The unexpected death of the incomparable Prince knocked me a little off balance, and I spent a day and a night reflecting on why that is. It is true that Prince’s music painted a colorful and inspirational canvas that embellished my formative years in a small, bland Illinois town. It is true that Purple Rain—the song, the album, and the movie—was an anthem for me and for my high school classmates in the 1980s as we embraced a more open and inclusive world and separated ourselves from our more traditional parents. And it is also very true that as we all cling to the pop culture of our youth, the loss of a childhood idol exposes our psyches to our own inevitable mortality. Yet why should the death of a person I never even met cause such sadness in my heart when I have suffered the tragic and personally devastating death of my own daughter?

That uncomfortable question floated around inside of my brain all day yesterday as I mourned the passing of my favorite pop star and as I shed my tears for a loss that is so much bigger than my own connection to his music. The world is far less colorful today than it was yesterday, before we all learned the sad truth of what it really sounds like when doves cry. But that question, it haunted me. It stayed wedged there between the dozens of articles and tributes I read about Prince. It lurked in the shadows of the music videos I watched. It breathed within the melodies of Prince’s beautiful, exhilarating, and provocative music that I listened to a long, long way past midnight. I felt guilty for owning such sorrow for Prince during those weepy and nostalgic hours, but I was compelled to pay some small tribute of the importance of Prince to the teenager I was. To give up one good night’s sleep seemed a small sacrifice to honor a man whose musical brilliance and irreverence for stark categories made me love him, and whose bold androgyny, unabashed support of female artists, and unapologetic commitment to being who he was opened my eyes up to a world far beyond the confines of my provincial, white, and conservative childhood.

But still. That question. How can the death of a pop star matter to me now? As I spent the night with that question, communing with Prince, enjoying the music of my youth, and lamenting the loss of so many years between the fourteen-year-old me and the forty-nine-year-old me, I cried for Mack. I cried for me. I cried for that fabulous, diminutive Prince, who could flat-out slay a guitar solo like a king, while rocking a pair of heels, a ruffled shirt, and a purple brocade jacket like a queen. Mack was there in all those tears, but her presence was not for the purpose of eliciting regret for my emotional reaction to the death of a pop star. Rather, she was there to give license to the depth of my sorrow at the end of a life of one of the most unique artists I have ever had the great pleasure to appreciate. Since losing Mack, I am more generous with my tears, I have more empathy, and I feel the sorrows in the world more keenly. But, of course, once again, I needed my girl to show me the way. Sometime, long after midnight, in a glassy-eyed, purple fog of exhaustion, Mack whispered in my head. She said, “I know why you’re so sad. Prince got a little bit in your teenager soul, and that’s a good thing, Momma Bear. And don’t worry, because surely you remember that purple is my favorite color, too.”


Roll Down the Windows and Let It All Out

Mack loved to sing. She sang in the shower in the mornings before school. She sang in her bedroom while dancing on the bed. She sang to music blasting into her ears through her headphones in the backseat on car trips, oblivious to the existence of fellow travelers. She sang on the school bus on her way to out-of-town sporting events, leading her teammates in song and distracting them from the homework they should have been doing instead. But when Mack got her driver’s license, her old Jeep Wrangler became her favorite stage. She would roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, and sing with enough volume to overcome both the music and the Jeep’s rumbly engine. Mack was happy to serenade anyone within earshot. Carefree and unbothered about how people in the surrounding cars might judge her singing voice or her song choices, she would belt out her favorite tunes in Mack-crazy style.singing

I loved to listen to Mack sing. I loved how she would hum a pop tune while brushing her teeth or rap to Eminem in the grocery store. I loved pressing my ear against her bedroom door to listen to her sing and strum one of her guitars. I loved her singing with friends in the backseat of the car when I chauffeured them to the movies or to summer basketball tournaments. It was always a hoot to listen to them giggle and sing to twangy country songs like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” or croon like divas to Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” I loved it when Mack’s exuberant voice filled our loft with Broadway show tunes on weekend trips home from college. When Mack sang, I was always entertained and amused, but singing with Mack was one of my favorite pastimes with her. She had a magical ability to pull people along for a warble; and when you sang along with that kid, she carried you with her to her Mack-happy plane of existence.

Over the years, Mack and I did a lot of singing together. When were alone in the car, I shared my favorites from the 1980s, and she got me hooked on Taylor Swift and Kanye West. We would sing so loudly that we couldn’t even hear the music. In the kitchen while chopping vegetables or doing dishes at the sink, we would sing Disney songs (“A Whole New World” was one of our favorites), and every crescendo featured Mack dancing with veggies or the dishes. We sang our own stupid original songs, we sang to our pets, and our birthday serenades were the stuff of family legend.

