Like Justin Timberlake, one of my earliest recollections of Prince was his song “Raspberry Beret.” And more chiefly, it’s video. As a toddler, I was entertained by the cartoon effects, ice cream pastel colors, and Prince’s bright baby blue suit accented with prints of clouds. But I assure you! I wasn’t getting anything twisted. The song was just as delicious. So upbeat! I heard that jam regularly at home. The play and repeat buttons were pushed by my mother or sister. Their caterwauling of the lyrics was heartwarming rather than ear-splitting because they reacted so in love with life whenever the song played. The feeling was mutual, even for me, at three or four years old.
Years later, I would make my first Prince music purchase. It was the album The Very Best of Prince, released in 2001, with all the classic jams on it. It was then I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” in full and experienced one of those “where has this song been all my life” moments. And”I Would Die 4 U” became the one since I had it to listen to whenever I wanted. At least on compact disc (and free of violating Prince’s wishes that music is paid for and appreciated).
As a little girl, Prince was fascinating to observe. What separated him from most male music stars was that as a man, he willfully toyed with imagery, costume, and especially sexuality. For a few years there, I thought he was bisexual! He appeared so fluid, so comfortable. I also tried to conclude back then it was maybe because he was older, an adult.
He was so free in wearing crop tops, skinny pants, and suits with cut-outs. The man wore what looks like a high brief thong on the cover of his 1980 LP Dirty Mind. And Prince was a major reason for Tipper Gore influencing the music industry to start placing “Parental Advisory” stickers on albums. She found her daughter listening to the track “Darling Nikki” from Purple Rain (and wasn’t here for the line about her masturbating in some hallway). His stage movements were genuinely wild to the core. As the New York Times put it in their tribute piece for the Friday, April 22, paper, he was “spontaneous and precise” when performing. I felt his freedom of expression through the music and videos. I didn’t know it then, but I was being encouraged to find my own vision and the dreams that would celebrate such spirited inclinations every time I viewed him.
When I heard of his passing, the timing was terrible. The weather was in the lower 70s and I was on my lunch break. Grateful for the beautiful weather, I was walking outside. As I did so, I perused a social media feed. It was then I read the news. I began to shake. I thought: “No.”
“Not this and not today.” I felt angry and devastated.
“This can’t be life.”
It felt surreal. And extremely wrong. I had read earlier on an Instagram news brief that a dead body was found at his Paisley Park estate. But I refused to believe it could’ve been him. Not Prince. No. (Though I wouldn’t wish on the average person to find a dead body in their home and having to explain it being there). What kind of world were we living in that we no longer had Michael and Whitney, and now Prince? I felt emotionally ruptured. I wanted answers. Answers to questions that wouldn’t elicit sufficient responses outside of the casual or benign: “Because, life.”
The disbelief lasted throughout the day and I kept on using the word “unbearable” to encompass the sentiment. Prince, dead? Gone? No.
“Some people want to die so they can be free” -“Controversy”, Prince, 1981
Prince’s passing was a complete repeat of the gut-wrenching losses we’ve all endured from popular culture since late December 2015 and into 2016. Right at the beginning of January, we lost Natalie Cole and David Bowie.
I noticed on Twitter, around 4PM, that Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston began to trend and I wasn’t surprised. For a particular generation and even for me, there will always be the definite quartet of the 1980s: Whitney, Michael, Prince, and Madonna. They are almost synonymous with each other because they defined the decade’s music superstars. Their albums were anticipated, world tours were necessary to experience, and their style unforgettable. As a 1987 baby, I was born just in time to still witness the greatness of these artists, as well as down the line controversies and more career milestones that would become canonized (think Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack). There was also that comfort, that feeling, that they’d always be with us, the fans, for years to come. 20 years ago, it was 1996 and all four were here.
And again. The ’80s. The way I can’t seem to stop regaling about the 1990s, my family adores the ’80s with all their heart. My mother raves that it was the music video revolution with the arrival of MTV and times were just great. Prince was of that time and with his passing, it feels like maybe the chapter really has closed. It was the decade of heroic comebacks for already legends like Tina Turner, Cher, Chaka Khan, Elton John, and Marvin Gaye (whose death in 1984 was tragic and unexpected). Continued awesomeness for fellow greats Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, and Lionel Richie. But also, the new generation that would become icons in their right such as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Janet Jackson, and of course, today’s Throwback Thursday faves such as Culture Club, Rick Astley, and the teen pop and R&B acts of Debbie Gibson and New Edition.
