5 Things I Learned From Prince
I’ve delayed writing this out of plain old denial. I haven’t wanted to accept the truth.
A few years ago, after a childhood friend’s sudden death, I wrote, “Maybe the space between life and death is only as wide as a strand of hair after all.”
I guess it is. Even for a musical and creative genius. Even for a Prince.
While I’m still trying to process the loss, exchanging messages and stories with friends who were fans, and reading amazing pieces like this and this, I realized just how influential Prince has been in my life, how much he taught me. I guess that’s what great artists do: help us make sense of ourselves through their art and experiences.
Prince, you sexy muthaf@cker, here are five things you taught me. I’m forever grateful.
Purple Rain came out when I was in middle school. My sister had the album, and we listened it to it constantly for weeks, trying to pick up the dance moves, singing into hair brushes. When I finally saw the movie a year or two later, I was riveted, not just by his music, dancing, presence, and fashion, but by his physicality, the seemingly effortless way he blew apart gender stereotypes, just by being his sinewy, short of stature but massive in attitude, sexy, androgynous, utterly unique self. That was lesson one.
Lesson 1: Be yourself unequivocally.
I first saw him in concert at Madison Square Garden on October 3, 1988 with my two best friends, Michael; and David, the biggest Prince fan I know, and the first person I thought of when I heard he’d died. This was the Lovesexy tour, and I will never forget Prince driving onstage in a little red Corvette, and the three of us losing our young minds. He had a massive band on that tour, and a backup singer/dancer named Cat. I remember a guy walking through the crowd with a handwritten sign that read: MARRY ME, CAT. I remember the diversity of the crowd: male, female, gay, straight, young, old, white, black, latino. I remember screaming until I lost my voice. I remember Prince telling us to dance when he played Housequake. And we did. We didn’t stop. People walked out of that concert still dancing.
Lesson 2: Lose your mind a little, scream and dance.
I bought the Around The World In A Day album with my own money and brought it to my aunt and uncle’s house when I visited them in Michigan. I played it on the stereo in their basement while my aunt did laundry and my uncle hung out in his workshop. As the music played, I saw their faces screw up with confusion and momentary looks of total terror. Neither one of them never said a word. I listened to the entire album and couldn’t have been happier. They left the basement when I started the record over from the beginning.
Lesson 3: Not everyone is going to “get” you or like what you like. It’s ok.
Prince came to Charleston a few years ago, and my friend Anne got us tickets at the last minute. We sat in the very top of the North Charleston Coliseum, serious nosebleed seats. When Prince came onstage, screams erupted from me (1988 flashbacks?) and Anne looked at me, stunned and said, “I’ve known you for 10 years and I’ve never heard you scream like that. You sound like a teenage girl.” Despite having had recent hip replacement surgery and not playing some of his most sexually explicit songs (he teased us by playing the beginnings of many of them), he danced and shredded and blew the top off the Coliseum. I screamed myself hoarse again. We left the concert elated and exhausted.
Lesson 4: Age does not impact passion.
When I heard Prince died, I was having lunch with my Mom who’s in town visiting. I held back tears from her, for fear of her admonishing me for crying about a “star, “someone I didn’t even know. I told her that Prince meant a lot to me, not just because of his music, but because of the way he carried himself as an artist and a human being. I told her that as a young gay woman, he showed me that I didn’t need to hide or fear any part of myself. As an artist, he inspired me to immerse myself in the things that mattered to me, regardless of what the rest of the world thought. As a person, he spoke freely about love, race, equality, drugs, poverty, injustice, sex, faith, and loss and invited us to do the same, challenged us to do the same.
My Mom listened quietly. She finally nodded and said, “I can see why he’s so important to you.”
Lesson 5: We’re here to love and be loved.