Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.
Around 2011 I was dating a girl who loved Prince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.
Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.
I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.
Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.
One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*
Beer Barge, 2014. The Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is an excellent way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Week. Two hundred of your closest friends set sail on the Gateway Clipper for three hours of bands, craft beer and dancing. The final song on the 2014 barge was Purple Rain. It was an epic night. Look!
*Never spoke to me again.
It’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that? Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.
One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.” She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.
But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.
“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.
Dig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair. I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us. And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.
My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup. Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.
“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”
The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain). I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.
When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.
His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”
The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.
Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.
In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”
As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.
It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.
The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.
Rest in Power.
How did Prince affect your life? Share your memories and tributes in the comments, and put one of his albums or movies on reserve.
-Team Eleventh Stack