I’ve always secretly made fun of those folks who get all emotional when a public figure dies. No matter what effect their work had on your life, I didn’t understand how an actor or singer or whoever dying would cause you to show public grief.

I think I understand those people a little more today.

Yesterday sadness for Prince’s death slowly grew within me. I spun his tunes, I listened to the two SiriusXM stations that had his songs on repeat and were taking calls from fans, I watched MTV – which had his videos in constant rotation – and VH1 – which was showing Purple Rain on repeat – and checked in on the news channels to catch parts of their pieces. I read tribute pieces online and watched the handful of videos of his live performances that he could not get removed from YouTube. All that slowly combined to make me pretty damn sad by the end of the night. At one point I was reading tributes that other celebrities had posted. While scrolling through those, “The Cross” came on my iPad and it was almost too much. Watching the performance of “Purple Rain” at about 12:10 AM with some bourbon in my system was not a dry-eyed moment.

I thought about how silly that was. Yes, I was sad that a man who meant so much to me had died suddenly. But why? I had not bought an album of his in nearly 20 years. The last album of his that I put in high rotation was *Diamonds and Pearls* in 1991. The majority of my best memories of Prince came from 30 years ago.[1] Those songs, videos, and movies are not disappearing with his death. I’ve been listening to them again all morning.

So why do we get sad when a person we never knew dies?

I guess a chunk of that sadness is actually our way of saying thanks. Regardless of your view of what happens to people when they die, I think being sad is a way of sending out signals that you appreciate what that person did when they were alive to contribute to your happiness.

There’s probably some kind of yearning for our youth wrapped up in it, too. But since I hate that kind of discussion, I’ll skip it.

Our own, personal grief certainly gets wrapped up in it as well. I never saw Prince live. I was supposed to back in early 1998, but came down with the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had and sold my ticket. I was so sick I went to my mom and step-dad’s house for two days and she brought me Advil and Sprite and chicken noodle soup while I laid on the couch moaning. I was thinking of that last night, and remembered that concert was about six weeks before my mom died. I’m sad my step-dad is gone, too.

You can’t help but pull these moments that are specific to your life into this larger, universal moment of sadness.

I was comforted that, through Facebook, texts, emails, and regular conversations yesterday, I saw that so many of my friends were having similar feelings. Well, I’m not happy so many of my friends were sad, but you know what I mean.

I’ve never felt that way I do now after someone I admired, but was not related to, died. In a weird way, I guess there’s no better tribute than that.

And now, “Sometimes It Snows In April” just came on and I think I need another minute to myself.

I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again

  1. The ones that stood out the strongest: seeing the “1999” video for the first time; hearing “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” constantly in the summer of 1984; the first time I heard “Raspberry Beret” and, like so many people, not appreciating its genius immediately; watching the “Kiss” video with my classic rock loving uncle, who hated every second of it.  ↩