Prince, the Artist Eternally Revered as Awesome, died last week. His passing has spurred a profound melancholy. I cannot hear a Prince song, no matter how buoyant, how raunchy, without thinking, "He's gone." I find myself tearing up at "Delirious," shaking my fist at heaven to "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and sobbing at "Purple Rain" - whether Prince's version or the countless tribute versions that have appeared on YouTube since last Thursday. (The cast of The Color Purple wins the internet for their version.)
I've been on an unintentional hiatus from this blog for over a year. I intended to return with something witty, something scholarly, something diverting, about my midcentury design obsessions. Instead I have to make a nod to my hometown idol. The 1980s might not be midcentury, but somewhere in that decade was my origin story. Prince's music is as much a part of my identity as that radioactive spider is a part of Peter Parker's. Below is a word-burst I posted on Facebook shortly after hearing of Prince's death. I'm putting it here for whatever different audience might read my blog.
Before I re-post, though, I would like to add a deeply personal thing about Prince I've never shared with anyone. I remembered it all of a sudden last Thursday. I know that Prince's own perspective on GLBT issues was complicated, and not entirely what we in the community would want it to be. But in 1986, when my father discovered I was gay, and it did not go over well, somehow Prince was my strength. I remember, after the horrible things my father said to me, and the violence he threatened (and executed), I went on a rambling monologue about sexuality and identity. I cited Prince, and Purple Rain, as some kind of justification for my existence. That "purple" was about a diversity of sexual expression, I explained. That I was purple, that purple people led all kinds of lives. I might have been spouting drivel, or it might have been the most profound freestyle poetry I ever uttered. It didn't move my dad. I think it made him angrier. But the sexually ambiguous petite persona from Paisley Park lit a fire inside of me that I can't explain. I honestly think he helped me survive those terrible days. I suspect that is why his death has affected me so deeply. It was his spirit, his music, that had given me the will to live those many years ago. I wasn't gonna let the elevator get me down. I will always owe him for that.
I grew up in the Twin Cities in the 1980s. Nothing gave my generation greater pride than being from Prince’s hometown. We all claimed Prince as our own. I was so jealous of the cool kids with their 80s hair and guy makeup who were cast as extras in "Purple Rain." I wished I could have pulled that off, even if it would have required a freeze frame and a CSI technician to find my face in the crowd scenes at First Avenue. But alas, the most adventurous I got in those days was a lame attempt at being on trend by putting a few safety pins in the sleeve of my denim jacket.
Being able to talk about a Prince sighting in Uptown or on Nicollet Mall made you the center of attention at any party, even if you were (like me) a nerd. And I had one of each. “He was wearing a shawl! And hip boots! He’s so short!” People would hang on your every word. They’d make you repeat every detail. “Do you think he was shopping at Dayton’s?” they genuinely wanted to know.
Then there were the kids who tried to crash Prince’s parties at Paisley Park, even though they were underage. I remember one very Caucasian classmate who died her hair black and wore dark toned makeup because she had heard “Prince only dates mulattoes.” (I knew even then that this declaration was cringe-worthy.) She left AP algebra as a white girl on a Tuesday and reappeared in AP history on Wednesday like a 1980s cheerleader version of Rachel Dolezal. “I’m totally going to catch his attention on Saturday,” she vowed.
My own near brush with Prince occurred the summer after I graduated from High School. “Around the World in a Day” had just been released. You couldn’t escape “Raspberry Beret.” (It was the “Hello” of 1985.) I was working part time … for a puppet theatre that performed in Edina public parks. Each week, two girls and I created and performed puppet shows. In a strangely prescient move, we devised a puppet show about Prince and Batman. (It was 4 years before Prince scored the first Tim Burton “Batman” movie.) In our plot (if it could be called that), the Joker and the Riddler had captured Batman, and Gotham City was in dire straits. Only Prince could defeat the dastardly duo and free Batman with the mighty decibels of his guitar solo. We had heard that Prince had learned about our puppet show (I no longer remember how), and he was going to come and see it. Every performance, we wondered if he was out there watching in disguise. We later heard that he had missed the show. It broke our hearts.
And my heart is broken now. Prince’s death today is devastating. My youth died with him.
I’m so glad I got to see him perform live once. It was thrilling. I had always expected there would be another occasion.
I don’t know what else to say. I’m still processing this.
Sometimes it snows in April./Sometimes I feel so bad./Sometimes I wish life was never ending,/but all good things they say never last.