Dig if you will, the picture: In 1984, I was a white, suburban sixth-grader who collected unicorn stickers and attended 4-H Club and church summer camp.
Yet I had become utterly possessed by an elfin, spandexed, sex-crazed crooner whose lopsided curls looked like they had been styled with Crisco and a pair of eggbeaters.
I had followed pop music since cable TV had arrived in my Tennessee town somewhere around fourth grade. MTV was already in full swing by then–Martha, Alan, Nina and the gang inviting me in each weekend for the Top 20 Video Countdown. I wanted to shock Peter Gabriel’s monkey and stand heartache to heartache with Pat Benatar. I liked Def Leppard, Madonna, and Culture Club (as long as my father wasn’t in the room).
Gen-Xers will recall that we didn’t have a lot of readily available sources for music back then. I liked artists and songs because my friends told me to. Or Rick Dees. Or my uber-cool older sister.
But when Prince appeared on the screen, slithering steamy from a tub toward me on his stomach as white doves took flight, it was as if some cosmic bedsheet cracked, and every note of every song I’d heard heretofore snapped away into the ether, blank and clean, and all that was left was purple, purple, purple.
Prince left “Xanadu” in the dust.
Prince in my knock-off Walkman became the highlight of my morning schoolbus commute. The joy of junior high dances. My comfort when no one asked me to couples-skate.
Prince was my royal raison d’etre.
I liked him because…I don’t know. I just liked him. I didn’t find him especially attractive; he was effeminate, he was short, his outfits looked like he’d raided a laundromat while Louis XVI and Jimi Hendrix went out for a smoke. Some of his lyrics were so dirty they escaped my comprehension; they hinted at acts I wanted no part of then or ever.
But there was something about him and his unapologetic bad-assness that resonated with me, hit some musical sweet spot I didn’t realize was wanting. Something set him apart from other artists. I’d always had a penchant for traditionally “black” music – Commodores, Parliament Funkadelic, Ohio Players. These were the albums I liberated from my sister’s collection and played on my Fisher-Price record player, got down to on “Soul Train.”
Maybe it was the bass. Or their fantastic bellbottoms, the altitude of their afros. I wanted the funk. Lots of it.
Or maybe the music presented for me a glimpse into a world in which I otherwise did not belong. I had black kids I counted as friends; but where I lived, I could also count them on one hand.
Then came Prince, or more specifically, “Purple Rain,” which melded for me the best of both worlds: funk I could find on pop radio. Common ground for kids of all colors—he even had white girls—GIRLS!—in his band. In satin nighties, but still. And they weren’t just rattling tambourines, they could really play.
Simply put, Prince made me go crazy.
Thirty years, five concerts and countless records/cassettes/CDs/downloads later, nothing has changed. I am a fan with blind faith. Through assless chaps, through band and label and religion and hairstyle and name changes, through no name at all, it doesn’t matter, Prince has found the righteous one in me. Anywhere, any time Prince appears, I cease all activity to watch, to listen, to try and understand the hold this tiny, funky man has over me.
Like during Sunday’s Grammy’s with my friend Quinn—it seemed somehow unholy to speak, move, or bust on the artists (except Kanye) while Prince was onstage. Rumors had circulated for weeks that he would be there–few if any artists build that kind of excitement, that far ahead of time. We sat still as stones. He brought the house DOWN, and he was only presenting an award.
He received even greater appreciation during the Golden Globes, when a ballroom full of Hollywood’s absolute elite went—for lack of a better word—completely APESHIT as Prince, adorned in a long jacket and silver cane, took the stage like the Willy Wonka of Wait, What the F*%$, PRINCE IS HERE OMG PRINNNNNCE!!!!!
I’m glad to finally know I am not alone—there are purple people everywhere. I think Prince appeals to pretty much anyone between 30 and 60 because his career has been that long and that universal.
I realize not everyone cares for his music like I do (“Graffiti Bridge,” anyone? Me either.), but trust and believe, if he walked into your home or office right now, you would leap up and scream like…well, Prince.
Because, I have realized, Prince is hope. He is the living embodiment of resilience, reinvention, rejuvenation. He has had ridiculous success, and some almost laughable failures, but he Just. Doesn’t. Give. A. Shit. He just keeps on doing what he wants to do, and people respect that.
I’m just a puny black kid from Minnesota? I will grow up to become rock royalty anyway. Write the soundtrack for Batman? Why not!? I can’t control my own musical creations? Peace, I’ll start my own label. I can’t use my own name? OK, I’ll make up a new one—in fact, I’ll use a symbol. Appear on “The New Girl” just because I’m a Zooey Deschanel fan? Yup, and we’ll set the show’s viewership record with that episode too.
Oh, and along the way, I will also master more than 20 instruments, quietly write hit songs for fellow superstars and help launch others altogether. I will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I am 45 and still at the height of my career. I will win an Oscar, seven Grammy’s and countless other honors. I will work tirelessly for the rights of artists and accessibility of our craft to everyone.
And I never, ever grow older.
(Seriously, what does the man do, drink unicorn blood?)
So Kanye, until you can make the same claims, you’d best sit down, shut up, and learn from the master. Because baby, he’s a star. Then and now and always. And we are all the more blessed for it.