It was earlier this year, I found myself at a family gathering at my grandparents’ retirement home. Now, I don’t think I’m unique in saying that family gatherings are not a place I typically want to be. But my uncle and his family (who I hadn’t seen in over a decade) were visiting from Chicago, so I figured it was my obligation to be there. Also, my grandparents are both in their 90s, and at this point who knows when they’re gonna go, so it was nice to be able to get all of my mom’s side of the family together, since who knows if this would ever happen again. Anyways, over the course of the meal we were having, there was a bit of this underlying tension, since my other uncle on my mom’s side isn’t exactly a huge fan of the uncle who was visiting from Chicago. Which is not surprising. One of them is kind of out-there and a bit of a weirdo, while the other is an ultra-conservative former bodybuilder. However, the two managed to be fairly polite with each other in conversation, while I nonetheless wanted to leave, but was more than aware of why it’d be incredibly rude if I did.
Fortunately, my inner music geek was called to attention late in the dinner, as my uncle from Chicago started recalling stories of his younger years when he was going to shows at First Avenue, Minneapolis’s legendary music venue. Unsurprisingly, this led to him talking about the few encounters he had with a performer known the world over as Prince. And being that I’ve been a Prince fan for a long time, as well as rock bands like Husker Du and The Replacements who around the same time played First Avenue’s Seventh Street Entrance (the venue’s smaller stage), I was more than intrigued by these stories. But what I didn’t expect, was to hear my conservative uncle ask from across the table, “You’re a fan of Prince?” To which my other uncle of course replied, “Yeah”. And then my other uncle said something to the effect of, “I really like Prince. He’s a really talented performer.” And I felt it — a bond. A bond between these two men that literally have nothing in common with each other besides their relation to my aunt. And it was over Prince of all things.
With the announcement of Prince’s passing earlier today, I can’t help but think of this moment and why it is so emblematic of what made Prince such a special artist. Prince was a guy who brought people together. Whether you were black or white, straight or gay, or whether you could dance or not, it didn’t matter. Once a song like “Let’s Go Crazy” or “1999” came on, if you weren’t shaking your ass, you were at least envisioning The Purple One shaking his ass all over some gigantic stage and wishing you were there in his glorious presence. Which is why yes, it is incredibly sad that Prince is dead. Much like David Bowie, he’s a guy who you’d think would live forever. But at the same time, I’ve spent most of today listening to KEXP play nothing but non-stop Prince, and it’s impossible not to be put in a good mood by this music, or at least a better mood considering the circumstances. He just had that power, and you could feel it no matter where you were coming from.