Missing Greatness

We’ve lost the King and now the Prince: nothing will ever be the same.


Most of the world is still reeling from the loss of one of the most beloved musicians – Prince. And while his death is shocking and heartbreaking for many of us, it also made me think about a conversation that a lot of us have whenever a famous person “dies too soon”: why does it feel like we never appreciate someone enough until after the person is gone?

Yesterday I saw a lot of posts about how important it is to respect and revere our legends while they’re alive, to show our support and love before it’s too late. I was reminded of similar feelings back on 2009 when Michael Jackson passed. I knew him mostly as an icon, a victim of fame’s relentless microscope, but I could only scratch the surface of his actual artistry. I’d watched a handful of his music videos, was familiar with the Jackson 5, but on the day of his death I had only two of his songs on my iPod; only two songs I could have sung along with: Thriller and Rock With You. It wasn’t until the days immediately following his death, while watching countless specials and marathons, that I developed a genuine appreciation for his talent, genius, artistry, influence, and body of work.

I find myself in a very similar situation with Prince. I know who he is, his obsession with the color purple, how he went by just a symbol, his songs Little Red Corvette and Purple Rain (I still haven’t watch the film in its entirety), the Darling Nikki controversy, and a few interviews. Now, I find myself searching for more, and there is plenty to find. Apart from naming him in the top 3 of my favorite guitarists there wasn’t much, before today, that I could tell you about the artist or the man.

It’s a bit scary, and awfully sad that we don’t always appreciate someone until they’re gone. How much we take for granted! We can stare brilliance right in the face one moment – and have no clue at all what we’re taking in. In many ways, when we see someone like Prince or David Bowie or Natalie Cole, we don’t think about them NOT being here. We just see them. And if you grow up as I did after the peak of their careers, it’s easy to view them as a staple, a part of the cultural landscape. They’ve always been there, always will be. And no matter how many “only the good die young” posts that circulate our timelines, it’s hard to grasp how rare they really are.

Media is good at desensitizing us to anything of value. Media quickly makes everything a dime a dozen, a sensationalized headline. It makes legends and…not-so-legends on the same plane of fame and talent. If you don’t search for your own experience, your own knowledge, then you quickly lose the significance. An artist, like the many we’ve lost in recent years, often becomes another big name without us understanding why the name’s important, and who the person is.

I think about the living legends we have left and the ones who are creating their legacies now, and I wouldn’t dare miss their impact on our lives. We should raise our children to recognize the artistic and cultural jewels around them. We shouldn’t have to lose something to know its importance, yet that’s where we find ourselves so many times: identifiable by the things we no longer have.

This week alone we also lost WWE great Chyna and actress Doric Roberts. Let’s take this as a lesson to admire the people in our lives and the legends who have helped shape our world. If there’s someone whose work you don’t know about or quite understand, take some time to learn about it! You don’t have to become their next fan, you don’t even have to like them, but a little knowledge won’t hurt. Pay homage to the people who have created and innovated, especially the artists who give so much of themselves to all of us.If you’ve ever bopped your head to a lyric, laughed at a clip on TV, or grooved to a song, take a moment to show your appreciation – while they are living. See a show, write a letter, share an experience with a friend. Don’t let a life end without realizing the greatness before you. 

Today is my first Free Thinking Friday, so I decided in honor of Prince, the motto for this series will be his quote:

“If you set your mind free baby, maybe you’d understand.”