We live in a culture that celebrates the celebrity. Sports figures, musical artists and actors often become cultural touch stones giving our lives an element of definition. We are drawn to celebrities like Greek mythological characters who climb to great heights only to stumble and fall. There seems to be something in our psyche that likes to see the great humbled and sometimes even restored.
In this past year we’ve lost some great artists who touched the hearts of many. We continue to be touched by the suicide of the great comedian and actor, Robin Williams. The manic artistry of Williams was with us for thirty years. We laughed at his comedic timing and were touched by his dramatic skill in films such as Dead Poets Society and Goodwill Hunting. When he took his life we felt like we had lost a dear friend. We sensed in his manic energy that there was a deep vulnerability about him. We saw this in him, because we know this same vulnerability lives in us too.
This past week we learned that Prince a musical genius had died at age 57. His was a life that defied boundaries. He refused to be dictated by the recording industry even to the point that he stopped using his name and replaced it with a symbol. While we sang and danced to his hits like ‘Little Red Corvette’ and his classic film/music composition, ‘Purple Rain’, we were inspired by his fierce independence and capacity to create and re-create.
Both Prince and Robin Williams brought with them an element of artistic genius. Yet, it is their human vulnerability and strength that spoke to us most deeply. Each operated on a different playing field than the rest of us, yet connected to our shared desire to be honest and authentic. This past week, on the floor of the Minneapolis House of Representatives, Representative Peggy Flanagan, led her fellow legislators in singing the hippest song ever, Purple Rain. Rep. Flanagan was accompanied by a key board player and on the chorus by her fellow legislators. (Surely, not the hippest of choirs). But as I listened, I found I was moved by the sincerity with which they sang. Prince had remained in Minnesota. For all his fame, for all his genius, he hadn’t forgotten his roots. That is why they sang.
Artists have a capacity to inspire. Yes, we have the mindless drivel of Reality TV and the self-absorption of celebrities whose only motivation is ‘Look At Me!’ Yet, on occasion, there come along artists who transcend their medium and speak to values that are universal, that are inspirational, that are honest and authentic. In thinking of Robin and Prince and all the good they have done, I echo a blessing from the Bible: ‘Well done, good and faithful servants, well done.’