Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Lesson in Empathy

I grew up in Iowa, but have little warm feelings toward the place. It's not that I actively dislike it, I just don't really care about it. My parents moved away from the hometown where I grew up about 5 years ago, and I don't think I've so much driven through the state since then, and I can't for the life of me conceive of when I would ever end up back in my hometown for basically any reason. Again, I don't feel any over antipathy toward the place, I just don't feel any meaningful connection. Even though I spent the first 23 years of my life in Iowa, and it undoubtedly shaped me in many ways, I just don't really care about it.

I moved to Minneapolis shortly before my 23rd birthday and immediately felt at home. My dad hails from Northern MN, and trips to Minneapolis were often the most exciting part of my childhood growing up. For whatever ineffable reasons, I always felt much more connection to and affection toward Minnesota. I remember once having a talk with my brother over some beers about how it just made so much sense to move to Minneapolis as we both did, because we both always felt much more like Minnesotans than Iowans. And now that my folks have moved up to Minneapolis from my childhood home, pretty much all of my connections to Iowa are severed.

Which is all a long way of saying I consider Minnesota my home.

I've also never understood why people get so incredibly upset about celebrity deaths. I mean, I get why people are sad when some artist or performer they enjoy passes, but I never understood getting legitimately upset about it. After all, it's not like you've ever met. That celebrity doesn't know you,  doesn't know shit about you, and doesn't care about you. Getting upset over their death just seems...odd. In fact, I'm pretty certain I lost some friends for life when I gently suggested it was weird how upset people got over the death of David Bowie, someone they've never even met.

But then Prince died.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Frankly, it was fairly confusing. I mean, I'd long been a Prince fan and appreciated everything about his musical genius. But it genuinely felt like a close relative had died. I don't know that I've ever been more homesick for the Twin Cities than I was seeing all the spontaneous dance parties and tributes and all other forms of collective mourning happening in the immediate wake of his death. It felt like I was missing a relative's funeral in that way that I felt like I should be there. Like I needed to be around friends and family just to process this.

In trying to figure out why the death of someone I've never met affected me so much, especially given my previous stance of thinking this was an insane way to react, I think I've settled on the fact that we shared a hometown.

Prince loved Minneapolis and Minneapolis loved Prince. Here's a pre-fame Prince in 1979 explaining that Minneapolis is his home and he'll always stay. And stay he did. Paisley Park right there out in the burbs. While pretty much every other famous person runs away to find their fame and fortune in more glamorous environs, Prince stayed. He could often be found at Vikings games. After the Lynx won their last WNBA championship, he brought them back to Paisley for a post-championship concert. He wasn't just a celebrity from Minnesota, he was a celebrity of Minnesota.

It's a pretty strong contrast to the state's other famous musical export. Dylan pretty famously got out of Minnesota fairly quickly, landing in the NY folk scene before he was out of his teens. And he never really came back, not in any meaningful sort of way. While there's a lot about him that clearly stamps him as being a Minnesota product, you get the feeling the place is no more than a tour stop to him. Minnesota seems to be to Dylan as Iowa is to me -- a place you're from, not too much more.

And I think that's what makes Prince's passing so intense. We both claim Minneapolis; I as an immigrant who fell in love with it and have more connection there than anywhere else, he as the most favorite native son. It's a pretty tenuous connection, sure, but I'm obviously not alone in feeling it, if the thousands who spontaneously poured into downtown last Thursday are any indication.

So now I get it. I get why people can be so saddened by the death of someone they don't know or ever met. I mean, I'm not a monster -- I understood the basic process of it. But as with so many things, actually experiencing it is a hell of a lot different than understanding it on an intellectual level.

So in addition to eating this big ol' slice of humble pie, I think I've got a little bit more empathy in my angry, withered heart. That's Prince for ya, still teaching us all valuable lessons we didn't even know we needed to learn.

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