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Dr Everything L.B. Alright

My system broke down upon returning to New York. I say “system” because I believe this is how it works, much like a car with a small, untreated mechanical concern eventually necessitating complete overhaul. Somebody told me the that I “think too much” recently, and while this is undoubtedly true, the opposite approach can kill one, too. Unless of course you’re blessed with the rare but fortunate condition of genuine stupidity .. but this is nothing to bank on. I sat next to a guy on the Jet Blue red-eye who hacked, open-mouthed, for the entire cross-country trip while not making a single effort to cover himself. Spittle flew everywhere. Eventually I draped my sweater over my head like some nutty, cross-country Arabian sheikh relegated to coach. I won’t mention my hacking co-traveler’s nationality, lest I label myself xenophobic racist on top of over-thinker. But let’s just say his mother never taught him to cover his mouth when he coughed, and whether this is a cultural or personal trait I don’t trust it. I stared daggers at one point when his droplets literally sprayed my TV screen from across the aisle but he simply stared back at me with a look that said “soon you will know this sickness, too.” All of which probably wouldn’t be relevant had my system not been vulnerable .. specifically my brain. I sincerely believe there are times when you literally can’t get sick, no matter what kind of germ incubator you’re trapped in and how many virulent, airborne particles you’re breathing in. But this wasn’t one of those times.

Merle Haggard died shortly before I left Northern California and Prince after I returned east and was in the throes of this brief illness. I wrote recently that there are “a lot of people dying of late,” but the reality is closer to an observation I made at a friend’s funeral when I wasn’t even thirty. “The older you get, the more dead people you know.” I brought up David Bowie with my niece while driving her to middle school when I was back in San Francisco and she (understandably) asked “who was he?” This is the true advantage of youth — not the effortless vigor or having your entire life in front of you — but the not being familiar with as many dead people. I can recall my grandmother being upset when Jack Benny died and making the comment “he was always thirty-nine.” I didn’t get the reference then, but I do now and am sad that Jack is no longer around. This is the converse of youth; with age you not only mourn the dead of your generation, you actually go back and acknowledge the passing of those from previous ones. Or I do anyway, but this likely speaks to the over-thinking thing and my niece will be too busy grieving Taylor Swift’s long and slow decline to ever give a shit about the Thin White Duke.

Getting back to Prince .. bummer. I sincerely believe that music can bridge gaps between those who share nothing else in common. Of course the reverse can be equally true and people can be driven even further apart by their divergence in musical taste. But Prince bridged more gaps than he widened. You needn’t be into his electronic funk, religious pontification nor symbol-for-name offshoots. Perhaps, like the young rockheads who yelled “fag” when he opened for the Stones at the L.A. Coliseum in ’81, you were never a fan of his sexually ambiguous, leather-bikini-brief-wearing style. (Although, unlike Bowie, “androgynous” wouldn’t be the first word I’d assign to the cat.) But if you ever played, attempted to play, or simply appreciated someone else who could play an instrument, Prince was hard to deny. This medley clip of the lad strapped only with a purple acoustic guitar is evidence enough. He was the exceedingly rare example of a narcissist who added more to the world than he subtracted. Five-foot-two and perennially in heels, the man knew he loomed large. Watch his 2007 Super Bowl halftime appearance for example of a guy with ice water in his veins who could still connect with an audience of a hundred million. Enough on the adulation. All his foibles, true or otherwise, being exploited in the wake of his death (an opiate addiction as result of his Jehovah’s Witness hip surgery aversion, etc.) only add to the remarkable reminder that he was like the rest of us; vulnerable to complete system break-down. But when it came to his music and how he put it out there — however and whatever it took to put it out there — he was unique and one bad man.

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