For me, Prince and the word “death” just don’t go together. Even as I write this now, the news still hasn’t sunk in. I keep expecting some newsflash to pop up showing Prince buying fro-yo at a Pinkberry, yelling “Psych!” into the cameras, flashing that sly grin of his.
Prince seemed otherworldly throughout his career and life. In his musical output alone, he reincarnated himself countless times. Dirty Mind Prince. Purple Rain Prince. Paisley Park Prince. “Cherry Moon” Prince. Lovesexy Prince. NPG Prince. “Piano and a Microphone” Prince. There was a Prince for every occasion. And no matter how many times he managed to delight us or delightfully confuse us with his reborn states of being, we loved them all. I loved them all.
I will never forget my first encounters with Prince. I remember the curiousity I felt seeing the cover of the 1999 LP during a trip to Sears when I was around seven years old. Something about the purple artwork and the slightly salacious lettering triggered my earliest nonconformista desires. I don’t actually remember how I got my hands on it, but soon after seeing the LP, I wound up with a cassette of the album—again, before I’d even made my ninth birthday. This was 1982, before the era of the “Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyrics” album stickers, so I got it pretty easily. I knew well enough that I had to listen to it in covert ways, turned down low or late at night. “D.M.S.R.” (Dance Music Sex Romance) was my favorite song. While all the other girls my age were probably listening to Strawberry Shortcake records, I was jamming out to Prince’s funk-fueled forays into sexuality and politics. I was a weird little girl.
I remember waking up early in the morning on Mardi Gras before anyone else in the house—because that’s what young children do on Mardi Gras Day—and turning on the TV to BET. This was in ‘84, after Purple Rain blew up. I was almost ten years old, and BET was playing videos. The video I happened upon was Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girls.” It was nasty! I was mesmerized. I knew enough about Vanity 6 and later, Apollonia 6, from reading my Right On! and Black Beat magazines that Prince was the mastermind behind this music and vibe. So when Prince brought his Purple Rain tour to the Louisiana Superdome in 1985, I asked my mom if I could go. There was nothing about me that thought a ten-year-old Prince fan would look or feel out of place. You can guess what her answer was. And while I didn’t make it to that show, I wound up buying a Prince and the Revolution: Live VHS video from The Mushroom record store that same year. And I watched it over and over again, but only while my parents weren’t home and while one of my older cousins babysat me. I wasn’t only fascinated with the music and how Prince laid down the funk that I already loved, but also with the taboo (for a ten year-old) storylines about spirituality, abandon, and sexy things.
I continued my love of Prince throughout my pre-teen years. Anxiously awaiting the premiere of the “Raspberry Beret” video on MTV. Having my dad bring me to the sold-out Lovesexy concert at the UNO Lakefront Arena in 1988 (The only memory I have from that show was seeing a gigantic bed descend from the ceiling onto the stage, with Prince’s featured dancer, Cat Glover, writhing atop it. I was mortified to witness that with my dad, but he was cracking up laughing). Buying a young love of mine an LP of the Prince side project, The Family. It was a Christmas gift, and I wrapped it in pink and silver to match the decor of the album art.
In high school and college in the 1990s, my musical mainstays turned more to hip-hop and back to the funk of James Brown, the Bar-Kays, P-Funk, and others that I’d grown up on. I wasn’t around much for the Prince NPG years, with the exception of loving a remix of “Gett Off ” called “Gangster Glam” (1991) that I still can’t get enough of today. And then Musicology came out in 2004, and Essence Fest announced he’d be making a legendary appearance. I wasn’t going to go. I’m so glad my friend Michelle talked me into going, because his show that night not only brought me back into the Prince fold, but it was one of my top two favorite live shows ever, second only to the first time I saw George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic live. I like to describe the energy of the crowd that night as resembling the old 1960s black-and-white videos of girls screaming their heads off for The Beatles. Except, at the Prince 2004 Essence Fest show, there were guys in the audience, too. And they were all pounding and high-fiving each other. Everyone was feeling Prince that night. We never stopped feeling him.
Like all Prince concerts, recordings, and experiences, that show was no joke. And while Prince’s earthly departure is equally not a joke, I tend to believe that the spirit never dies. Certainly, through his music, Prince lives forever. I can feel it.