Prince shaped my adolescent sexuality, he "brought my manhood alive and made it sing." When I was 12 my mother took my brothers and me to see the movie Purple Rain. She covered my eyes during the sex scene with Apollonia, in which he grabbed her crotch to "When Doves Cry" and they swayed together for the camera as he bit her neck. Mom thought she had me covered, but I could see through the cracks of her fingers. I came home, locked myself in the bathroom with my mother's vibrator and with that scene in my mind it was "erotic city come alive."
"Erotic City" was the B side to "Let's Go Crazy," another of the film's smash hits. That year Prince would go on to win two Grammy Awards for his efforts, which my mother bought me after we saw the film. I played the record until it was so scratched there wasn't a tune that didn't skip. So when my father stormed into my room one night while I was blasting "Baby I'm a Star" screaming for me to turn off that jungle music and finally broke the record in half, I wasn't as devastated as I might have been. Though I'm still traumatized by the rages of that Mediterranean man (my father) with his thick mustache and wild hair. Come to think of it he looked an awful lot like Prince. I'm sure my parents didn't mean to send me mixed messages, my mother encouraging my musical tastes and my father reprimanding me for catering to my lower chakras (those were his words). Oh, well.
"Erotic City" wasn't on the album anyway. A classmate of mine made me listen to it with her on the phone. She said she touched herself to the beat and thought of me. So I wasn't the only one whose nether regions were awakened by Prince's "jungle music"! His Royal Badness wouldn't have had a problem with my father's designation. After all Prince wrote "Jungle Love," which was performed in the movie by the Time. I thanked my classmate for her gesture of affection and to return the favor, I thought of her while pleasuring myself to the tune of "Darling Nikki," which also happened to be the name of the girl in question. Like rain during the performance of "Purple Rain," so damn poetic. Thank you, Prince. Call me whenever you wanna grind, indeed.
The film's success led to an avalanche of older Prince music which stormed the airwaves and TV and which my virgin ears weren't yet familiar with. Songs from the album "1999," like "Delirious" and "Little Red Corvette." Did Prince really have a lion in his pocket? How I wanted to go where the lady's horses ran free. Only if she'd be a "private joy" to me. I heard this song when for my birthday my older brother bought me a Prince album to replace my broken copy of "Purple Rain." I forgot to specify which album so Jason came back with his earlier work, which Rolling Stone magazine called "so erotically self-absorbed that they suggested the reveries of a licentious young libertine." Among the hits were "Do Me, Baby" and "Jack U Off." Whatever you call it, Prince was speaking to the adolescent boy's ripe mind.
The artist never really earned mainstream appeal. Not for any lack of ability. His lyrics were just too risque to win him the popularity of Michael Jackson, the only singer who could match his talent. But that's probably how he wanted it. Excessive commercial success was the territory of the Beach Boys. Beneath him. Controversy was after all the name of the "young libertine's" album. My early exposure to the artist coincided with the advent of MTV, and staying up late one night during a sleepover with friends I got to see the music video for "Kiss," which is still my favorite Prince song of all. "Act your age, momma, not your shoe size and maybe we can do the twirl" is still a line I use with the females. Because how often it applies!
In high school my first real girlfriend, Neysa, turned me onto "Sign 'O the Times," the follow up to "Parade" and his ninth studio album. My favorite track, "If I Was Your Girlfriend," explored gender identity and the insurmountable barriers between the sexes like no other song before or since. My good friend and soccer teammate, Steve, was a huge Prince fan. He insisted everybody on the team become fans of the artist's work. He was captain of the squad so everybody did as told. We made it to conference finals that year, so the funk must have worked. In college I was on my own, and free to pursue Prince's follow-up to his decade-plus string of hits, or not. Could he outdo himself? They say an artist's best work happens in his twenties and early thirties. Prince turned 33 around the time I graduated high school so the pressure was on. In my early twenties the love affair continued. I was always amazed by the prodigy Prince was, how versatile. He learned piano at like 7 and taught himself guitar in his early teens. No lessons. But it helped that his parents were in a band. There wasn't anything the man couldn't do, musically speaking. He played guitar like Hendrix, could dance like MJ, get funky like James Brown and compose notes with the ease of a modern day Mozart - and play piano just as well. Wrapping the best of all the greats into a signature style that has spawned imitators but cannot be matched.
And the man himself was so out of this world. I remember thinking early on that Prince had to be gay or at least bisexual, if there is such a thing. His voice could hit those really high notes, like Little Richard he had a penchant for frilly outfits and heavy make-up. He was so sensitive and gentle, with eyes like a dove and soft, kissable lips which with his deep eyes and long lashes would be the envy of any centerfold. But the lips were framed in course dark hair. He was pretty, but also hyper masculine. Man and woman united into an androgynous whole that was all his own. Truly a Gemini. He could talk like a thug you'd meet on the streets in any metropolis. His trimmed beard was the equal of any Puerto Rican you might ride the subway with in NYC. His chest hair and gold chains were straight outta the movie Godfather, and his bouffant hairstyle was something a 60-something high society socialite would drop a couple bills every other week to maintain. And Prince was little, only standing 5'2'', but that didn't stop him from playing hoops as a high schooler, as his broad shoulders could attest; and if you ever laid eyes on the poster that came out with his hit movie's album, you know the man toted a huge shlong. As I'm sure his long line of love interests were intimately acquainted with.
