Death Be Not Proud

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

This is a post I’ve been putting off…initially I was going to write about David Bowie’s death and how amazing an experience it was to hear his album, Blackstar, which dealt with mortality, two days prior to his death and how the album actually saw me through my grieving process. It was a very strange experience…I think I was still adapting to a Bowie-less world when I had heard Prince was sick on an airplane. Hm that’s weird news I thought….though not entirely beyond the pale because he was doing a solo piano tour. Then I was out having lunch with a friend in a cafeteria style food court on 34th street on April 21st when I heard one Prince song on the radio and then another and on the third song I asked my cohort to look for news on the internet when the DJ came on and announced that Prince had died. I was immediately stricken. My main influences when I was a teenager were David Bowie, Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), Prince, and Tom Waits. The Beatles, Yes, The Who, Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, Elvis Costello, The Clash all had their moments of varying degrees of fascination for me too but Bowie, Lou, Prince and Tom spoke to my core. It probably has something to do with the malleability of these performers. They could inhabit any character they wanted. They could raise the outcast to be greater than their oppressive circumstance. There’s a certain grace to restoring dignity to those who may have lost it or bestowing dignity upon those who never had any to begin with. I think Prince’s death struck me more immediately than David Bowie’s because of the primal connection I felt from Prince as a dancer. When music makes you move despite yourself, The funk. His sheer audacity as a performer was something to behold, smirking, sneering, and dancing like James Brown. Making sleazy acceptable is no small feat in the puritanical Western world. All of the showmanship was supported by the scope of his musical genius. He played guitar, piano, drums, you name it and didn’t just play but totally rocked whatever he was playing. The first time I had ever seen, “Written, Performed and Produced by”, on an album was Prince. I had only seen him perform once during his Lovesexy Tour. I’ll never forget it. There was a convertible Thunderbird on a track surrounding the stage which he played and sang in (undoubtedly during,’Alphabet Street’) and a little basketball court so he could shoot hoops while singing! He was a thrilling performer. While Prince’s songs were arguably less poetic than Tom, Lou and David they were certainly no less emotional. I’ll never forget when I bought ‘Parade’ at Rainbow Records on cassette and fell asleep listening to the last track, ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’, a sad ballad, and when I woke up in the morning there was snow blanketing the field….and it was April.

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