By Tommy Hough
We were wrapping up Beer for Breakfast in the 91X studio when there was that familiar disturbance in the collective force. Something was not right. Somewhere, you could tell the wheels had come off.
Ever since David Bowie's death at the beginning of the year things haven't felt right. It's an election year. People are armed and angry but can't quite explain what they're angry about. It's a nervous, neurotic time.
I responded to the bulletin, as I tend to respond in any breaking news situation, by falling back on the training I received long ago at Ohio University and in my first few broadcasting jobs: get the facts straight, don't assume, don't speculate, be clear on what is happening and be sure you have at least two sources (three is better) before making a call or announcing something of significance.
Don't guess. Don't tell people what you don't know.
These days, the added concern of internet hoaxes and pranks requires an even greater level of certainty before moving forward. It's important to get things straight – especially before you get down to breaking hearts and dispensing news that is too unfathomable to believe.
We did all of that today, and the news was still the same. Just as it was when we lost David Bowie. And Lemmy. And Scott Weiland. I've been at 91X for a year and I've already delivered too many on-air eulogies for musical icons and heroes.
Yes, people die every day. Yes, there is tragedy all around us: on the news, on the freeways, in hospitals, homes, doctor's offices, and prisons.
What brings color and happiness and buoyancy to all the moments of our lives – whether reflective, sad or happy – is music. And when we lose a giant, especially suddenly, it hurts. It hurts because it intrudes on still-immediate memories of youth, and moments of joy, romance, sorrow, and all the peaks and valleys of life in between when nothing else can speak to you quite like a song.
A few weeks ago I asked on the air "where to begin" when it comes to expressing the extent of David Bowie's legacy. I could answer it a thousand ways and never describe it the same way twice. Is there any doubt the ability to put a finger on Prince's extraordinary legacy of music – live shows and records – and his impact on all of our lives at this point, just hours after his death, will remain just as elusive?
It's elusive because we still can't believe it. It's elusive because we're still remembering moments: humming along to "Raspberry Beret." Air guitaring to the end of "Purple Rain." Hearing "Let's Go Crazy" at a moment you really need it. Pleasantly realizing it's Saturday night as "Little Red Corvette" sneaks up on the iPod, or getting down to The Black Album or "U Got the Look" on a night best forgotten. Or Musicology. Or Controversy. Or 1999. Even Prince's throwaways became vital album tracks.
Like the greatest artists, Prince's biggest songs are beloved, and make up a unique vocabulary and cultural point of reference for all of us.
Prince long ago transcended music and became a point of common consciousness, and a part of all of our lives. So of course you feel loss today.
Don't give yourself, or the music, anything less.
RIP Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958 – 2016.
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host at 91X and FM 94/9, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant with the ReWild Mission Bay campaign, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.