Between making his guitar orgasm onstage as he pranced around in stilettos he romanced the likes of Madonna and Carmen Electra (whom he named) as well as Kim Basinger and Sheila E, another protegee he discovered. And of course Vanity, whom he had corrupted to such a degree that she renounced her role in Purple Rain and herself became a born-again Christian. It makes one wonder what went on in their boudoir. I once picked up a book about sex with the devil, about Beelzebub himself having a penchant for sodomy and degrading sexual acts. The Catholic schoolboy in me imagined Prince to be a little Lucifer, with otherworldly musical ability, indeed the artistic talent of a half a dozen virtuosos packed into a slight mortal frame. How else to explain such extraordinary ability than by some pact with the devil? Practice just seems so booring! And you know what ensues when you have sex with the devil or his minion and get pregnant, don't you? In the movie Omen Gregory Peck finds out his son Damien is not his own and digs up the grave of Damien's mother to find . . . a jackal. Prince was married twice, and divorced. His son Boy Gregory was born in 1996 with a rare condition known as Pfeiffer syndrome, involving premature fusion of the skull bones, and died shortly after birth. The analogy is not perfect, but was their child the product of sex with the devil? No need to worry, Jesus freaks. For Prince was himself among you. Indeed he often preached most loudly about the Son of God - while also singing about scarlet pussies and horny toads. The man was nothing if not an enigma who wore as many hats as the instruments he played and outfits he changed into onstage and the women he romanced. In the end the opinion you hold says more about you than anyone else. And despite the occasional misgiving, I couldn't stop admiring the guy! (And Mayte, I'm so sorry for your loss.)
I was around when he changed his name to a symbol (androgynous like the author, with the signs of Venus and Mars united around a horn) to protest his record label's greedy handling of the rights to his music, but controversy didn't affect the quality of his work. The "Love Symbol Album" (1992) featured his new name/sign as its title and rocked. "Seven" is a keeper that I still hum to, from memory because like most of Prince's songs, you don't hear them on the radio and because he staunchly opposed music sharing and copyright infringement good luck finding his work on YouTube. He was an eccentric. In his later years he became a Jehovah's Witness and preached about the end of days and conspiracies. I'd say stick to music, Prince, but even his songs got political. But in the early 90's he was still churning out catchy funk/pop, and of that I'm a fan. I bought his album "Come" in 1994 but only compulsively played one song. So it was back to older stuff. Around this time his greatest hits (1993) was released, a three-CD compilation featuring tracks from his self-titled album, "Prince," (1979) through "Diamonds and Pearls" (1991). Most of the songs were from his heyday in the '80s.
After this my interest in Prince's music waned. His newer stuff seemed drawn out, self-indulgent, with the feel of gospel music, and I'm not big on lengthy guitar solos. So I retired my collection and moved on to heavy metal, which also has lengthy guitar solos. For the last 22 years my only exposure to Prince's music has come courtesy of the radio (which only plays a few fan favs) or whenever I'd go over the soccer captain's house. Steve has remained a loyal fan. At his wedding we dropped ecstasy and got down all night to Prince's hits. It was one of the best nights of my life. The marriage didn't last though. I still haven't called Steve to see how he's taken the news of his idol's death. I fear that he may quickly succeed Prince into the grave. Such was the extent of his adulation. I on the other hand was no die-hard. Once I was offered the opportunity to wait outside the local record store for tickets to an upcoming show. I chose to sleep in.
In the years I haven't followed Prince the artist had been his usual prolific self, composing a prodigious quantity of music for a vault that nobody has heard, and performing live, often at his house in Minnesota, where he was found dead. The man who once sang "Are we gonna let the elevator break us down?" died in an elevator. I'd call that irony but I'm not even sure it is. Over these final decades the hits were few and far between. I watched with a wince as my idol aged, walked with a cane, became puffy in the face. His hair thinned, and was that a paunch? He didn't look too good. Despite being a vegan/vegetarian who didn't drink, smoke or do drugs. But if his only exercise came from his carnival antics on stage, he slowed down a lot starting in the late 90s. The cause of our hero's death hasn't been revealed and may not be known for weeks. But for a black man in his late 50s, diabetes and heart disease are possible, as is a pulmonary embolism due to all those long flights travelling to shows. He had been battling a lung condition which his publicist called the flu. Reports are that he was treated for an opiate overdose at the hospital days before he died. He may have had AIDS. What does it really matter.
I walked around in a depression until I realized that Prince is probably better off. His life was his music. He was getting old. The best songs were behind him. He had no children to live through, no wife to cuddle up next to. Not everyone is meant to reach the life expectancy. There are those, artists especially, who burn bright and fade fast. And I won't miss Prince. Because his music, the songs I grew up with, will be played more often now that he is gone. Just the way Michael Jackson's songs still are. The tribute to these great performers will probably last until after I'm gone.
Prince never wanted to be a slave. He once wrote the word on his face in a gesture of protest to the fat cats who got filthy rich off his catchy riffs. Had Prince lived he would have continued to be a slave to his fame, and like us all a prisoner of this fragile flesh and blood capsule we call home. The human body. His was breaking down. But before it did he blasted off into "Space." Which, after "Kiss," is my favorite song. And "party over, oops, out of time" my second favorite line.
Prince, with your supernatural talent and shockadelic funk, you inspired me to be creative the only way I know how. I may not write as well as you. But there aren't many who do. And I can't think of a better way of saying thank you.