On Mourning Prince—and Other Icons

A response to those who wonder

I was thinking tonight about my longstanding love of fantasy, and then it hit me…

Fantasy always leaves me mourning.

The thought was a surprise, and got me thinking it could perhaps explain the reaction to Prince, and before him, David Bowie and Whitney and MJ and all the icons who leave us: both why some grieve and why some rudely undermine this grief.

Because in a sense, I get it, although not directly. I didn’t grow up on Prince, or MJ or Whitney. I didn’t grow up much on music, at all. And when I did grow up, I didn’t spend much time on the music of the “days gone by.”

But I grew up on fantasy. From Enid Blyton’s fairy tales to my first ever epic read, Ursula K Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, from CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to Marvel and DC comic superheroes, from random cartoons on TV to Disney’s legendary animations, I had my imagination fired by images from other worlds. Add to that a mind bathed in biblical imagery from my religious upbringing, and you can imagine my situation.

And yet, each encounter with fantasy meant a return to the regular world. Ordinary and lacking in the magic I had just savoured. Each encounter left me wishing for the amazingness that existed in those other worlds.

Maybe that’s the kind of effect an icon like Prince has.

People like him, who create art that leaves us reeling, taking us into heights of wonder and delight—people like him help redefine us. But then they die, and we mourn, because we know they don’t come in versions 2.0. There won’t be a new Prince song anymore.

The magic has ended.

And just like many people don’t understand why I love fantasy, they don’t understand why you love Prince, why we care. They say to me, “I’m not interested in stuff that’s not real.” They say to you, “What’s your own? Did you know him personally?”

They say the same things to us both.

They don’t understand. How can they? How can they understand when they see life as ones and zeros, as real versus fake, personal versus public? How can they see that what seems unreal to them helps makes the world more real to me? How can they see that you share with this person you never knew, a bond that enriched your bonds with those you did know?

They can’t. Or, maybe, they won’t.

I used to get angry, but not any more.

It would be like being angry with someone because they are tone deaf. (I might actually be tone deaf.) There’s really nothing to be angry about. I don’t even pity them, not really. It’s just what it is, and it’s okay.

You probably have stuff I don’t get either.

In the meantime, I continue to enjoy my fantasy and to savour its beauty and embrace the grief it stirs up.

After all, only the living can grieve.

Follow my writing on Twitter: @DocAyomide.


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