Actress Carrie Fisher (who we lost 8 months later) was quoted as saying "Take your broken heart, make it into art." When you're a writer who's a lover of music, your first impulse in these scenarios is to do just that, but I couldn't. I was steeped in anger, frustration and the doldrums. After repeated attempts to write a memoriam, only the following sentences came naturally:
"I'm tired of this; sick of it, really. I'm completely tapped out on waking up and going about my day, only to be shattered by the sudden news that yet another precious figure of my life and/or childhood is irreversibly gone. Dead. Never to hit the stage or sing a note again. The last time I saw or heard from them etched in my psyche. My memories, no matter how happy or wonderful, to forever end in a sigh. That awful, incessant feeling of shakiness coming over me because I got a cold, hard reminder that I could lose anything or anyone at any given moment. I'm tired of there being a situation where I have to somehow muster words and phrases to encapsulate someone's significance to me--a frankly impossible task in which I'd be scratching the surface at best. So, here I am, exhaustedly sad before you again, to scratch the surface. 'His Purple Majesty, Royal Badness,' Prince Nelson Rogers, needs to be commemorated. I'm not sure where to start, so I guess I'll go with the beginning."
The plan was to tell the story of how I came to love Prince, but reminiscing felt contrived. I thought maybe going "off the cuff" would be a better angle, but my innate reflections were too bitter and did a disservice to my remembrances. I just wasn't ready. I decided I'd try again for his birthday, June 7th. Less than 2 months later? Who was I kidding?! Surely, I could etch something by the first anniversary, right? Needless to say, April 2017 came and went. I felt it would be disrespectful to let the year pass without a tribute, so I told myself that no matter what, I'd rip the band-aid off and take (brief) breaks when I needed to. On Day 1, as I did previously, I stared at a blank Microsoft Word canvas unsure of where to start. After an hour of that, I conceded to taking the leap with my original idea: coming from the beginning.
Prince is one of a handful of artists my musician father has on his "Holy Grail" list. He's such a fan, he even owns Prince's critically-panned film, Under the Cherry Moon on DVD. My mother had "The Purple One" on a list too: "People My Kid isn't Allowed to Listen to." Of course, things fell through the cracks, and mother had her approved selections, like "Diamonds & Pearls," and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." My personal reaction to him was mixed. Being a child that rarely disagreed with my parent's judgment calls, I understood my mother's aversion to him in my space: he seemed to have no couth. That tongue was always wagging, those booty-cheeks were always out, and it was like he never had a shirt on, haha. I thought he was kind of gross. When he was at war with the Warner Bros. label and painted "Slave" on his face in the early 90's, I thought he was pulling a melodramatic stunt (despite me not grasping the particulars). At the same time, however, there was a magnetism...an intrigue. His brooding idiosyncrasy and mysteriousness came off to me as jerk-ish, but also as the mark of a genius. They say the line between genius and madness is thin. Also, as I hinted earlier, my father was/is very restrained in his admiration of and compliments to other artists (he refutes this, but I digress, haha). So, I knew Prince must've had a gift to enthrall him. Dad would watch and listen to Prince so intently; air drumming and fluttering his fingers like he was at his piano, I could see him processing Prince's work. Till' this day, he has pure joy on his face when he practices covers, especially for "Pop Life." Rehearsal joy doesn't always occur in the world of event performing. These were indicators that there was more to Prince than what met the eye, and musicianship was one of them. A spiel on that in a bit.
Going back to when I was younger, regardless of the initial draws to Prince, I never gave in and picked up his CDs during my regular rummages through my parent's collection. The golden "love-symbol" on his 1992 album called my name (no pun intended), but I alas ignored the voice. Fast-forward to my college years. A friend was appalled at my mild familiarity with Prince, so she made me several mixes. These mixes would change everything. My ambivalent reaction to him that leaned more to the opposing side, would tilt the other way.
The reason my mother banned Prince from me would partly be the same reason I didn't investigate him when I reached status as a legal adult: his sexuality. I've never cared much for overt sexuality in music. In my opinion, it takes no skill or thought to be graphic, literal or "locker-room." Additionally, such depictions often cheapen or downplay the magnitude of the act. From what I'd previously gathered about Prince, that's all his lyrics were. A number of songs--both explicitly and arguably--would meet that criteria, but there was also an abundance that would delineate sex as the tremendous self-offering and spiritual exchange that it is. In his cover of the beautifully-written Bonnie Raitt hit, "I Can't Make You Love Me" (featured on Emancipation), he calls the bedroom a church and is dismayed that the object of his affection won't accept the gifts of the highest order--the heart and body. The heart and body are described as benefactions in company with quality time and the mind on "Adore" (Sign O' the Times), which I'll reference more than once because it's the truth, the way, and the light, okay? Haha. It's my second favorite cut of his; my #1 is getting its own paragraph. Anyhow, he goes on to sing about a union being so blessed and destined, that the angels shed tears of joy during love-making. On the millennial single "Man O' War" (another fave), it's a preposterous notion that he could share his body with another person: "How could you think that I could put something inside of someone that I put inside you? Even if I tried to, I couldn't 'cause I still smell like the last time we [had sex]..." His exaltations of sex, romance and women were all-consuming, fervid and worshipping. It was unlike most of what I heard from other male artists; especially the self-deprecation. He frequently presented himself as unworthy, and only attaining these elements by grace. I once joked on social media: "He [any guy] doesn't love you if he won't make you a coat of pink cashmere and a raspberry beret."
