Prince on stage at the Ritz club in New York
On Twitter, there is currently a topic trending: Dear 2016, Stop. 💔, Us. With its cute emoji and somewhat joking tone, it's about how 2016 is a terrible year that is taking away all of our beloved artists. And it's true. So far this year we've lost Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Patty Duke, and now Prince, who passed away today at the age of 57. All of these people have personal significance in my own life, from listening to the music of Cole, Bowie, The Eagles, and Prince to watching the films of Patty Duke and Alan Rickman and loving the show, Everybody Loves Raymond, that Doris Roberts made so funny and enjoyable.
It's interesting how social media has changed how we grieve for celebrities. Honestly, when I first heard about Prince's death my initial impulse, after wanting to curl up in a ball and cry forever, was to go to social media and express my condolences, to see what other people were posting about his shocking death. I wanted to engage in a kind of communal mourning. We see this time and again after the death of celebrities. People gather in public, often outside the person's home, and they leave gifts or notes. If it's a musician, like Prince and Bowie, they play the person's music. There is this desire to reach out, to find consolation in a community of fellow fans. We connect through our shared surprise that the person is gone, we divulge personal stories about what the person's art meant to us, how their songs or movies or books affected our lives and made us who we are.
I think it's fair to say that Prince was a universally beloved musician who is woven into the fabric of modern American culture. Even those too young to have heard "Purple Rain" or "When Doves Cry," certainly noticed Prince as a fixture at award shows like The Grammys and as a performer at countless concerts and after-parties. He also wrote or co-wrote many classic songs for other artists, like Stevie Nicks's "Stand Back," Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You," and "Manic Monday" by The Bangles. His image is instantly recognizable the world over. In fact, it feels as though the whole world is mourning his passing. In our grief, there is something profoundly soothing about the knowledge that so many other people are also grieving, that they are listening to Prince's songs and reflecting on the the impact he made with his art, his anti-racist politics, and his transgression of gender norms.
Just because something is a social media meme doesn't mean it can't be revelatory and resonant. Dear 2016, Stop. 💔, Us might be a transient topic on Twitter, but it speaks to the reality of our shared grief over the loss of so many vital and dynamic and groundbreaking artists who are gone. The death of a celebrity forces us to confront our own mortality. If this person who seemed immortal and invincible can die, then we too can die. It's hard and it's frightening to think about the vulnerability of our bodies and how little control we have over our lives. How do we cope? We keep living. We share our stories and try to connect with others. Above all, we remember and cherish the gifts that these monumental artists gave us.