So, yeah. Prince died.
I was getting a pedicure when I started seeing the initial news on Twitter. I tweeted something to the effect of “This better not be true.” I mean – Bowie, then Patty Duke, and now Prince? Are all the awesome people just going to vacate the premises this year?
So while the nail technician was scrubbing away at my cloven hooves (mind – this was the first pedi I’d gotten since last September) with the cheese grater thing, and I’m trying to control the impulse to kick as she’s doing so, I’m following along.
Someone died at Paisley Park.
It’s probably Prince, but it might not be.
Didn’t they have to land his plane somewhere in Illinois a few days ago?
We still don’t know if it’s Prince.
Well, yeah, it’s Prince.
I’ll tell you – this one hurt. They all hurt in some way. But some of them will hit you in a deep place you’ve buried under time and experience and responsibilities. I was 13 when I became aware of Prince. And 13 is a wide open wound, it is.
I was fortunate in that as terrible as that age was for me in myriad ways, the artists I was exposed to were kind of strange angels for me, promising – in their appearance and output – a future where I might be able to express myself without fear of being bullied into silence, which had been my experience up to that point. They represented a riot of color and sound and brazenness that I wanted so desperately for myself. David Bowie. Annie Lennox. Boy George. Cyndi Lauper. And Prince.
Oh, boy. Prince. My prior musical crushes inspired innocuous daydreams of holding hands and shy glances, of someone seeing in me what I couldn’t see in myself. But Prince inspired…well…stirrings. He was campy, yes, but utterly filthy. This was pure sex wrapped in a purple doily. My God.
More importantly, though, Prince had women on the stage with him. And they weren’t idly writhing around like oiled up, glistening props. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were full participants in the sound, and I understood implicitly that there was respectful collaboration going on there. I soon wound up having more of a crush on Wendy than on Prince himself. And THAT was something that I didn’t quite know how to unpack at that age.
I listened to “1999” and “Purple Rain” forwards and backwards (and in the case of the latter, I listened to it quite literally backwards, manually spinning the record counter-clockwise to decipher the message at the end of “Darling Nikki.” It’s: “Hello, how are you? I’m fine, because I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon.” In case anyone was wondering.).
The whole thing was mindblowing. It made me think differently about music, musicianship, performance, and appearance. And how can I get into how it made me think about gender and sexuality? In hindsight, here was pure theatre. Every song a story, set to music more complicated and dense than anything I’d heard before. It made me appreciate production. That drum sound! The hollow popping peppered throughout his stuff in the 80s. That’s the Linn LM-1. I became more interested in what instruments could do, and how an artist can create sounds that are unmistakably their own. That’s only a fraction of his legacy.
I wrote about meeting Peter Murphy just days before finding out that Prince was gone. In the previous entry, I mentioned how Bowie’s passing influenced my decision to spend the extra for the personal contact with an artist I admired. I don’t know that I was more than a tweedy blip on Murphy’s radar, but I can say I met him. I can say I looked him in the eye, hugged him, and THANKED him. I wrote that I should not ignore opportunities like that if I have the means to make them happen. I don’t know that I ever would have met Prince, but now that’s simply not a possibility anymore. All I can do is lay down my gratitude here, in words that are barely adequate.
Thank you for a funky time.