In 1984's Purple Rain, the title track is fictionally written and arranged by the women in Prince's character's (simply known as "The Kid") nightclub band. Out of egotism, The Kid refuses to play any of their compositions. After stage flubs and personal trauma, a humbled Kid performs "Purple Rain" in dedication to his father. He moves the audience, and regains the respect of his peers. It's considered his finest moment (and a defining point in the film). Art imitates life, because if I had to name one song that encompasses all that I've described about Prince's music and his methods, I'd say "Purple Rain." Welcome to my #1 favorite, everyone. I know, I know, how cliché, but clichés are so for a reason. Whatever they're about has stood the test of time and can be applied over and over. "Purple Rain" is a timeless classic and goes on the "Songs That Should Never Be Remade" list with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and Etta James' "At Last." It endures because it's one of the most emotive pieces of music there is. The hopelessness that comes with not being able to prevent or reverse a loss pulsates in every word, note and chord from the first transfixing strum. The heartbreak swells with "Rain's" multiple peaks, predominately characterized by wailing guitars, falling strings and Prince's pleading vocals. He sings of regret with such intensifying anguish, it erupts into howls around the last 3:00 minutes. Yeah, the last 3:00 minutes of 8:43 total. You don't notice (I caught it haphazardly) or care though, because every nanosecond is freaking majestic. That, and you're too busy recalling and lamenting your own loss. Several of Prince's cuts were roughly 6 minutes long; it takes time to articulate the visceral and shape things to where it will never leave the listener. Just when you think drum and cymbal rolls have signaled "Rain's" finish, a glittering electric-piano holds on and doesn't let go until pressing violins take the baton. In between are faint, haunting echoes of Prince's howls, creating an air that's almost menacing. Conversely, the combination also sounds more downtrodden than the rest of the track, if that's even possible. As the violins fade, you hear the soft cheers of a crowd. This is obviously to mirror the movie scene, but without the context, it's still fitting. A magnificent opus was just completed. Seeing said opus be performed while in the rain (2007 Superbowl Halftime Show), on top of a purple love-symbol stage? A priceless blessing. I bet the attendees felt like they were getting baptized out there. Big ups to Mother Nature for providing that perfect Church of Rock N' Roll moment. She knew.
A lot of people I know couldn't listen to "Purple Rain" in the days after Princes' death. Understandably, it was just too hard for them. Me, I had an irrepressible compulsion to hear it. The first time was April 22nd, 2016 at about 6:00pmEST. I remember the time because I sent a text to my father about how I was avoiding the 24-hour news cycle. I went to the park and got on the swings (it calms me). Before I pushed "play" on my iPod, I had an internal argument with myself:
"What are you doing?! Are you crazy?! Are you trying to torture yourself?! It's too soon!"
"Dude, if you want to listen to freaking 'Purple Rain,' listen to freaking 'Purple Rain.'
"You're determined to feel awful, huh? You're just gonna' bawl on this swing, right now?"
It makes me laugh when I think about how attached I am to Prince, given how things started between us. His music pulled so much out of me, he became a muse for my poetry. Feelings I struggled to give words to, I could suddenly convey; I suppose they were shaken free. I was so compelled and transported by what was flowing through my ears, I'd say it was a religious experience. His songs came to be like hymns to me. Anytime I turn on the inciting "Let's Go Crazy," I feel like I've shed some dead, imprisoning skin. I can't help but have a sense that I've let something loose when "Take me away!" is shouted. While I'm mentioning specific songs that are engendering, am I the only one who prefers Prince's coarsely-recorded live version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" (with Rosie Gaines) over Sinead O'Connor's cover?
My affair with Prince has been quite the ride and I'm still on it; he's not done with me yet (I'm not sure that he ever will, or that I want him to be, either). He's like a beloved film from your youth: each time you see it as you age, you notice something different and you may develop a new perspective (Balancing Jane's "Watching Cruel Intentions as an Adult: Why Did Anyone Let Me Watch This?" is illuminating). I am ever invigorated, inspired and mystified by him. I'm captivated by his complexities; how he can be so contradictory, yet so cohesive and irrefutable. How he can be so arrogant and off-putting, but perfectly irresistible. I'm constantly asking new questions and affirming answers to others. A month before his death, Prince announced he'd be penning a memoir. I already love music autobiographies, but I was extra excited about his. Would it be surprisingly unambiguous and answer everything I've ever wondered, or would the enigmatic expedition continue? I'm upset that I'll never know, which returns me to my opening paragraphs: I'm still incensed.
I shouldn't be lighting figurative candles, because Prince should still be here...wowing us, transferring fire and being GIF/meme-able. Earlier this year, I status posted, "I'm still really angry that Prince is dead. I thought my rage would've subsided by now, but no. It still feels like the universe committed a horrendous crime." Just 2 weeks ago, I coincidentally was wearing a purple headband, a Prince tee and a love symbol when I came across a featured magazine about his albums. When I purchased it, the cashier said, "Geez, has it been a year already since he died? Time goes by fast." I dryly replied "Yeah. I'm still really angry about it." She looked startled and pitying. I was so lost in thought at that second, I didn't realize I impolitely walked away until later. Putting this article together has been mostly arduous; if it wasn't because of sadness, it was because I was doubting every single thing that I typed. Even now, I'm deliberating. Is this enough? Is there any such thing as enough? Would any word do justice?
"Love is too weak to define just what you mean to me."--Adore