Sam Smith - With the reactions to the passing of Prince, I was reminded again of the many different ways that which music affects people. Music is the one art to which we not only react but subconsciously incorporate into our being. It often becomes the sound of our experience, whether that experience is protest, youth, trouble or love. Our own joy, excitement and tragedy becomes defined in part by what we heard while it was all happening.
You can hear it now in the things people said about Prince such as Carol E who commented, "His music, his art, his humanity, and his being, will always remain a part of my life. He will always be my friend."
When Prince came along, I had been playing with bands, including my own, for over two decades and was in my forties. If I was never a Prince fan it was in no small part because I had already subconsciously absorbed the background for my life. And I could no more ditch Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Miles Davis than a younger person could be expected to give up the musical environment that helped to define his or her life. This was not an objective choice, but the inevitable result of experience.
Still, I know what his fans are feeling. For my crowd, back in the beat fifties, part of the rejection of what was happening in mainstream America included absorbing sounds that seemed to say no as well. And even though the civil rights movement was just gearing up, some of us white college students had no problem identifying more with black jazz musicians than with the purported intellectual and cultural gods of their own ethnicity.
And a note I made in that period suggests how music was not just something to play or listen to, it was a regular part of us:
Played for an hour at the Cafe Mozart with Don and Larry. We then went up to my pad where a party was in progress consisting of people I knew only slightly. Don had his date and another girl along. About a half hour later, Don passed out cold, so I laid him on Rocky's bed and took the two girls down to dinner. When we came back, Don was still sleeping so I opened all the windows in the room and the cold night air brought him around. One half hour later he was playing sax at a dance.Thus, though I never heard Prince play, I understand his fans' sense of loss. Our tastes may vary greatly, but whatever generation and whatever the context, we share the gift of music as the the ecological backdrop for some of the most important moments of our life.