I know it took me a while but this has been quite a week. So…ever since last Thursday when the news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed away, I have heard the same line uttered many times: people will remember where they were when they found out. True- I will remember where I was and how I felt but I prefer remembering so many other moments and feelings.
I remember where I sat when he pointed at me and my sister at his concert in Atlanta in 2004, saying we knew how to jam. *insert high-pitched squeals here* I remember driving a long distance to Cleveland only months earlier to see him with both my sisters and my niece during that same tour. I even remember being with my other sister in a standing room only venue trying hard to get a peek of him shredding on stage in spite of the fact that almost everyone else present was certainly taller than us. Just hearing his voice and knowing we were in the same space- that’s the memory I prefer to have. I’ll even go so far as to say I remember the missed opportunities, when either work, mommy duty, or work AND mommy duty kept me from seeing him perform a few more times- including his final performance.
I have many preferred memories when it comes to Prince. I prefer to remember that he really LIVED!
“I want to live life to the ultimate high. Maybe I’ll die young, like heroes die.”
Prince, as far as I could see, seemed to truly experience life and feel every emotion. He could speak to us through lyrics, poetry, instrumentation, energetic dance moves, and classic meme-worthy facial expressions. He was the greatest performer I ever witnessed and he stood among the ranks of some amazing talent. Beyond the music, he enriched people’s lives through charity.
Prince, the man, did die young like the heroes he spoke of. Fortunately for us, his music will always live on. Little did he know, or at least feel deserving enough to realize, Prince is a hero to many. On top of being such an incredible musical genius, he gave to others, paved the way for others, inspired others through art, and consistently gave voice to the the voiceless- including those who didn’t even realize they had no voice! He broke the rules of conformity and then reached his hand back for others to also break those rules and be “Free” (for “there’s many a man who’s not”). It’s been said many times about Prince, but he helped make it okay to love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. He touched on–NO, he dug deep into race, gender, sexuality, and religion; with genuine concern for human and animal rights. I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have been exposed to the talent of artists like Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, Van Hunt, Nikka Costa, Janelle Monae, and countless others, without his influence.
“Love’s too weak to define…”
My sisters and I were known in our family to be Prince lovers. I honestly cannot remember a moment in my life when I didn’t absolutely love Prince. By the time I was born, he’d had a few albums under his belt and I feel like I’ve always known him. We had his music on every medium: vinyl, cassette, VHS tapes where we recorded all of his music videos (especially from Video Vibrations on BET). By late 1986 we had his music on compact disc- I even remember how fun it was to go back and find the ones that were being re-released on CD, like For You. Man I listened to that like it was really brand new; I was like 8 years old!
The movies are their own story. I was a baby when Purple Rain was released but when I was old enough to work a VCR on my own, I watched it…a lot. Before anyone raises a finger to judge me or my family, understand that I was a small child moved by the music. I was looking at incredibly talented people of color and women kicking ass! I didn’t see sex. I didn’t see it as an influence over me. I saw Wendy and Lisa as musicians. I saw Apollonia go for hers. I saw Billy running a club while Morris and The Kid led amazing bands. I saw a great Rock ‘n Roll story.
We saw Under the Cherry Moon in the theater, twice- don’t ask me how old I was; you can do the math. When we saw Batman, we already knew all of the songs.
We saw Graffiti Bridge and practically knew the dialogue having watched the videos multiple times before the movie came out. Sure it wasn’t the best but it was his. He was speaking to us all through his music, despite his uneven, sometimes corny moments. Everyone has a misstep but we loved this one and would defend it to anyone who told us it wasn’t fantastic.
We saw Joffrey Ballet perform a show called Billboards, and it was all Prince music. One of our first CD-ROMs on our home computer was a Prince game where you could tour his studio and unlock the combinations to vaults by knowing the songs. I saw Girl 6 because his music was the soundtrack. I know I’m getting a little redundant but he brought us out. He called to us. My sisters and I have our differences but one very distinct bond we share is a love for Prince.
I remember in 7th grade I had to do a current events project and I wanted to challenge my classmates to name more Prince songs than I could. I was so confident that anyone who could beat me would win $100 from me. Of course I didn’t have $100, but I wasn’t worried because no one could win! I knew Prince like that.
“What makes you a real lover?”
All this said, the older I got, the more out of touch I became. The analogy that comes to mind is Prince as the uncle everyone loves. He’s fun, he challenges the norm, he’s everything your parents are NOT! My problem is, I stopped checking in on him. I knew where he was and what he was doing but I wasn’t picking up the phone. What do I mean? Well the last album I really KNEW was 3121 and that came out 10 years ago! I bought the next two albums Planet Earth and Lotus Flow3r immediately, and I liked them but they both came out at crazy times in my life so I only kinda knew them. Later, because I’m not that savvy with the digital age, I fell completely behind. As much as I enjoyed the music I heard from Art Official Age and HITnRUN, I didn’t buy them right away. I downloaded a song or two and re-watched performances on my DVR but that was it. I fell out of touch and I didn’t even realize it. I kept thinking I would get around to it then I didn’t. I would get upset that I couldn’t see him in one of his many pop-up shows but who was I? Am I any different from all of the people I politely smile at (while rolling my eyes on the inside) when they can only name “Purple Rain” and “1999” as if they’re his only songs in spite of the fact that he has released tons of music in the past 30 years? Okay, I’m a little different but in this past week I questioned that.
Without fail, I have always recorded or at least stopped what I was doing for every television appearance I could: SNL, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight–I even tuned in to award shows that I abhor just to hear his voice, and all he did was say a few words. Still, I didn’t realize I wasn’t checking in and now, he’s gone. It feels like I missed something. It feels like the kind of passing where you didn’t get to at least say “goodbye.” I feel some kind of way about this timing. I moved to another city and not even two months later he was in my old stomping grounds. I wanted to go back but it just wasn’t realistic. I was reassured I would get to see him in concert again, but now I won’t.
So, like many people I binged on the music video marathons over the weekend (“Partyman (extended)!” “Mountains!” I literally screamed for “Screams of Passion!”) and watched shows I never would normally watch just to hang on him a little bit longer. Then a thought hit me last night. I was in my car listening to “Here,” from the LotusFlow3r set. That song always makes my heart flutter and my eyes misty but I was one step from bawling this time. I hadn’t heard it in quite a while and I realized I just want him “Here” but he isn’t. I realized the music is what I have left, then I smiled. The real thing he wanted us to remember was his music and boy do I have enough memories to last a lifetime.
“My Love is Forever”
For everyone wanting something to remember- remember sneaking to listen to “Erotic City” or to watch “Purple Rain.” Remember being shocked by his ass being out when he performed “Gett Off” on the VMAs. Remember his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that performance! Remember the Super Bowl Halftime in 2007- the best one ever! Above anything, remember the feeling his music gives you. Feel love, heartache, inspiration, spirituality, unity, acceptance, and so much more! Remember the stories he left us with. I have many more but I would be here all day. I may not get to see him perform live on stage again but when I think about all of the remarkable moments, it makes me feel much better.
” U Make My Sun Shine” and “I Wish U Heaven.”
RIP Prince Rogers Nelson