After losing Mack, I stopped singing. During work commutes from St. Louis to Springfield, I kept the dial on NPR, not at all tempted to blast my special ‘80s mix created especially for those weekly trips. Even during two long, solo driving trips to North Carolina and Nebraska this summer, I did not pass the time with music or singing. Grief has a way of stifling your enthusiasm for the things that used to make you happy, and singing in the car was one of those things I just stopped doing. But last week, on the way home from Springfield, when I was about fifteen miles from home, I changed the dial from St. Louis Public Radio to KSHE 95. The NPR story did not have my attention, and without thinking about it I hit one of the programmed buttons on the car stereo. Just as soon as the station changed, the familiar piano introduction to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” sucked me in, and before I knew it I was tapping my foot and preparing for the introductory lyrics. I turned up the volume, and I sang the entire song at the top of my lungs…just like Mack and I always did.

After the song was over, I remembered how much I loved to sing in the car. I remembered how much Mack loved to sing in the car. And I remembered that Mack had written a music blog for her college radio station that offered her top ten list of songs to sing at the top of your lungs. It is a very good list, complete with several of the favorites that she and I shared as well as a couple of more obscure Mack-like selections. Singing with Mack was a joy to me, and singing with Mack is also a cherished memory for many of her friends. Therefore, I offer up that top-ten list, complete with internet links below, so that anyone who wishes it can sing along with Mack in spirit. And since I can now sing in the car again, I will keep all of Mack’s favorites at the ready, sing them at the top of my lungs, and let Mack transport me over and over again to her Mack-happy plane of existence.

Top Ten Songs to Scream at the Top of Your Lungs (for KTRM Radio website) by Mackenzie McDermott

There is great music with amazing lyrics, music with really awesome beats, and super artsy and unique music. What kind you enjoy is completely a matter of taste. However, there is a certain type of song that magically creates an insatiable need to roll down the windows of your car and scream every lyric, even if you only know the chorus. It might not always be the best music—sometimes it’s even pretty bad—but this is the music that unites us all.

  1. “Bohemian Rhapsody”—Queen. I have never met a single person who can hear this six-minute rock epic without bursting into song. It’s inevitable, and it’s even better when there are multiple people rocking out to it in a car so that someone can sing every part, and no one is allowed to leave. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ9rUzIMcZQ)
  2. “Oops I Did It Again”—Brittney Spears. Call this a “guilty pleasure” all you want, but there are two kinds of people in this word: those who admit to jamming to this whenever it comes on and liars. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CduA0TULnow)
  3. “No Scrubs”—TLC. This song is like listening to the ‘90s, and not singing along to its impossibly awesome chorus should be against every law. Roll down the windows and let it all out, because you don’t want no scrub. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrLequ6dUdM).
  4. “Hold On”—Wilson Phillips. Here’s one that isn’t necessarily a conventionally “good” song, but when you hear it you can’t help but sing the three lines of the chorus you know and mumble along to the rest. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIbXvaE39wM)
  5. Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey. ‘80s rock ballads will always be the perfect road trip music. With its up-beat music, super catchy lyrics, and awesome notes that everyone can totally hit (haha, Mack…not!), Don’t Stop Believin’ is an all-star screaming-in-your-car-song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k8craCGpgs)
  6. Sweet Caroline—Neil Diamond. The uncontrollable urge to scream BUM BUM BUMM during this song is overwhelming. It’s almost as if Neil Diamond has taken over your body and you are no longer in charge of your actions. It’s awesome. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vhFnTjia_I)
  7. Livin’ on a Prayer—Bon Jovi. Whether it’s in the shower, a commute to work or just jamming out in your bedroom, Jon Bon Jovi knows how to make people want to jump around on their bed and sing at the top of their lungs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDK9QqIzhwk)
  8. Tainted Love—Soft Cell. This cover is so ‘80s that it hurts. And it hurts so good. Synthesizers and ridiculous lyrics make this song get stuck in your head in the worst possible way. You can’t help but drum along to this one. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsMz9vIaLwQ)
  9. Bille Jean—Michael Jackson. Michael is great for so many reasons that don’t involve how much people like to sing along to his songs at the highest possible volume. Billie Jean is just one of the many of his songs that are perfect for this list and every other list ever. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y)
  10. Say My Name—Destiny’s Child. Last, but certainly not least, is ‘90s girl band awesomeness. Similar to “No Scrubs,” this is a rock-out jam that makes you happy to be a woman, and you just can’t help but sing along. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQgd6MccwZc)

And some additional links for your listening pleasure…

A Family Birthday Serenade recorded for Savannah (https://youtu.be/dy2_eVr_JrM).

“Irreplaceable”—Beyonce (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EwViQxSJJQ)

“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”—Joe Nichols (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj2700em-JQ)

“A Whole New World” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kl4hJ4j48s)

Ok people, now go sing at the top of your lungs…It is exactly what Mack would want you to do.