Article Apr 22, 2016

Prince: “Don’t die without knowing the cross.”

I’m still absorbing the news that Prince has died. I confess that this was like a punch in the gut for me. Little known fact: I’m a huge fan of the artist formerly known as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” His music was the soundtrack of about a decade of my young life. In some ways, that is a sad commentary because so much of what he sang about was foul and salacious. But that is not why I was listening. I was listening because he was a musical genius—a kind of post-modern cross between James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, but better than both of them.

Prince was an American original and an amazing performer. He was always doing his own thing and innovating musically. He was performing since the 70’s, but he broke-out as a superstar in 1984 with his album Purple Rain. At a time when hip-hop was just about to hit the mainstream, here was a black man making music out of metal riffs in a band that had no bass guitar. I repeat. His band had no bass guitar, and yet “Purple Rain” was one of the biggest albums (if not the biggest album) of the year. The sound was original, the harmonies mesmerizing, and I was hooked.

I was transfixed by his music for the rest of the 80’s and early 90’s. For me the high watermarks were Purple RainSign O’ the Times, and Lovesexy. I probably still know every line and note of those albums backwards and forwards. I am not recommending that you buy them. As I said, much of it was lyrically salacious. But they were also musically brilliant. I still think they are.

To this day, my favorite performance by Prince was the 2007 Super Bowl Half-Time show. I can’t think of anyone who has ever put on a more impressive performance for that event than Prince did. It actually rained during his “Purple Rain” finale. It was an unforgettable spectacle for the 100,000 people in the stadium and for the 100 million watching on television.

All of the above is what everybody knows about Prince, but none of that came to mind today when I first heard the news of his passing. What came to my mind was that he just entered into eternity and that I didn’t pray for him enough. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, he was a genius musician. But he was also a man. And it is appointed unto man once to die and then to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). His death like every death reminds us that we need to number our days because they will be over before we know it (Psalm 90:10, 12).

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the introverted genius was really thinking. Prince’s music was a window, but it was a murky one. There was the dark stuff. A lot of it. But then there was also a song titled “The Cross” from 1987’s Sign O’ the Times:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross…

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

We all have our problems
Some are big, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y’all
Will be taken by the cross

I don’t know what Prince was thinking about at the end, but I hope it was this. It is a good word, perhaps even a better one than Prince knew when he wrote it nearly thirty years ago. “Don’t die without knowing the cross.”

Prince was 57 years old when he died yesterday.

Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016).

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