As everyone knows by now, gender- and genre-bending musician Prince died unexpectedly at his home in Minneapolis last week at the age of 57. It came as a tremendous shock, with the story first breaking on TMZ, then hitting social media and spreading like spilled mercury before more reputable media outlets confirmed the worst.
Instantly, the world rushed to honor Prince's memory and his music. Thousands of people posted links to their favorite Prince performances. Hundreds of musicians — professional and amateur — posted videos of themselves playing Prince songs. Cities around the world lit their bridges, overpasses, fountains, obelisks, and various other civic edifices purple. Self-professed nerds, weirdos, and shy people praised Prince for his bravery in flouting gender and racial stereotypes, and for giving them the courage to become themselves. Movie theaters announced free showings of Purple Rain.
It was a sad, sad a day for everyone.
Saddest of all, I think, is the fact that Prince didn't live long enough to meet me. No doubt, he probably read my columns online, and I'm sure he laughed at some of my Twitter witticisms (I mean, who wouldn't?), but the Purple One and I never could manage to get together IRL.
I feel sad that he didn't get to know my talented and beautiful children, all grown now. Nor did he get to meet my gorgeous and brilliant wife. (I think the two of them would have gotten along famously. She loves "Little Red Corvette.") And I regret that I never got to grill my famous Korean spareribs for him while we chilled together on the back patio.
Okay, I know, I know, I shouldn't make Prince's death about me. That's terribly wrong. But so is the fact that literally within five or six hours of the news of his death, the Prince internet tsunami turned from real sadness and sincere tributes to Facebook clickbait memes like: "Which Prince Song Was Written for You?"; "10 Things You Didn't Know About Prince"; "The Last 6 CDs Prince Purchased"; and "Wow, I Didn't Know Prince Wrote That Song!"
It turned to CNN's Wolf Blitzer mourning the man responsible for the seminal "Purple Haze" album. It turned to Memphis television reporters broadcasting themselves lip-synching Prince songs. Prince even got "quoted" in a local meme as supporting the "no parking on the Greensward" movement.
Then came the "humor." Pictures of Prince on the $20 bill, suggesting we make it worth $19.99. Har. Or, "Why is Prince dead when the Kardashians are still alive?" Finally, there was the transgender-bathroom meme suggesting we should all just "Potty Like It's 1999."
Just stop, already.
Prince's life and music meant something to millions of people. There's no denying he was a musical genius — a man who could play any instrument and who cranked out dozens of brilliant pop records. He defied gender norms and made it look natural. By all reports, he was also a good person, who quietly gave large amounts of money to charities. He was respected and beloved in his home town of Minneapolis, which also says something good about him.
But in 2016, everyone's a pundit, a critic, a comedian — or a salesman. And whether it's just for fun or for ego gratification, or worse, for profit and exploitation, everybody wants a piece of the action.
Guess it's just a Sign O' the Times.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."