April 21, 2016
“I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast…”
Well, one can dream, right?
There are just some artists we expect to live forever. I don’t know why. Intellectually, of course, we know that we all die and so will they. But there are some whose work has such a monumental impact on you that they seem immortal. And maybe because of their legacy—what they leave behind for us—they, in fact, are.
Prince is one of the immortal ones.
His music is seismic. Soaring high above trends and expectations, his work shifted and transformed those of us who understood it. It moved our feet, sure, but it also pricked our hearts, seared our souls, and opened our minds. Because of this we feel like we know him. Like he’s part of our family. And just like when a family member dies suddenly, we are devastated. We mourn him like we mourn the death of that favorite cousin who used to hold our hands while crossing the street when we were little or the Auntie who used to defy our mother’s orders and sneak us off to the ice cream parlor in the park. Everything in our world stops for a moment or three as tears rain purple down our cheeks. It might be cliche to say that Prince’s music has been a major part of the soundtrack of our lives, but some platitudes are just freaking true. If my life was a double album, then Prince probably has half of all the tracks. Since the day we met, he’s scored some pivotal moments.
Yes, I said “met."
I suppose we shouldn’t have met the way we did. I mean, it was 1984 and I was only nine. But I had a young mama who had been rocking with Prince since Dirty Mind and, for her, not having a babysitter was, by far, not enough of a reason to miss the theatrical debut of her favorite artist. So with store bought Lemonheads and Boston Baked Beans in her purse, we all went to see Purple Rain.
“Close your eyes!” She loud whispered at me when Prince, with a sly, sexy smirk, told Appolonia that she would have to purify herself in Lake Minnetonka and a few scenes later took her deep in another kind of way.
I didn’t get it at first. I mean, I was nine. He wore leather and lace. And eyeliner. He didn’t look like the sex symbols that I was digging. He certainly wasn’t no Ralph Tresvant (lead singer of New Edition). But it all changed a couple of years later. I’ll never forget laying on my back reading the liner notes on the Around the World in a Day album and being completely mesmerized by songs like "The Ladder" and "Pop Life." I remember thinking, here was a man, who didn’t give a damn. A man who found a way to say the most powerful things in the funkiest way possible. That was attractive.
There were so many more moments. Batman wasn’t worth seeing to me until I heard “Batdance." Then there was that time in my junior year of high school when the boy I liked didn’t like me back and I sob-sang "Diamond and Pearls" until I fell asleep. And lying on the floor of my Y2K ready, Chicago apartment, on New Years Eve 1999 and watching the Purple One on Pay Per View with my then-boyfriend. In fact, if I were to remove my halo and plug my mama’s ears, I might have to admit that I may or may not have had songs like “Insatiable”, “Do me, Baby”, “Scandalous” and “Erotic City” on regular rotation during some of the riotous seasons of my life (see: my twenties).
Although my mama took her nine year old to see Purple Rain so I think she probably gets it.
I’m not alone though. Rainah Chambliss, a woman who’d probably categorize herself as so much more than just a Prince fan, has Prince to thank for her entire family. “On October 18, 1988, I saw him in concert for the first time. Outside the doors of the Spectrum in Philly, is where I met the man I’ve been married to for 23 years. Prince introduced us. He’s why my family exists and will be ‘4ever in My Life.’"
Prince’s physical stature belied his talent and courage (I mean, this is the guy who changed his name to a symbol and sued his record label for ownership of his music). He was big in the all the ways that mattered. And his words, my God, those lyrics?
"Everybody's looking 4 the ladder/Everybody wants salvation of the soul/The steps u take are no easy road/But the reward is great/4 Those who want 2 go”
"Love come quick/Love come in a hurry/There are thieves in the temple tonight."
If I didn’t know before today, I know now. There is a mystic power in words. Sure, I’m a writer and an artist. Of course I’d be drawn to them, right? Nah, with Prince, it was something else entirely. A transparency; a nakedness. An unwillingness to be anything but himself at every iteration of his journey. And that authenticity is the reason why this loss hurts so bad. The legacy of his music, his immense presence as an artist and man, is why I—and the rest of the world—love him so.
"Until the end of time."