Figuring out how to be alone in public is an unwritten rule of becoming a New Yorker, one that’s learned, not taught. The night of Prince’s death, I caught myself on the verge of tears a few times. I ultimately didn’t cry, which is fine; we all have our own ways of mourning.
Spike Lee’s way of mourning was to shut down the street in front of his 40 Acres studio in Fort Greene to throw a block party and play nothing but Prince. I decided that this would be the place where I would sing and dance — and possibly finally cry. Riding my bike over, I could hear the second verse of “Let’s Go Crazy” playing; it’s a song that adopted a heavier meaning in this new context. I locked my bike up and waded through the crowd to attempt my “alone in public” mourning ritual, and quickly discovered that it was an impossible task.
First I danced alongside a woman named Tonya Taylor, who made sense of his death by driving up from Philly to attend the party. I asked what Prince’s legacy meant to her, and while she appreciated his nonconformist spirit, it was her six-year-old son, Lukka, who blurted out, “Music is magic!” — the most succinct yet profound meditation on life that I’d hear all night. Shortly after that I found myself in conversation with the Cipher Show podcast host Shawn Setaro, who wondered if there was anything that Prince wasn’t capable of doing. “He had a number one hit song without a bassline!” he quipped. Local recording artist Elucid reminded me that “Prince represented freedom and bravery,” while the Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based producer Marco Polo stressed that Prince was about “progression and not caring what anyone else was doing.”
The air is always electric in Brooklyn, but last night it was unusually intense. What was meant to be my moment of emotional reckoning left me so charged that I biked from Fort Greene to Williamsburg, to check out Questlove’s DJ set at Brooklyn Bowl. I pushed past massive lines that snaked by either side of the building and, once inside, discovered everyone from Jean Grae to Maya Rudolph to Talib Kweli to Chris Rock, all paying their respects along with a packed crowd that just wanted to party like it was 1999 — one more time — for Prince. If tonight was electric, this was the power plant.
Mortals die, but Prince wasn’t human, he was purple, and colors, at worst, run — maybe even bleed — but they don’t die. And you know, I don’t own anything purple, but that’s OK. That color belonged to Prince, and honestly, I’ve never felt worthy of rocking his hue. It was like flying too close to the sun, and only served as a reminder that I’d never be as good a musician as he was. His music is depressingly good, the type of good that almost makes you want to quit.
Back at home, I let go of a day’s worth of tears, hoping the waning buzz I felt didn’t become a hangover and praying that I’d wake up and find all of this a bad dream. I probably would be hungover and Prince would still be gone, but he’s left the world a little more purple, and helped me find my place in it.