A little part of myself died when Prince left us, and I would like to explain why. In the past few days, I have been reading various articles about why we mourn famous people that we didn’t even know. This is a valid question, and perhaps I can shed some light on this, at least from my personal experience.
While I became aware of Prince around 1982, it wasn’t until a bit later that his music became an integral part of my life and happiness. In 1983, my mother passed away suddenly. I was 9 years old, and I was lost. While I turned to music long before this for comfort and fulfillment, this was a time in my life where music would be more important than ever to get me through.
In the summer of 1984, I begged my father to take me to see Purple Rain. He begrudgingly obliged, and while I may not have completely understood all the subject matter, the concert sequences alone provided me a jolt of energy that would singlehandedly make me a Prince addict. That same week, I rode my bike to my local record store and plunked down envy penny I had to buy the Purple Rain soundtrack on vinyl (when I say every penny, I mean it…there were lots of pennies on that counter). Those songs brought me to a place that I needed to be. They made me feel alive, happy, and helped heal my broken spirit. The amount of times I played air guitar in my mirror to ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ defied reality. For the first time in a while, I started to feel myself again, and Prince’s music was partially responsible.
There were Prince eras that I identify with stronger than others, and chronologically, the Sign O’ The Times era was the next one that I strongly connected with. That double album had absolutely zero filler, just one powerful track after another. It was this era that made me realize the strength of Prince as a storyteller. I was mesmerized by the lyrics of ‘The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker’ and ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.’ I spent hours analyzing those songs, and I had entire scenarios built in my head for these songs, including vivid representations of what the characters looked like, etc. In late 1987 into early 1988, I developed a habit of listening to SOTT in its entirety while staring out into the desolate darkness of the Ohio winter. I found this very comforting and calming, and I did this nearly every night, letting the beauty of those songs engulf me like a warm blanket just out of the dryer.
My first opportunity to see Prince live is another experience I would cherish forever. In 1997, it was announced that he would be playing in Cleveland for the first time in many years. I was lucky enough to score a general admission floor ticket, so the day of the show, I arrived at the venue many hours before the show. Once the doors opened, I bolted down the stairs of the arena to the floor where a security guard tried to slow me down, I blasted right past him and didn’t stop running until I hit the barricade in front of the stage. My poor friend that came with me struggled to keep up with me, and thoughtI was insane at that point. But where he really questioned my sanity was when the show started, Prince came out, and he was right in front of us. Within the first minute, I was overcome with emotion and started to cry. I will never forget my friend noticing out of the corner of his eye, leaning over to me and yelling into my ear “you are a strange bird.” I fully accepted that.
Another special memory I have of Prince in a live setting took place in 1998. He came back to play Cleveland at the same arena. Earlier in the day, I heard rumblings of an after show party at a local club. My plan was to leave the arena as soon as the encore started and try to be the first person at the club. That part of the plan worked to perfection. I got to the club, paid my $20, and got frisked by an extremely intimidating person at the door. Once I was in the club, it was just me and a couple regulars at the bar who looked rather surprised and bewildered about why I was there. I sat at the bar and ordered a drink, while Boyz ‘N The Hood played on the big screen television behind me. I finished my drink and made my way upstairs to the dance floor area. People started to trickle in, and I started thinking “Is HE really going to show up here?” As I was starting to lose hope, I looked over to my right, and Chaka Khan (who opened the show) was standing next to me! A few minutes later, I noticed a bit of commotion near a door across the room. I made my way over there, the door opened, and there HE was, right in front of me, in all his bedazzled, high-heeled glory. He was flanked by huge bodyguards, so I kept a little distance. I watched him walk past me, and everything turned to slow motion. He was escorted to an upstairs VIP area that overlooked the dance floor. He seemed very entertained by looking down at people dancing, and every once in a while, he would reach his cane down so people could jump up and try to touch it. It was an absolutely unforgettable night.
One of the things that hurts the most about Prince being gone is the prospect of never seeing him make people happy in person ever again. However, I am so grateful for the opportunities I had. Nobody can ever take those nights from me. And the music? That will be with us forever. Generations after us will have the opportunity to discover his musical genius and share it with their friends, just like many of us have done. All I can hope for right now is that he is somewhere where he can see all of us celebrating his life and art. I, for one, will never stop celebrating him. Neither should you.