Why the Death of Prince Feels so Different than David Bowie

They were both legendary artists, innovators and brilliant performers. I loved them both, though Bowie did place higher in the ‘love’ category than Prince for me. Why does the announcement of Prince’s sudden death feel so unreal and distant to me one day after?

When David Bowie died the news also seemed unreal. My first reaction was ‘OMG, no! This is some sort of hoax… isn’t it? He can’t really be dead…’. Then when confirmation came, I did not cry at first, it felt like someone had kicked me in the gut and knocked all the air out of me. I was too stunned to react in any form other than repeating ‘No!!!!!’ mentally and verbally, ‘this cannot be’. David Bowie had been part of my life as long as I could remember, and seeing him perform on The Midnight Special in 1973 had been a literally life changing experience.

But slowly, the pieces began to make sense. His physical vulnerability in his last few videos, the very dark, spiritual, otherwordly feel of the last few albums. Even the proximity to his birthday and the release of ‘Blackstar’, yes, it was all part of the puzzle. A true icon knew he didn’t have much longer in this world and artfully composed a goodbye to his fans.
When I read the announcement yesterday about Prince’s death, it was so shocking as to also seem a hoax. We are close enough in age to have been in high school together, and I don’t really follow the entertainment world anymore except for those who are very near and dear to my heart, but Facebook nicely fills in that gap via friends and what is ‘trending’. The last news I had heard about Prince was that he would be going on a circuit of small, intimate tours this summer, which I was excited about because I had never seen him perform live. In 1981 a friend had an extra ticket to see him in perform here in Houston, before I really knew much about him, and she asked me to go with her, but I had to work the night of the concert. I have regretted it ever since, because the following year I also became an ardent fan and began collecting his albums along with the rest of the world with the release of ‘1999’.
I loyally continued to buy his albums and follow his career until the early 90’s, when my personal life changed as did my taste in music, which meandered back to it’s more indie, dark and alternative roots with the explosion of new bands in the 90’s. I’d still hear the hits on the radio, and I still respected The Artist and his music, but I really didn’t get back into his music again until a few years ago, after I had sold all of my vinyl, and both my turntables, and was beginning to ponder which albums I ‘needed’ to replace things digitally, and of course Prince was a must have.
But last night I still wondered, why am I not crying over the loss of such a great artist? I just read a post from Amanda Palmer today and she expressed the same thought. I was a young adult when he became popular, but Amanda was a teen who worshipped him in her formative years, hung posters of him over her bed and kissed him goodnight. She states

“but I never felt connected to him when I got older. he seemed truly alien by the time I was adult. faraway, strange and sad to me from my distant life as a little emotional punk. locked on a hill, he didn’t seem human, and he seemed to want it that way.”

And I believe that also kind of sums it up for me. While David Bowie actually became more real, and more human to me as we both matured, and his music reflected the changes in his life, and there was so much I could relate so deeply to, Prince really did seem rather distant. Never cold, no one could ever accuse him of that, just more untouchable, perhaps. And while I am mourning his loss, and the loss of all of the unheard music, it really feels more like the world has lost that very smart, sexy eccentric kid in the senior class who was always well respected and popular, yet no one ever really got close to him. The finality and impact of losing David Bowie, however, feels like the loss of a family member that you desperately miss being able to have said ‘goodbye’ to.


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