Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince and Bowie: Other Ways To Live, Other Ways To Be A Man

Two thoughtful, spot-on essays about Prince and Bowie.

Mourning Prince and David Bowie, who showed there’s no one right way to be a man
By Alyssa Rosenberg April 21 at 3:47 PM for The Washington Post

When the news came this afternoon that Prince had died at 57 at his home in Minnesota, a chorus went up that it was the latest cruelty of 2016, a year that already feels merciless in those it’s claimed, four months along.

But if the deaths of Prince, and Bowie, and Chyna, and Harper Lee taken together feel like a moment of catastrophic generational turnover, the loss of Prince and Bowie represent a more specific calamity. We’re in a moment in American politics consumed by gender panic, from Donald Trump’s menstrual anxieties to the rise of and backlash to a movement for transgender rights. And now we’ve lost two men who had an expansive, almost luxuriant vision of what it meant to be a man and lived out that vision through decades when it was much less safe to do so.

Both Prince and Bowie often seemed more than merely human. Bowie was an ageless vampire in “The Hunger,” a human manifestation of an alien being as Ziggy Stardust, the rock star from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Prince left language behind to adopt what became known as the “Love Symbol” as his moniker; his death prompted many people to remark that mortality seemed like the only garment that didn’t fit him, that he had transubstantiated or ascended rather than truly died.

But if conventional notions of gender were only one of the things that didn’t constrain Bowie and Prince, their transcendence of this particular category is still a particularly significant part of their legacies. In the clothes they wore, the lean bodies they lived in, the way they positioned themselves in their music and art, their relationships to LGBT communities and in so many other ways, Prince and Bowie were living arguments that there is no one way, and no correct way for a man to dress, to move, to decide what he values, to choose who he loves or where he stands in relation to that person.

And that transcendence and transgression weren’t just about what Prince and Bowie did in their own lives; it was in what they made other people want to do to them. Mick Jagger may have had an affair with David Bowie, but everyone wanted to sleep with Prince, even when they didn’t want to want him.

The critic Hilton Als began his 2012 essay in Prince in Harper’s with a long recounting of a 2002 stand-up comedy special from Jamie Foxx that gets at the sexual panic Prince inspired. In the joke, Foxx talks about going backstage at a Prince show, looking in the Artist’s eyes, and trying to manage his own reaction: first, denying that what he felt for Prince made him gay, then insisting that if they had sex that Foxx would be the active partner.

Fourteen years ago, when Foxx aired that routine, marriage equality wasn’t yet the law in a single state, much less the settled law of the land. Foxx’s special was just three years removed from the trial of Aaron McKinney for the killing of Matthew Shepard, where McKinney’s lawyers tried to use a so-called “gay panic” defense. And Prince had been inspiring that sort of unease for decades.

There are wry notes of regret in Als’s essay, about the choices Prince made to become famous and when he became famous, about the sacrifice of “the girl Prince had been before he stopped being a girl: outrageous and demanding.” But even when Prince stepped onto larger, more mainstream stages, his presence could still be radical.

It’s true that in recent years, the Super Bowl halftime show has often been a showcase for women in the midst of a clash between men. Madonna, trying to make what was once seem daring relevant in a changing culture; Katy Perry’s schlocky self-coronation; Beyoncé’s transition from packaged pop as part of Destiny’s Child to militant excellence as a solo artist. But if these performances act as an argument that men and women can each be powerful in their own spheres and on their own terms, Prince’s appearance on the Super Bowl stage in 2007 was an argument, at this particular worship service dedicated to traditional masculinity, for a vastly huger range of possible ways for a man to command the nation.

What other person could take that very particular stage in a head wrap and end his performance with his guitar posed as a symbol of male sexual virility — which, of course it was — silhouetted on a giant scale and make it all feel like an effortless, coherent whole, without a hint of overcompensation? I adore Bruce Springsteen, but his crotch-first slide into a television camera two years later felt decidedly less vital.