Still numb from the news, I read online that MTV had stopped their current programming of nothing related to music trash and begun playing Prince music videos. The network was clearly moved by Prince’s passing as they had even released a statement of condolences. MTV had a long-standing relationship with the Minneapolis native. Some of Prince’s most memorable performances were on the channel, such as his too hot for TV spot of “Gett Off” at the 1991 Video Music Awards. He flashed his waffle cone toned behind to the audience mid-way and kept on doing so til the end. Even then, he was giving the kids what they wanted!
It was real on April 21. If you grew up or were there for the ’80s, your icon had died. If you were like me and was born just in time to view him as a legend, another legend had died. Nostalgia had reverberated across the nation. Nobody wants to live in a world without Michael, Whitney, or Prince. Interestingly, MTV had also announced that it was making a return to being music television that Thursday, starting with the upcoming revival of their once acclaimed series Unplugged. We’re all missing the past and there’s no reason why we can’t try to integrate it into this digital age.
As a public figure, I wasn’t always sure how to view Prince’s interaction with women in his art. I trusted that he envisioned and believed in the power and sheer beauty of women from the physical to mental. But he was especially interested in the physical! He seemed perpetually overwhelmed by female sexuality and presented himself powerless in its presence. He had no qualms in encouraging women to display their sex dreams, tales, or, his ideas of what they must be like for women. He is the songwriting mastermind of OMG tracks “Sex Shooter” for Appollonia 6 and who could forget Sheena Easton‘s “Sugar Walls” which I also heard playing at home and got the gist of real quick. He originally suggested Vanity call herself Vagina and years later, an ’80s recording of her making orgasmic sounds would appear as the outro for his 1994 album Come. (She passed away just this February. Like I’ve been saying…unbearable). But Prince was also the same male musician that introduced us to the talents of instrumentalist powerhouse Sheila E. and worked side by side with Wendy and Lisa when he included the band the Revolution for the albums, 1999, Purple Rain, and Parade. He brought the duo on stage with him when he accepted the Academy Award for the film, Purple Rain‘s score.
Prince was a staunch advocate for the rights of Black men and women as well. Prince was an artist the community could trust. In the last years of his life, he stood with #BlackLivesMatter and it’s been posthumously revealed that he had donated an upwards of millions to various charities and programs that aided children of color in the arts. It was also reported that he donated money to help fund Spike Lee’s production of his biopic on Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington in the early ’90s.
I very much remember when he combated his former record label Warner Brothers. He felt so enslaved by his contract, in 1993, he changed his name to a symbol that was couldn’t be pronounced (the media had to refer to him as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince for a few years). And at times, he performed with the word “slave” written on the side of his face. I thought it was brave of him and it made him appear a bit eccentric but the bigger picture was important! He fought against racism and business micromanagement. He was soldier and artist in every way.
Now, let’s talk about the music I loved from Prince! The fantastic music. The kind of tunes that as a child, I couldn’t identify the crystal clear wanton lines of “Built like she was. She had the nerve to ask me. If I planned to do her any harm…” (From “Raspberry Beret”) but he was so clever, I danced, or in actuality hopped to the music because the jubilant feeling I received was absolutely transferrable.
The songs on Very Best I already knew most of them. And it would be throughout the years I would discover Prince tracks that weren’t new but treasures. The B-side track “Erotic City”, if you can believe, I discovered on LimeWire (I know, bad) and I loved it so much. It features Prince and Sheila E. Years later, I bought it iTunes from the compilation The Hits/The B-Sides. There was also that time that I heard “Controversy” and knew it was Prince’s voice but I couldn’t remember the lyrics at all to try and find it online or in stores. Today, I got the entire album and it is great.
The Purple One joined in on some amazing collaborations too. Chaka Khan recorded a cover of his track “I Feel For You” and it’s so epic. He wrote the song, Khan sang, and Stevie Wonder was on the harmonica. The production behind the 1984 version is music gold!
He also made magic with Gwen Stefani. She appeared on his album RaveUn2TheJoyFantastic for “So Far, So Pleased” and he returned the favor in doing a duet with her for No Doubt’s 2001 album Rock Steady, on the velvety crush of “Waiting Floor.” Yes! And lest I not forget the glorious ballad of “Holy River”, the funky confirmation of “U Got The Look”, and smooth anguish of “Lady Cab Driver” from 1999.
Writing this piece was a tad nightmarish as I can’t believe it is a reality. Prince Rodgers Nelson has passed away. Away to that mega concert God seems to be planning up there as of late. Can we get a live stream at least?
“Life is a party and parties weren’t meant to last” -“1999”, Prince, 1982
I am thankful for his creative bravery and for the music Prince created because they are a part of my childhood and gave my family a lot of happiness. We’re all better off for having heard Prince’s music. With Godspeed, the Purple One has left the chariot.
“These deaths also feel so personal because they resonate with us on a deeper, psychological level. We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.” -The Huffington Post