I’ve said before that when Prince dies, it’ll be the celebrity death that destroys me. But as I sit here tonight, listening to the livestream of Prince music from a Minneapolis public radio station, I don’t feel wrecked. Not yet.
I think a part of me refuses to believe that I exist in a world without Prince. Or that a world can exist without Prince. Because as long as I can remember, my world has been infused with a tiny pixie funk sex god yelping about raspberry berets and “Trojans, some of them used,” and it was extraordinary. Prince is as seamlessly woven into my childhood as grape popsicles and roller skates. He just always was.
Over the coming weeks, a lot of people will write a lot of remembrances about Prince, and they will have more authority than I do. They will be involved in the music industry, or they will have attended more Prince concerts, or they will have something really unique to contribute. I don’t have that.
What I can say is that I grew up in a squat brick home in a tiny Ohio neighborhood, and Prince was an essential part of my life. Even there. His purple reign extended that far and deep.
• First grade, my mother’s vanity. I see Prince on TV, and before school one day, I use my mom’s eyebrow pencil to draw a thin mustache over my lip. “Because it’s pretty, that’s why,” I argue as she wipes it away with a cotton ball.
• Third grade, bathroom floor. It’s the quietest room in the house, so that’s where I go to record songs from the radio onto a blank Sanyo cassette. After I record “When Doves Cry,” I will play it so fiercely, so ceaselessly, that the tape itself will run thin and become knotted inside the player. I will untangle it and rewind the tape back into the case with a pencil, and that will happen over and over, until it’s finally rendered unlistenable.
• Fifth grade, Desiree’s house. It’s my first time seeing the video for “Kiss.” While the song is pure sugary pop, the video is the most confusing, frisky, lusty thing I’ve ever seen. Prince is pure, uncorked sex, gleefully wiggling around in leather pants and a half shirt, while Wendy, clad in twice as much fabric, plays guitar. Meanwhile, a veiled woman in lingerie and aviator glasses slinks and writhes. I don’t understand their relationship, the three of them, only that it’s visually exciting. And though I know something sexy is happening, it’s also the first time I’ve encountered something simultaneously hot and playful.
• Sixth grade, the community swimming pool. My friends invent this pointless game called “Song Cannon,” which involves doing cannonballs off the high dive into the pool. The kicker? In that space between jumping and plunging into the water, you have to shout a line from your favorite song. The first time I yell, “U got the look!” The next time, “Your body’s heck a sl— … (glub-glub)”
• Eighth grade, the dank, wood-paneled downstairs of my parents’ house. Spontaneous dance party with “Batdance” at full volume.
• High school, Kim’s house. My friend Kim is secretly dating a guy in our class who already has a girlfriend. He gives Kim a mixtape that opens with the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and ends with “Purple Rain.” It doesn’t even matter what songs are sandwiched in between. Kim plays the whole tape in her bedroom twice, and as the music careens through hunger and longing and sorrow, the air is charged, electric.
I could go on and on. The time a man on a Greyhound bus mistook me for Apollonia. Sneaking out of work early from the Cincinnati Enquirer to see Prince play a 26-song set. Standing front and center for Prince’s Coachella set, when he trotted out Morris Day and The Time. All the years I made a Prince lyric my mantra: “I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away.”
And of course, all the nights made seriously funky with purple and ruffles, sparkles and a wink.