how do you even?
The mid-80s were not a fun time for me. In December of 1984, my father died–when I was six. It was the era of the Challenger explosion, the Cosby Show, and Madonna. Oh yea–and Reagan. Coke tasted like something other than HF corn syrup. There were sit-down pizza joints with massive salad bars. And I spent most of my free time outside or with Barbies.
When I was around 8 years old, I discovered music. It was 1986, and up until then, my world had been filled with old records playing Elvis, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline. Sometimes, Buddy Holly would show up, too. That year, I got my very own boombox. And suddenly, this entire world I never knew existed showed up.
When you grow up poor, you’re forced to live in a cognitive ghetto to a certain degree when it comes to pop culture. In the ’80s, you had to pay to see a movie–in a theatre. Video games cost money too. Computers were a bit of a pipedream–or at least a clunky one limited to school. And cable was an intangible land of wonders.
The one thing I could always do? Read. Libraries were magic. And then, I found this thing called radio. It was free too. As long as you had the equipment. I remember being amazed that people far away could talk to me. And it opened up entire worlds to me. Cultures and people and sounds. And it inspired me to sing and dance in my living room.
Back then, Casey Kasem was my best friend every Sunday morning. He soothed me with his requests and dedications and he spun America’s Top 40 every week. And that’s when I heard Prince for the first time. This sound that challenged all boundaries and all preconceptions–that was this rich tapestry of instruments and humanity–that made me want to move–not caring if anyone was watching.
(Sorry about the cats. Couldn’t find another copy).
For the rest of my life, Kiss would be my go-to on really shitty days that required bass and a cheerleader. It was on every workout playlist I ever made because it kept me smiling. When I was in therapy and was told how essential it was to get out of my head and into my body, I made it a point to have this song on repeat. Simply put, it was my go-to for happiness and motivation. A reminder–more than anything–to be present.
What does anyone really say when a 57 year old passes away? Even if he wasn’t a creative genius, this would be a tragedy.
In my world–this is like Elvis. Do we have any musical greats–true icons–anymore? I mean ones that actually continue working–that actually innovate?
I can think of Springsteen, Madonna, Elton John…
But are they geniuses? I mean–entertaining–sure. Talented, yes? But do they push boundaries? Not really.
He did that. He was different. He embraced purple–as a man–when it was unpopular to be all the shades of male. He was difficult. He had high standards. You can’t find his stuff on YouTube because he fought for his work to be respected. He was eccentric. He harnessed joy in a way that only he could.
It seems this kind of innovation and stubborn dedication to craft doesn’t exist much anymore–in music or anywhere, really. So, I guess that’s what I’ll take away from his life. That art matters and can be fun. And you can be anything you want to be–if you just stubbornly devote yourself to it.
Thank you for shaping the soundtrack of my life. Rest easy.