I was a pretty lucky kid. I don’t know what grace moved me. Looking back, it seems i certainly had some because – though primarily on my own much of the time – i somehow managed to stumble into awesome. Whether it was on a walk in the woods, lost by myself, or sitting in my room with a small stack of books, action figures, a terrible little radio that played only AM stations… I was pretty lucky.
Somehow – that Grace again – i stumbled into Prince. I couldn’t say what magnetized me so much. I was a kid. I didn’t think about it. But that’s how kids are aren’t they? They live in electromagnetic fields that no one can see – not even them – but somehow when the right magic comes by you become galvanized. The experiences that will make you stick to you. You are formed by these fields. Electromagnetic invisible love. And that’s about the coolest thing there is or can be. One of those things was Prince. Bam. Just like that.
Prince was cool in ways i could only dream about. He could sing. He could move. He could play guitar. Hell… when you’re eight or ten or whatever you are pretty sure he could do whatever the hell he wanted to. If ever there was a guy who could walk out of an explosion like they do in the movies Prince would be that guy. And he wouldn’t just walk out. He would strut out – pristine and in purple with that smile on his face.
Prince was power. He was art. You listened to his music. You sang along as loud as your eight to ten year old heart could handle. You tried the moves. You had no idea if you looked like a complete idiot. You didn’t care who was looking. Because in singing along, you tapped into that power. You became Prince. And somewhere, somehow, i realized in those moments of absolute transport that this was true power. This was triumph. This was unfuckwithability. It was a superpower. You felt fire in your fingertips. It was magic.
Prince the man died today. Where does that power go? Does it snuff out? Not hardly. Not even close. That’s the thing with real power. REAL SUPERPOWER. Not the stuff of TV or politicians speeches, or guys in suits with graying hair and checkbooks. It doesn’t go out. It doesn’t even change form. It just skips along on the rest of us like lightning bolts, arcing from one to another. We might have lost the man. And that’s sad. Because there was more we could have, should have had. But the power is always in our fingertips.
I guess that’s what i’ve been thinking about today. You watch the people on TV behind their desks or podiums. You watch the speeches and the spectacle. And all of a sudden you realize that The Power that Prince gives freely is the same stuff that they grasp at, the same thing they want to embody and hold on to. They want to have the power of a song and stammer at the injustice of not having it. The stuff the courses through that shitty AM station radio is bigger, badder, and infinitely stronger than what most people think of when they think of power.
Harriet Tubman is supplanting a president of the United States on a legal tender. That’s power. That’s real. That shows us that the thing that comes to us from guys like Prince and people like Tubman is real. It may take a while. A long while. But it doesn’t go out. People can make speeches and get elected and shit and that’s fine. They can make idiotic laws about where this and that person is allowed to pee, or drink, or live, or be treated. They can live in that world but the rest of us… well… it’s not our world. Our world is dinner tables, radios, tv sets, pencils on paper, watercolors, a space just small enough to dance or sing in. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got and i’ve come to believe it’s just big enough to punch the powerful in the mouth. They want that space. They’ve always wanted it. But no one is giving it up. It’s ours. You might get our vote….
But you’ll never be Prince
Or Harriet Tubman or a Louis Armstrong solo or a Turner Painting or a Guernica or John the Revelator or Jimi Hendrix or Public Enemy. You’ll never be as strong as the pop and crackle of an old Beach Boys album on the record player. You’ll never be the wide eyed stare of a ten year old kid watching Purple Rain for the first time.
And that, my friends, is a real superpower. It gives hope. It gives life. It gives light when all other lights go out.
People are going to bitch and not get it. Personally, i think at some level everybody gets it but i’m a closet optimist. But i’ve already heard the plaintive wails of some folks who insist that the real power IS the stuff of fake princes: guys in suits with something to sell who can never afford what is actually free. They’ve invested in that version of supremacy. It’s sad. No Beatles song can cure them. They’ll stare at Guernica for hours and never see anything more than a strange horse. They’ll insist that the great deeds of great men are the stuff of real life. But they aren’t. Not really. They’re the stuff of moments trapped in the resin of history.
Don’t worry about those folks. They’ll sink below the waves of history crashing over them eventually, wailing how this shouldn’t be. But we’ll be here with Prince and the others: Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman, Harriet Tubman, Armstrong and the ones still to come.
Shelley once said “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” So too is the musician, the painter, the author, the poet, the sculptor and the little kid sitting on the floor with his action figures listening to the sounds of glory bleating out of his AM radio. We create the heaven of possibility. In this there is all the power in the world. Enough to shake the foundations and cast down the princes.