliant job in unraveling the mystique of his genius. What can I possibly add?
Normally, it is very much in my nature to dig deep into my heroes’ stories and devour their written biographies like a rock ‘n’ roll vulture. But Prince? Nope.
Ironically, my lack of interest in knowing all the details is a mystery in itself. Being such a loyal admirer for so many years, on the day Prince died, I felt like I had swallowed a shot glass every time I tried to speak. This whole town felt different to me. It felt stripped of its identity and light, and maybe with that, a bit of my own identity was missing as well. My shine was dulled down so dim I felt like a faintly illuminated X-ray.
Naturally, given the nature of his death, the frenzy began to find out what all Prince’s secrets were: What was he keeping from the public, as if he owed us any explanation: “I saw you on the 1999 tour; I DESERVE to know what you struggle with in your personal life.” I braced myself.
Why did I get so indignant about people’s quest to get to the bottom of Prince’s accidental overdose? Buncha reasons, I suppose. Most primitively, I feel very strongly that there needs to be a deeper level of understanding and mercy regarding addiction. Even in the words “pain” and “killer,” the “pain” frustratingly gets overshadowed by the noun “killer,” which I guess makes for a more readable headline. Yes, opioid addiction is very real and serious and can cut the life short of someone you want more from. Trust me: I wouldn’t weigh in one single thought about this if I haven’t myself had a shitty front-row seat. Reality is just a crutch for those who can’t handle drugs, right? But it’s crucial to be mindful that people who live in personal darkness can create some of the most vivid, meaningful, and colorful art.
My desire to only be up close and personal with Prince’s music and not his private life surely explains why I have no interest to tour Paisley Park and absorb the staged personal objects that are meant to pull back the curtain and let us in on what he was all about.
The family assured everyone it was always Prince’s desire to have Paisley Park turned into a museum, and I get how much it means to fans. No judgment. Everyone who wants to, should go—and wear assless chaps! Just sayin’ I won’t be there.
Maybe because I think he was bigger than what can be contained behind a velvet rope with tour guides and a gift shop. In my mind, heart, and booty, Prince is infinite and free. His will always be my go-to favorite
music, and some of the most memorable live performances I was ever lucky enough to witness—in big and small venues—will remain highlights of my life.
I know plenty of people who worked directly with Prince, and they all have stories of his unpredictability and unsurpassed attention to detail and style. I’ve enjoyed hearing those stories to a voyeuristic degree, but I don’t feel comfortable retelling them. They feel sacred. I know part of the grieving process is to share your own Prince stories. I do feel some people have really been able to express the power of Prince as an artist in funny, thoughtful stories. I will share one that perfectly describes his mastery as a performer: A known musician in town was watching Prince perform at First Avenue and said to his band buddy, standing slack-jawed next to him, “I am embarrassed to be alive.”
Prince’s ability to confuse, challenge, and Gett Off through a public career spanning his entire adult life while retaining a sense of mystery is something I marvel at and will always respect. I am happy with what he gave me, and I am happy with what he did not give me. That is the part reserved for my imagination and dreams.
Something tells me Prince would’ve dug that picture.
Concerning the public’s fascination to understand Prince’s accidental overdose naturally resulted in an investigation about how he obtained so many different prescriptions for highly addictive opiates. It isn’t that I don’t completely understand people wanting answers on both a personal and legal level. I do.
None of us know exactly what was in Prince’s heart and his daily thoughts. We can speculate, but it’s not going to bring him back to life. Were the people supplying him with these pills out to hurt him? I’m guessing not willfully. Being in the position of loving someone dependent on the perpetual numbing is agony in itself. Do we feel compassion for the “enabler?” They are usually almost easier to blame than the person putting the drugs in their own mouth.
Have you ever known someone addicted to drugs, lived with one, been raised by one, or are you/have you been one yourself? Being addicted to drugs doesn’t besmirch the character of a person’s heart to me. Do addicts do horrible things? Of course. Do they hurt the people around them who sometimes love them the most? Absolutely.
Do I define Prince as a drug addict? Nope. It was a part of him. A part.
Self-destruction is never easy to comprehend unless you’ve been there and held the blade or bottle in your own hand. Addiction to painkillers is an ugly black hole. Most people start using because they are in physical pain. The downward spiral to chase the dragon is a harrowing ride. Somewhere along the way, that physical pain intertwines with emotional pain.
This is not meant to be a debate about tough love and whether it helps anyone into recovery. Should the addicted person be held accountable? Yes. Was Prince feeling and accepting accountability? No idea.
A little mercy and understanding is most needed when the person addicted is doing the most damage to their relationships and themselves, or even more needed when they are gone. If you aren’t capable of mustering up that benevolent feeling towards the person using, then walk away if you can, and know you did all you could. You have to look after your own heart.
I hope we keep our souls open to those who struggle, and with Prince, that we not let the sickness overshadow the creative gifts he relished upon us.
Shut up already, damn!