I clicked on the notification from my childhood best friend and saw the news, that prince had died. It sort of left me dumbstruck, face scrunched, perplexed. Maybe it’s a hoax, but after a few clicks, sadly, it is true. I started to cry, and felt pretty stupid. Well, not stupid, almost… guilty. I didn’t know him, there are people in his family and life who are truly grieving the loss of his life. I’m not really sure what it is I’m grieving.
Naturally, I go to my record shelf, take “Purple Rain” out of the sleeve, place it on the turn table, and put the needle in the groove. I’ve heard it a million times, but still, it seems like the right response. I get a text from a friend, telling me the news. I get a phone call from my mother, telling me the news. Weeping now, but still, feeling a little silly.
I keep thinking about my brother and sister, Kevin especially, and how I don’t want to tell him. Delay it just a little. And, in thinking about them, I start to roll through memories upon memories, that I associate with Prince’s music. And, I begin to feel less silly.
My first recollection of music’s impact on me is a lullaby my mother would sing to me. The second, is “When doves cry”. I remember feeling something that I would later learn is the sharp, beautiful ache, that you feel when you fall in love.
I remember my brother and sister watching Purple Rain, the movie, and something in me stirring… Likely it was the precursor to sexuality. It was provocative. In elementary school I snatched mix tapes of my brother’s, only to have him scold me and stress that these songs were not appropriate for me. Specifically “La, la, la, he, he, hee” and “Erotic city.” He had all the records, and I loved them all. The lovesexy cover, complete with a nude Prince, posed in a most feminine fashion, intrigued me.
At 9 or 10 years old I’d memorized most of the lyrics to lesser known gems like “Anna Stesia”….
“Have you ever been so lonely that you felt like you were the only one in this world? Have you ever wanted to play with someone so much you’d take any one boy or girl? Anna Stesia come to me, talk to me, ravish me, liberate my mind. Tell me what you think of me, praise me, craze me, out this space and time”.
The Batman soundtrack was very culturally relevant, and I wore it out. During my middle school years I fell in love with a previous album… Sign of the Times. If we could somehow resurrect the archives of “Network Video” and scan through our video renting history, you’d find that I rented “Sign of the times” probably 50 times. I loved everything about it. Simply a “live concert” with some dramatics edited in, but I LOVED it…The band, the theatrics, a dancer named “Cat”, all of it, but mostly…. the music… and the man. I know you can’t take nostalgia out of the equation, but those songs hold up… to even the strictest standard. “If I was your girlfriend”, “The Cross”, “Adore”, and “Dorothy Parker” are all, in my humble opinion, songwriting masterpieces. The grim “sign ‘o’ the times” almost frightened me… with all of its headlines from the news… but it still moved me, and like SO much of his catalogue… resonated with me.
While obsessing over 1987’s Sign of the Times, he started releasing new material with The New Power Generation, which I would listen to in my 8th grade bedroom while curling my hair, getting ready for school dances. Thanks to MTV, and a tv in my room, I could watch the videos.
In high school, I started revisiting some of his earlier work. Some of it was new to me… He’s debut album, and Controversy…. They were new… and good!… almost 20 years later. 1999 and Purple Rain (the entire albums), were thick with varying degrees of nostalgia. “Let’s Go Crazy” brought me flashes of being LITTLE… with memories more of mood and color and smell, then of actual stories. Some of those songs call up images of my sister dancing… Cardboard forts… wintertime in Ohio…childhood. Family.
As a teenager,”I would die for you” spoke to me on such a spiritual level.
Songs like “The Beautiful Ones”, practically kill me. Its perfection stands alone. It’s haunting, beautiful and powerful… enough on it’s own… but then you add in the fact that this music, its like a thread that dates back to my earliest memories and somehow personifies the bond I have with my family.
Specifically, Kevin… who, I just got off the phone with. Further proof, that I’m not silly. He gets it. I’m sure there are millions who do. This Christmas Kevin gave me the Purple Rain Record that I’m listening to now. The attached note began with… “dig if you will a sister…”
I’d gladly take this opportunity to defend his status as the greatest popular musician of our time, heck, of all time. But, I suspect the world is currently making that case for me. I’m sure they will mention the innovation, the seamless merging of rock/funk/soul/folk/electronica/etc., the mastery of multiple instruments, the brilliant writing, the face melting guitar playing, the production skills, the performance skills, and on and on….
Musically speaking, he makes you ache, and he makes you want to dance… and that, for me, is the criteria. He sort of defined the way I judge music, and the way music impacts me.
So, the greatness (that stands apart from nostalgia), the nostalgia itself, the connection with Kevin… No wonder I wept. No wonder I ached. And the beautiful thing, is that this feeling… for me… it is an evidence of the divine. It is something spiritual… Because… I mourn him… not because he was a part of my life, not because I won’t be able to access him (the music lives forever), but because….
The thing that makes us different from the animals, the thing that makes us “made in the image of God”, whatever you call it… soul, essence, imprint of God…. Is what makes music. Prince’s essence, that was poured out through his music, impacted me… it impacted my essence. I believe that is where you find the divine… in the exchanges we have…. Where that little bit of “God” in you, somehow resonates with that little bit of “God” in me. Music does that. Prince does that. And like most pain that is motivated by love or truth or divinity… it actually serves as a great source of joy… because, isn’t this why we live? Isn’t this what it means to be a human being with a spirit/soul?
To be affected…
to want to dance our asses off….
to weep when Prince dies.
So… when my friend Tyler texted me… my reply was “Pretty ridiculous, but I’m sort of weeping”. I take it back… it isn’t ridiculous at all.
“The beautiful ones, you always seem to lose”
Click HERE for a thrown together (not exactly meant for public) cover of 1999 that my niece Karis and I threw together for a little “open mic” we had at our family reunion/new years eve party in 2014.
Click HERE for a previous post/poem featuring Kevin & Prince
Click HERE for my introduction to blogging, including Prince disclaimer
As long winded as this was, I really only skimmed the surface… I keep thinking of more songs/memories…Perhaps a Favorite
10, 30, 50 Prince songs is order.