This is for the Prince fans, admirers, respecters of his music and the craft of musicianship.
It took something as shocking and tragic as this news to finally bring me back to writing. Prince Rogers Nelson is my absolute favorite musician. I am bereft, verklempt, distraught, shocked, saddened, upset and at a loss for words upon hearing the news of his death. It’s been 3 days and I am still grieving like I knew this man.
But didn’t we all feel that we knew someone who was intensely private, yet said so much through his music? Didn’t we all know about Prince’s musical virtuosity – how well he played, no shredded, every instrument he touched? Didn’t we know about his musical genius – he composed, arranged, sang, played, directed and performed all of his songs, concerts, public and private shows – didn’t we know how great and wonderful he was musically? Of course we did, that’s why we went to his shows 3, 5 10 times and raved about how new and fresh it was each time. Of course we knew; that’s why we bought his music even when radio no longer played it. Of course we knew, that’s why it was an EVENT when he appeared anywhere.
Everyone has a story about how they got to know and love Prince’s music. I remember when my parents bought the 45 for “I Wanna Be Your Lover”; we played it over and over again at house parties. I watched him on American Bandstand. It was a good hit, and that was about it for me. I heard a little of “Soft and Wet” but at the time I was too young to get the sexual innuendo. When “Controversy” came out with the lyrics “Am I Black or White, am I straight or gay?”, it was a big deal. We were just starting to hear about and acknowledge homosexuality in mainstream media; it was still being called a “lifestyle” and being gay was a subject of ridicule, scorn and taboo discussion. Prince made it stand out for everyone. He wasn’t the only one, of course, but he was so in-your-face about it – about everything, that you had to listen.
I was in high school when a friend told me about The Time and the upcoming Purple Rain movie. She was a Prince FANATIC; she followed every single thing he did, she followed every single thing said or done by anyone associated with him. She reintroduced me to Prince at a time when I was falling for Michael Jackson the solo artist. Here is where I will just pause to say that there is room for everyone – musical genius is musical genius, no comparisons are needed or necessary – I recognize, acknowledge and am grateful for the gifts of the greats, past, present, and future. That’s it.
Back to Prince and his purple reign. So “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” and the other hits I mentioned were already out and big hits for The Purple One. But the real hype started when he dropped “When Doves Cry” – what kind of song was this? It was so surreal, yet so awesome at the same time. As a youngster, it felt like our anthem to teenage world – ‘why do we scream at each other; this is what it sounds like when doves cry’ – Prince related to me.
There was a lot of backlash about the movie before it came out – too profane, too sexual, just too much – again, all of the things that teens want to be part of even if others think they should not. I remember sneaking to see the movie; I don’t remember what I said I was doing instead, but I do remember going to the Kenmore theater by myself like I had a big secret. It was then that I understood my friend’s obsession with Prince, because during that movie I instantly became obsessed with him as well. I bought the album, played it when I could and learned all of the songs, every single word.
I remember when Tipper Gore started her campaign against racy, profane, violent or sexual lyrics in music and I remember when it hit the news. Tom Brokaw was talking about “Darlin’ Nikki” as I sat on the couch next to my mother. I could feel her eyes on me as she turned her head and said, “Don’t you have that Purple Rain album?” I kept staring straight ahead as I responded “Yes”. That’s it, just “yes”; but inside I was praying “please don’t make me get it, please don’t make me throw it out; I need that album, I love Prince, I love him”. To her credit, she breathed deeply a few times and said nothing else about it. My mother is wiser than wise. She knows that if she doesn’t make it a big deal, then it doesn’t become a big deal; not as interesting and not as fun, and therefore probably won’t last to a teenager who typically flits from this to that quicker than you can bat an eyelash. That was usually the case – but not this time, not with Prince.
I saw the move again when we visited my aunt in Canada. My brother wanted to see a different movie, so she let him go by himself while she and I watched Purple Rain together. I pretended that I hadn’t already seen it, secretly glad to be able to watch it again. She didn’t say anything about the cursing but during the few sexual scenes, she jokingly said “cover your eyes” – yeah, right. He was again all that I liked and loved – racy, funny, vulnerable, sexy, cool, confident, smart, musical, flashy, odd, hot, different, weird, private, fine, charming, mysterious and above all, free.
You could see it in everything he did – he was so aware of his talent, his gifts, his worth and he was proudly free to be himself at all times. And thus my love for all things Prince was born. I can’t end this without talking about my all time favorite Prince album, Sign O’ the Times, and my all time #1 favorite Prince song, Adore. If I never listen to anything of his but that album and that song then I am content. May he rest in peace, in power, and in purple royal majesty forever.