Friday, April 22, 2016
More On His Royal Badness
I saw Prince and the Revolution perform live at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit back in 1982 when he was just becoming the superstar that he is/was. I didn't pay as much attention as I wish I did now. And last year I needed money so I sold all my records - including Prince’s Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day albums – which adds to the already-deep sadness I feel today.
He wasn’t just a rich and famous celebrity to me. He was my 20s, when everything was fresh and new and the possibilities were still endless. He was my first marriage, which I thought would last forever and didn’t. He was funk and creativity and dance and confidence and genius and escape and magic. He was anti-corporate before anti-corporate was cool, a former slave who wouldn’t be quiet, an unpronounceable symbol for a time because that’s how he rolled.
He made race irrelevant and unnoticeable. He made me want to have swagger like him. He could say with a look what I needed a paragraph to convey. He could take a color – purple, of course – and make it his. If he wanted to use eyeliner and carry a cane and bare his ass in pants that didn’t seem finished, he did. If he wanted to captivate with his sensuality, he f*ck*ing did it and if you had a problem with it, the problem was yours. The neighbors in my first apartment building must surely have wondered why a heterosexual guy from the suburbs would play “Do Me, Baby” over and over again with the volume dial at 11. This little man was huge.
His oddness was part of his allure. He was a recluse but not in a monkey-carrying, Ferris Wheel-riding way; it was a genius-exploring- musical-boundaries-and-writing-songs-that-would-be-played-for-decades kind of way. He was “Darling Nikki” – my favorite Prince song – and “Diamonds and Pearls” and “Sign O’ the Times” and of course “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” but also “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Controversy” and “Little Red Corvette” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” He was “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “I Would Die for U” and “Delirious” and “U Got the Look” and “Raspberry Beret” and “Cream” and “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Kiss.”
I reference all of these songs not because I’m a lazy writer who needs to lengthen my blog post; they’re listed because each has such meaning, such “listenality,” such “Princism.” Each is noteworthy and more than funk or pop or story-telling. Each, in its own way, marks days and weeks and months and years in my life. I don’t remember what I ate for dinner last night but I remember where I was, who I was with and what we were doing when I heard each of these songs for the first – and second and third and fourth, etc. – time.
One of my all-time favorites, perhaps surprisingly, is not a Prince song, although no one who’s heard the version to which I refer – with Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston and others during a 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison – would argue with you if you said it was. Because he OWNS it. His truly indescribable guitar solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which seems so effortless and fun for him, is earth-shattering, musically, for me. It’s one of those songs (and videos) that I can hear and watch again and again and again, until the person I’m with begs me to stop or my head explodes, whichever comes first. The Beatles may have first recorded it in 1968 but Prince & Friends revive it, kick-start it, breathe new life into it and turn it into a monster, something with which you’ll instantly fall in love whether you’re a music aficionado or a casual listener.
As I shared in Facebook yesterday, I know there are important things going on in Washington and around the world right now. I know there is suffering and pain, politics and problems, hunger and taxes, and that the death of a rich and famous music superstar can become a distraction from what really matters. But Prince really matters to me. His music really matters, and his persona, and his untimely, way-too-young death (he was 57, only three years older than yours truly), and his memorable contributions to our culture matter. It’s always sad when people lose loved ones, when lives end, when the unexpected passage of celebrities shocks us and reminds us of our mortality. But this is a big one. This is huge. This is something to write home about, or at least blog about. This one really hurts.
Rest in peace and power, Prince Rogers Nelson, and thank you for adding dimension to my life and memories that make me smile and cry.