By PAM HARBAUGH
So the Rock ‘n Roll Rapture continues, it seems.
This time, it took Prince.
His unexpected death is shaking the whole world. Monuments have been bathed in purple, including the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls. Social media is still the go-to place for people to share videos and stories. And speaking of stories, we’re beginning to hear that Prince left not only a treasure of music but also a legacy of generosity.
Even Saturday Night Live is responding. They will air “Goodnight Sweet Prince” at 11:30 p.m. (Eastern) tonight. Here’s a little video of what to expect on that broadcast.
Goodnight Sweet Prince. Tonight at 11:30.https://t.co/uDCNR0dVCU
— Saturday Night Live (@nbcsnl) April 23, 2016
It’s rather fitting that SNL is making reference to “Hamlet” in the name of their special…because today also marks not only the birthday but the 400 anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. So allow me to do the same: A lot of people, me included, are having a hard time with all these departures from this mortal coil. And it’s not just because they are celebrities. It’s much more complicated.
It’s because they are artists.
People like David Bowie and Prince become a generation’s priests, helping us to parse the world. Leading us from naivete to awareness, they are potent sirens taking us into a deep, wide current. We feel, at least for a while, immortal before we crash upon reality.
That’s a powerful thing. And that can be a righteous thing. But it’s not new phenomenon: It’s theater as religion.
The idea that theater and religion coincide is not radical. Theater was born out of religious ritual. Do 5th century BC…ancient Greece…Dionysus ring a bell?
First, you have to give in that rock ‘n roll is theater. Now, zoom out and you widen your perspective. The actual theater building is often called a temple by its practitioners. We have an audience/congregation, a stage/chancel, props/icons, costumes/robes, music/hymns and a libretto/sermons.
And then you have the artists reading their words, or singing their words – designed to give us comfort, or discomfort; to enlarge our minds, soften our hearts, call us to action. They teach us to go boldly into that Valley of the Shadow and they hold our hand along the way.
I look at that amazing video of Prince on stage by himself, holding an acoustic guitar and so sweetly communing with his congregation. A shepherd leading his flock. You can watch it here:
These artists’ voices are just so damned important in our lives and when they leave us, it’s like a kick in the gut.
And, yes, sometimes shallow celebrities climb onto those pedestals. But really, if something terrible happened to (fill in the blank with the soup of the day) would it really resonate personally?
When it comes to those people who have blazed across our world with God-given talent, and given us deep joy and great laughter and huge smiles and set our hearts pounding and basically made us feel like we belonged to something bigger than ourselves and that we were important and that we were alive…they are the artists who enrich our lives.
How can someone like that not become our own beloved? How can you not grieve when they die? They are family.
Photo by nicolas genin – originally posted to Flickr as Prince, People au Défilé Channel, Printemps-Eté 2010, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8014491