A quarter of the way through a year that calls to mind nothing so much as a toddler on PCP, we are now told that Prince has died. 2016 has plowed through so many cultural icons I’ve lost count, but this one, perhaps along with Alan Rickman, is the worst for me.
I came of age in the 1980’s, and Prince’s overtly sexual, female-centric music landed on my turntable at the exact moment I was entering the confusing waters of adolescence, when my own sexuality was taking shape. Looking back at this time from the perch of midlife, I’ve always been grateful that the zeitgeist of female sexuality during my formative years was Darling Nikki, rather than, say, Anastasia Steele. The unapologetic, self-pleasuring Nikki, who horrified so many pearl-clutching elders at the time, provided a guidepost for how to be sexual as a woman: Nikki had agency. Nikki did not wait for things to be done to her; Nikki did things to men, and enjoyed it. (But not without consent: “She said, how’d you like to waste some time? And I could not resist, when I saw little Nikki grind….She said sign your name on the dotted line, the lights went out, and Nikki started to grind.”) There were no repercussions to Nikki’s assertiveness, either. Everyone had a good time.
Nikki was a role model, and a damn good one, at least for me. The rest of 80’s culture was not exactly stuffed with paeans to female sexuality. We heard a lot then, as we do today, from dudes about their sexual exploits and feelings, in which women are tangential. But Nikki’s competing example was enough.
And so now we’re here, and I’m a grown woman living a life that was formed, in part, by the semi-feminist stylings of a performer who is now gone. I’m more concerned now with the dwindling sand in my own hourglass, and the passing of the icon of my youth does nothing to alleviate that. But it turns out Prince had an answer for that too, and it’s the only satisfactory answer I’ve ever had about it:
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s cuz
We’re all gonna die
And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all 4 (What’s it all 4)
U better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door
This is why we mourn the famous, as I wrote when Bowie and Rickman died. They may not have known us, but we knew them. And in turn, they impacted us. And still do.