Even heroes like Prince are mortal so why is this death so hard to take?

The stories may be slipping from front pages but Prince fans are still reeling. Clem Bastow explores why his death feels so personal to her and many others

There are heroes of mine whose inevitable death Ive long dreaded, because they seemed so distressingly mortal: ageing, greying, slowing down (as one recurring thought goes, What will I do when Stephen Sondheim dies?).

I never stopped to think about how Id react if Prince died, because I had literally never thought about it: with his omnipresence and talent for reinvention, he would surely always be there.

When his Piano & A Microphone tour took in my city of Melbourne earlier this year, I couldnt afford the ticket but figured Prince would be back soon enough; perhaps this stripped-back show was just his way of gearing up towards another musically fruitful period.

Its this sense of having taken him for granted his impact, his presence, his mortality that only makes the pain more acute. Its grief infused with guilt. I cried so much my stomach puffed up like a basketball. I spent Saturday morning chastising myself for not owning many purple clothes; when did I lose touch with my colourful side and become one of those black and navy linen people? Not very purple at all.

With the exception of the 26-hour period spent glued to 89.3 The Currents alphabetical survey of his catalogue, my house hasnt been a non-stop Prince rave up since Friday because, much like I found Amy Winehouses songs almost exquisitely painful immediately after her death, I can only handle so much Prince right now. The Beautiful Ones, Adore, affirmation III, 7, Diamonds & Pearls: the heartbreakers are all strictly rationed.

Instead, I have developed an aural coping method: when the tears descend and it becomes apparent that Ive reached the limit of my daily allocation of Prince songs, its on to those tracks he wrote or performed on.

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He gave his all to us: Prince performing his first UK show at the Lyceum in London. Photograph: Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock

Then when the churning synths of Stevie Nicks Stand Back get too much, and I think of her tweeting He was my dove, and the lyric Do not turn away my friend, like a willow, I can bend becomes unbearable I shift to songs that could only hope to imitate Prince. It works, for a time at least (if youve never seen a grown woman crying to Phil Collins Sussudio on a treadmill, feel free to stop by my place).

Through it all, I havent been able to stop thinking about those photos of a free and happy Prince riding his bike around Paisley Park in the days before his death. These photos make me cry. In fact, everything makes me cry right now; I have just resigned myself to a good few weeks of tearfulness.

So why does it hurt so much? I think because he gave his all to us. His music and poetry, sure, but his health (all those knee-drops and splits in high heels!); his heart (did any star seem to care so much about you, you in particular, the way Prince did?); his eccentricities that always served to brighten a world that was frequently as dull as concrete. And, through it all, it hurts because you hope to God he knew how much he meant to us all.

Looking back, I guess I didnt realise how much he meant to me, or the extent to which Prince had always been a part of my life. My earliest memories are of my mums party cassette mixes, upon which he featured heavily Little Red Corvette and Raspberry Beret in particular.

Then, at my tiny, Catholic primary school, we had massed aerobics sessions in the quadrangle with 1999 and the Bangles Manic Monday (which Prince wrote) pumping over the crackly PA system. It felt appropriate at an underfunded school where art instruction usually extended solely to gluing silver and purple glitter on photocopied pictures of the Virgin Mary.

(I moved to another school in 1990, where Princes Batman soundtrack was a staple of after school care; as I hadnt been allowed to see the film, I wasnt sure who Partyman was but I know he both rocked the party and rocked the house.)

It wasnt until the summer of 1991, when my sister brought over a CD copy of Diamonds & Pearls, that I really connected with Prince on a personal level. That album was wild, rude bold, as my aunt, or indeed Prince himself, would put it and beautiful; many of its tracks are still my favourites.

For a shy nine-year-old, the lenticular album art was a nice distraction from the deranged sexual abandon held within. I wasnt sure if I wanted to kiss him or be him; the rest of the time I was content to daydream about touching his bum (a habit that continues to this day) .

In the words of Heather Havrilesky another Catholic white girl whose world was swiftly expanded by Princes teachings from her beautiful eulogy: While the rest of the world was flat-lining, Prince was an explosion of colour and sensual delights. Prince was an around-the-clock sacred orgasm in human form. Coincidentally, around the same time, I discovered a Dirty Mind-era photo of him in a book of Rolling Stone clippings.

Even as my adolescent tastes explored Britpop, big beat, musical theatre and the inevitable 90s alternative artists, Prince was always there; later, when I was a baby-faced 21-year-old DJ during the New Rock Revolution, my mums copies of 1999 and Around The World In A Day would fill dance floors when revellers tired of the Strokes and other pretenders. I found my own copy of Purple Rain in a church op-shop and played it until it went smooth.

Youll notice all the Is that have brought us to this point. The magnitude of Princes contribution to music, art, sex and philanthropy and, thus, how keenly his absence will be felt is almost incomprehensible, so the only way to process his loss is by making it personal. In the plain and compassionate words of Neil Kulkarni: Of course, what you mourn at first, is yourself. What other things did Prince have to teach me that Ill never know?

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If it hurts this much for me, I cant begin to imagine what some of my friends are feeling: the fanzine-makers, the musicians, the ones who have Love Symbol tattoos, the ones whove travelled to Minnesota to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

As more stories have emerged about Princes philanthropy and committed mentoring of women artists, my sorrow has begun to grapple with the magnitude of the loss of a Good Man. To once again demonstrate my deep uncoolness, this time by paraphrasing Feargal Sharkey: a good man these days is hard to find.

One of the things I felt most keenly while reflecting on David Bowies death and the two artists are often mentioned in the same breath was the gradual realisation that Bowies androgyny and lyrical sensitivities were in many ways superficial. Underneath the glitter, he turned out to be just another opportunistic 1970s rock star with a taste for young blood.

Prince was different, which was reflected in his work; Women, not girls, as his war cry ran. As the music critic Robert Christgau wrote this week of Princes musical legacy, Lubricious, solicitous, insinuating, polymorphous, sometimes ungendered, his singing was confident without cock-rock aggression friendly, good-humoured, there for you. Beyond the stage, too, Prince always seemed so ethical.

My cousin, the singer/songwriter Krista Polvere, shared a beautiful story about meeting Prince in a nightclub in the 90s. I told him I was only 16 looking older than my years undoubtedly, made up and all and he took on a very concerned demeanour, she writes. This is where he showed his character as a man and since then Ive always been such an admirer. Prince requested that his limo service drive us girls home safely [but] I explained it was a fair way. He wasnt concerned and said he would wait in the club for the driver to get back.

This week, as the news stories have begun to slip from the front page, it feels a little like our collective roles have been swapped: now were in the club, waiting for Prince to come back.

My mum and I went to the pub for a counter tea on Monday; the covers band tore into a clearly hastily rehearsed but heartfelt Prince set and I cried into my parma. After a couple of songs, we gave in and went to the band room to watch. They played the whitest dad-rock version of Purple Rain to have ever existed, while people made out and cried and danced. It should have been awful but somehow it was perfect: it proved that Princes influence was universal and his legacy is indestructible.

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His legacy is indestructible: Prince performs during Super Bowl XLI in Miami in 2007. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/apr/27/heroes-like-prince-die-all-the-time-so-why-is-this-one-so-hard-to-shake

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