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When the Death of an Artist Feels Like Losing a Friend

The recent death of Prince came as a shock to music lovers the world over. Many, many fans and critics have already paid written tribute to Prince and his music, having a far longer history with the artist and a much deeper knowledge of his output than me. I only ever saw Prince live once (and reviewed his performance, here). There are many people more qualified to write eloquent and heartfelt homages to his brilliant legacy than me, so I’ll leave that to them, but needless to say, I was truly saddened by the tragedy of his passing.

Instead, I wanted to reflect on why the death of a musician can have such a profound impact on some of us, despite the fact that that we may have never even met them. Is it natural to react with a genuine sense of grief upon learning of their deaths?

As fans, we form relationships with the artists we cherish and admire. Their music provides us with an avenue to understanding them both as creative beings and as real people.

So many of the musicians I love volunteer their own intensely personal experiences, emotions, fears, loves, longings, failures, philosophies and reflections through song. When they share with us the kind of intimacies that even the closest of friends will sometimes keep from each other, we can’t help forming a sort of personal connection, an empathetic bond beyond mere fandom. And because musical expression, (maybe more so than any other art form), has a fluidity of meaning between artist and audience, the creators of the songs we connect with most deeply help us make sense of our own identities. Their music becomes part of our own self-expression, and provides us with immense joy, sadness, courage, comfort and companionship.

If losing a beloved artist can sometimes feel like losing not just an icon or a hero, but a friend, in a way, it’s because we truly have.

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