57 is awfully early for anyone to die, but it feels especially so for Prince; he never reminded us that he was growing older by trying to seem young. Now he’s gone before we could possess him as fully as he always invited us to. But we’ll continue on into the weirder, more beautiful world he seemed to be living in decades before the rest of us arrived there.

Originally in The Washington Post

Prince and David Bowie showed us another way to live
By Nate Scott April 21, 2016 3:29 pm for USAToday

David Bowie and Prince are dead.

If feels unreal. The feeling of denial abounded on Thursday, after the death of Prince was confirmed: No. This can’t be real. This is all a bad dream.

I felt it as strongly as anyone. It couldn’t be real because both Prince and Bowie never really felt real. People that talented, that beautiful, that unique … they couldn’t be of this earth, and thus, they couldn’t die. They were otherworldly. As I wrote of Bowie when he died in January, he “never felt like a person who was born … he simply appeared, materialized from the ether, a magical embodiment of everything creative and cool in the universe.”

It also felt unreal because of what the two artists meant to so many people. For anyone who ever felt strange, or like a misfit, Bowie and Prince were more than people. They were gods. They were two musicians who meant more than their music; they were meaningful because of who they were.

They showed us that there was another way to live.

Many of us believe we are special flowers. We are not. Very few people on earth can resist the urge to latch onto a movement, whatever that movement may be. We define ourselves by the people we admire, by the things we like, but we define ourselves by others. There is nothing wrong with this. We all do it. We do this because it’s easy, and we do it because we are all very desperate to not be alone.

Prince and Bowie didn’t do that. They had no interest in it, really. They did their own thing. Prince wore purple blouses and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and rode around in light-up roller skates because he thought it was beautiful and interesting and it all made him happy. David Bowie dyed his hair pink and bleached his skin and imagined himself an alien sent from outer space. They checked no boxes. They adhered to no existing ideas about identity, or masculinity. They created it as they went.

This is terrifying, if you think about it, and sort of insane. Think about how genius you have to be, think about how confident you have to be to decide that you will not adhere to what anyone else on earth thinks is acceptable or cool. You will define what is cool. That is nuts, a little bit. You may think you look good, but what if everyone else just thinks you look like a crazy person? If you’re the only person alive doing it, how would you ever even know?

There is bravery in the way Prince and Bowie lived, and foolishness, but for people who grew up feeling like they didn’t fit in, it was liberating. When I first saw Prince wailing away on that paisley Telecaster, or saw Bowie, snowy white, singing Starman, it blew my mind. They were cool. They were the coolest. I knew that inherently, even as a kid. And yet they were unlike anyone I knew who was cool. How was that possible?

The loss of these two artists feels especially tragic because of the year in which we lose them. We like to curse 2016 for taking these two men, as if a year can be responsible, but at a time when political movements are built on anger and the ostracizing of others, when laws are being passed out of fear of those that are different, we need more people like Prince and Bowie. People who can show us it’s OK. It’s OK to define yourself however you want to.

And because this is 2016, and this is the internet, there will be backlash. Bowie was rightfully criticized for his relationships with underage women. I’m sure Prince has moments that will haunt him. Sinead O’Connor says she and Prince once got in a fist fight over the song Nothing Compares 2 U. It’s details like these that can break the spell around these men, and remind us that indeed that’s what they were — men. Living souls who were imperfect, and who are now gone.

We all must make our peace with Bowie and Prince, and all the other artists we adore who are flawed. Some people can’t do it. Others can. What’s more important, I think, is that now, even in death, these two men will continue to show other people that originality is real, that art is alive, that cool is what we make it.

In small towns across America, around the world, there are kids who feel like they don’t belong. They haven’t been to New York City yet, or London or Tokyo or Johannesburg or Berlin, haven’t seen the weirdos and the freaks, and they don’t know that there is something else out there. And then one day they’ll stumble across Prince, or Bowie, or maybe both, and they’ll see that there’s more, and they won’t feel so alone.

Originally in FTW!Culture USAToday

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