“Time, time, hear the bells chime
Over the harbor and the city
Time, one more vodka and lime
To help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick”
Time the Avenger – The Pretenders 1984
So it happened again last week – another musical icon from my youth passed away. This time it was The Purple One – the genius that was Prince. I remember seeing Prince’s movie, “Purple Rain” at Film Society night in college, with everyone in the audience singing along to the songs. It was one of those times that kind of stick in your mind, bringing a smile back to your face as you recall how tuneless everyone was.
Prince’s death came during a particularly poignant week for me, during which a confluence of issues and events forced me to take stock and realize (finally?) that I am not as young as I once was. The passing of yet another significant pop culture figure from my childhood – especially someone who was only ten years older than me – made me confront an uncomfortable truth about the passage of time – namely that it stops for no-one, no matter how much you try to ignore it, or how much moisturizer you slap on.
My eldest daughter is 10 years old and about to finish up 4th grade. Within our school district, elementary school ends at 4th grade and the kids move up to an “Intermediate” school for 5th and 6th grade, before entering Middle School (7th and 8th), and then High School. Although this arrangement was originally formed to relieve overcrowding in the elementary schools, it has taken on a sort of “rite of passage” feeling, with the kids “moving up” to Big School.
As a result, the last few weeks of 4th grade are full of events and commemorations, as they wave goodbye to their “little kid” years. After receiving a reminder about the events, I got an unusually moving email from my husband, Tim, who remarked that he had suddenly experienced a wave of sadness after realizing that the school year was almost over and that his little girl was growing up. Tim is not known for his sentimentality, and this admission brought a lump to my throat. Such milestones really bring home how swift the passage of time can be. When my daughter celebrated her 10th birthday earlier this year, Tim and I sat quietly for a bit, both of us a little dazed by how quickly the years had flown by since we first brought that tiny, helpless newborn home; when we sat looking at her in her crib wondering what on earth we were supposed to do now. Despite the fact that we literally watch our children grow up right before our eyes, their aging doesn’t really register until Real Life smacks us in our faces and reminds us that they are not babies anymore.
On a considerably more superficial level, I had an epiphany earlier in the week as I wandered around our local shopping mall. For years, I have bought clothes from “Free People”, a boutique chain whose sibling stores include Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. They sell boho-chic style clothes and accessories, and a good 90% of my closet space contains items that I have bought there. However, for the first time, after browsing the racks, it struck me that I couldn’t really wear most of their stock as I felt that I would look silly and cartoonish. I had visions of my daughters looking at me and shaking their heads because I was too old to realistically pull an outfit off. I left the store for possibly the first time, without buying anything – not a trinket, purse, scarf or belt. Not that I am about to start wearing tweedy twin-sets and sensible shoes, but I feel that I should be more circumspect in my choices. The thought that I could be seen as “mutton dressed as lamb” is enough to make me put down the tube top and short-shorts…
Then on top of this existential crisis, came the news that Prince had died. Gen X-ers, such as myself, remember his songs, his videos on MTV (itself now an anachronism), and the time when he was a “squiggle” (the Artist Formerly Known As…) In those pre-Internet days, as we battled through the trials of adolescence, music played a meaningful role in our lives, acting as touchstones for places, events, and people. Certain songs can still bring back memories – sometimes joyful, sometimes bittersweet – and I worry that the 24/7 sensory overload of social media will smother the cathartic power of music for my daughters and their generation.
Prince pointedly observed that “Life is a party, but parties aren’t meant to last.” Unfortunately, I’m not certain that – even as my brain is slowly turning to acceptance – my heart is ready for the after-party hangover.