Long Live Our Prince
I can't remember how I became aware of Prince's album Dirty Mind. I just remember the thrill it gave me. Those provocative lyrics about incest and oral sex, the insistent call to arms about sexual stereotyping, the wildly danceable pop songs, the hardcore funkiness, and the audacious cover...it was mind-blowing.
Let's not underestimate that cover photo. Prince wearing black bikini underpants, sultry but baby-faced, an X-rated Bambi, promising to upend all your notions about sexuality and race.
No one else in my circle was listening to Prince yet, so he was all mine. I danced around my living room like a whirling dervish, singing at the top of my lungs. I was in my 20s but I felt like a reborn teenager. I have an indelible memory of watching a Prince video at a friend's house. Her 12 year old son walked in, froze in horror, screamed "HE'S GAY!" and ran out of the room. It's the quintessential response to something that new and forceful: So threatening that people run for cover.
Seeing Purple Rain for the first time was more of the same. The bad acting combined with the glorious imagery and the brilliant soundtrack made it a singular experience. I liked that a film reviewer referred to the band's "ferocious sense of style." Those asymmetrical hairdos on Wendy and Lisa were the coolest thing ever, even though I couldn't pull it off myself.
Prince continued to be part of my life, and I learned to share him with the world. 1999 was everyone's anthem in those days. Even now, in 2019, it sounds futuristic, and not just because party-time is over.
Prince was many things to many people. I don't think people took him seriously enough as an artist, or at least in the white community, until he appeared on a tribute to George Harrison, playing a guitar solo that is still a touchstone for Rock God mastery. I like to say that Prince can stand up to Jimi Hendrix on guitar, James Brown on the dance-floor, and Michael Jackson for charisma. But Prince is Prince, for god-sake, sui generis!
When we heard the news of his death, it was a shock like no other. And to die from a drug overdose was incomprehensible, given Prince's notorious ban on all harmful substances including cigarettes. His drug addiction underscored that the mysterious Artist who replaced his name with a made-up symbol was even more profoundly unknowable than we ever guessed.
For a while after Prince died, the internet was flooded with videos and recordings he had fought to protect from public exploitation. His tight control of his material was legendary, and now there was a frenzy of digital sharing. I felt guilty for partaking but who could resist? Getting to watch Prince's half-time show at the Superbowl, over and over, was one small consolation I turned to, forcing my husband to admit for the millionth time that Prince was god.
Now with the new Originals album, we are getting a chance to hear Prince perform a group of songs that were hits for other artists. The 14 tracks come from his locked vault, pried open for better or worse by his estate, and we'll have to believe that he's okay with it. I know he wanted to bring joy to his audiences, and he often played all night for club-goers when the mood took him. I'm going to assume this collection has his blessing, unless he tells me otherwise.
I wrote about Prince right after his passing, and here I will quote myself.
I think I even fell in love with my husband while we watched Prince on TV, dancing around in buttless chaps, on a set decorated with flaming torches.
Looking back, I remember that night, lying on my husband's futon, still platonic friends, watching the late-night TV Prince extravaganza, stunned and delighted by the ridiculous chaps. And the electricity between us was, for me, born of the realisation that HE GETS PRINCE LIKE I DO! What a rush! I want to share that feeling with the rest of the world on the occasion of this new record. Play it with someone and fall in love. Go crazy. Get nuts. It’s all about being free.