I so clearly remember the world stopping the first time I saw Prince perform. Saturday night 1983, 8 pm or thereabouts. Mom and Dad went out and left us with a sitter. We were watching Solid Gold in the family room on 51 Cherry Place. There was smoke, there were electric drums, and then he (she?) appeared. Stop the press, who (or what) is that? It was Prince was in all his glory. Oozing sexuality at a time I didn’t know what sex was. Flanked by his pretty-slash-bad looking compatriots (who would soon come to be referred to as “the Revolution”). The song was “1999.” The sound and spectacle were unlike anything my eight year old psyche had yet experienced. I held my Fisher Price tape recorder up to the TV set and captured the sound so I didn’t have to wait to hear it again on the radio. I was awestruck.
After that, my older brother Brian and I always seemed to own Prince’s albums on cassette. Not a lot of thought went into categorizing his style of music. He was just Prince: ruler of the radio and MTV. You loved seeing whatever he’d come up with next, and you generally hoped your parents wouldn’t walk in while you were watching one of his videos. #awkward I recall thinking “Diamonds & Pearls” was corny (it came out when I was 16 and hard core into Public Enemy, Ice Cube and the like…), but I got over it. There was an endless array to choose from in Prince’s repertoire. When I was deep into soul, funk and R&B in my college days, naturally his Purple majesty was very heavy in the rotation. Over time I also learned how influential he was on many of my favorite hip hop artists. Regardless of how you come to him, or what you think about him, if you want to get a party going, just put on some Prince.
In the Fall of 2001, I dressed as Purple Rain prince for Halloween. At the time I was living at home with my parents in NJ, commuting to NYC for work and hanging with friends in the city on the weekend. I had bought one of those cheap Party City purple pimp costumes just for the faux crushed velvet jacket. I had a frilly white collared blouse, purple pants, black pointy high-heeled boots, and my younger brother Kevin’s white electric guitar. I wore a curly black wig and drew on the facial hair with a black eye pencil. It was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. (I did it BEFORE Dave Chappelle). My only regret is that I have no photographic evidence.
My adoration of Prince continued all through my thirties. And I bonded with others who had a shared love for his funkiness, his creativity, his sound. His 2007 Super Bowl performance was epic of course. And as people rediscovered Prince after that, I gloated in knowing I had loved him all along. A few years later in 2011, my girlfriends and I were at the concert at Madison Square Garden when he kicked Kim Kardashian off the stage. It was glorious (though even more glorious now, in retrospect).
In recent years, Prince had become somewhat of a meme. With his fro and his third eye girls and his Princestagram. Still cool, always cool. Nothing compared to him. Which also reminds me — Prince used phone lexicon before phone lexicon was a thing. “Nothing compares 2 U,” and others like that. Back then, it was actually pretty naughty/radical.
Now he’s gone and frustratingly I can’t access all those albums and hits I know and love backwards and forwards. He yanked his music from Pandora and Spotify, the two main ways I listen to music. I bought many of his albums over the years, but lost or otherwise just ditched my physical CDs. As for my old MP3s… they are on hard drives I no longer access, lost to the digital abyss.
Fortunately there is a Prince tribute station on Sirius (Channel 50) but that will only last for so long. For the past five days I have had the ending of Purple Rain on repeat in my brain: morning – noon – and night. Bob Lefsetz, one of my information/perspective sources said that it’s only a matter of time before Prince’s music is streaming on mainstream platforms. Let’s hope he’s right.
At Yoga class on Sunday, as I knew he would, my radical hippie instructor spoke about Prince quite a bit. He played some of his more obscure tracks, and in the final chest opening pose he declared: “Lean back and open your heart to send some love out to the Purple One to ease his transition … in appreciation for all the joy he gave us.” It was a fitting tribute, and it made me happy. Lefsetz summed it up perfectly: “It’s such a shame our friendship had to end. But his music survives, as does his legend. Years from now his music and career will be studied, to see how someone listened to no one but himself but got it so right.”
Namaste, Prince. Rest in Purple.