I can’t tell you the last time I listened to a Prince song (although I know it was “Kiss.” For me, Prince always starts with “Kiss.”) And if you had asked me a week ago when was the last time I saw him perform, I’d have bet it had been decades.
But in the wake of his death last week and all the articles that have been written, I've realized I saw his Super Bowl half-time show in 2007. Whether you particularly like Prince or not, I don’t think there’s anyone that saw that show that’s likely to forget it. Though it was a downpour, he and his band were completely unphased. And he ended with Purple Rain.
It is moving of course to rewatch that performance now, but honestly, I remember it getting me weirdly choked up even back then. Somehow the rain took it out of the realm of “Super Bowl extravaganza” to a place that was much more intimate and personal. Even watching from home I felt like I was a part of something special and that it was speaking to something important inside of me.
One of the great insights of St. Ignatius of Loyola is the value of daydreams. The things that stir our hearts when our mind wanders off are worthy of our attention, St. Ignatius believed. His spirituality is actually on one level an invitation to daydream, to let our hearts and our imaginations be open and see where God leads.
And I think for a lot of us pop culture is our version of Ignatian daydreaming. The books we read, the shows we watch, the music we listen to all function as ways we take our hands off the wheel and let something else guide us, speak to us.
Prince sold almost 600,000 records in the first three days after his death. Some of that might seem ghoulish or nostalgic. But I think we also go back to his art because we know daydreaming with him has been meaningful to us in the past.
As someone tweeted after David Bowie died, “Thinking about how we mourn artists we've never met. We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” And we listen to their songs because our instincts tell us, even now we have much more we can still learn.
I came of age at the same time as Prince’s music. Songs like “Kiss,” “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” featured prominently at every college party I went to and at many of the wedding receptions that followed graduation. But it was also not an enlightened era. (Seeing the hysteria among some about allowing transgender students to choose their own bathroom suggests to me the current era still has a long way to go.)
Rewatching old Prince videos these last few days, I see his boldness in a way I didn’t back then. He didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He did what felt right and in doing so he also revealed how fun and sexy and crazy cool and right it could be just to be that strange and wonderful creature that God made you.
That’s a daydream worth revisiting. So come on Prince; take us away.
Jim McDermott, S.J., a screenwriter, is America’s Los Angeles correspondent. Twitter: @PopCulturPriest.