My memories of Prince began in college with my suite-mate Adam, who idolized him already. Adam, born in 1988, was an ’80s music freak. We’d find him in his room rocking out to Foreigner’s Jukebox Hero, guitar in hand, the solos memorized. But he didn’t touch Prince. Three guitarists living in a suite together, and none of us would touch Prince. We knew we’d just disappoint ourselves.

Toward the end of my college career, I picked up Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 and got curious about hip-hop and R&B soon afterward. Prince was there too. My co-worker BL had me listen to Sign O’ the Times with new ears followed by a stack of Prince B-sides. The albums weren’t even labeled, they were CDs burned and mixed together, but I went all the way through them. No one had musical depth like that. There was good stuff, there was bad stuff. All throughout I could hear elements of crazy awesome musical ideas, and I’d point out to BL “oh that really sounds like so-and-so” and BL would remind me that Prince got there first, a few years before the rest of the industry caught up.

Going to a music school in Nashville, Tennessee (where everyone thinks a whole lot about music) and then moving to Washington, DC (where everyone thinks a whole lot about everything) jaded me on music for a little bit. I lost that ability to just get swept up in a musical performance instead of focusing on all of the details like the performer’s technical ability or song selection. But then Prince was there too, because Prince didn’t care what I or anyone else thought about the culture. He was too busy creating it. That was a big lesson.

I missed an opportunity to see Prince at the Warner Theatre last year because I had other plans. I didn’t make the effort because Prince was always supposed to be there, ageless and unchanging. I could watch Purple Rain and his episode of New Girl in the same day, the recordings separated by 30 years, but he was the same Prince throughout. No other artist can pull that off.

And even outside of the music, Prince was a reminder to me that you don’t have to hail from New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles to have an impact on the culture. That small towns and middle America produced more than country and folk music. That when you made it, you didn’t have to move to the big city and join the “scene.” He was outside of all of that, and something about how amazing he was signaled that it was a totally okay thing if you chose to opt out as well.

What more can I say? Who had an impact over so many lives over so many years just by virtue of his being?