Prince’s music will always transport me to a very different time in my life. In 1984, I was living in Boston, a junior in college. I had a friend, D, who was the first openly gay person I had ever known. He was funny, brilliant, and a gentle soul. When he came out to his fraternity brothers, people he trusted with his truth, they threw his things out the fraternity window and tossed him out.
It rocked my innocent world. I hadn’t really experienced that kind of prejudice yet. I loved D for who he was and the friend he was to me. In many respects, my life was a mess, but I was also having the time of my life. As the first in my family to go to college, I was working three jobs and going to school full time. I felt a lot of pressure to succeed, while I struggled to pay bills, have a social life, and stay afloat. Like so many people my age at the time, I was figuring a lot of things out. D was there for me at a time when I often felt alone and unsure of myself. Prince was our sound track.
When the movie Purple Rain came out, Prince was already huge. D and I went to see it because we both had a Prince crush, and we knew it was safe to go together and gush. Gush we did. When I watch that movie now, it’s hard not to laugh at the corniness and the over-the-top drama. Then, we were young and we overlooked any of that because we loved Prince, and in Purple Rain, he delivered what then seemed like a new level of super Prince sexy: all the smoldering looks; the shy, coy, sexual smile; the incredible music — all of it had us huddled in that dark theater in Harvard Square, swooning. Prince had us in the palm of his charismatic hands.
When a friend texted me that Prince was dead at age 57, my brain froze. What? How could that be possible? Prince — he’s so… so alive. So iconic… so amazing. Shocked is not an understatement for how I felt, sitting there reading those words.
I read a great Prince quote where he said, “Every song was a prayer or foreplay.” His smile could be coy, sexual or childlike, depending on the moment. His overt sexuality challenged me on so many levels. When he gets out of that bathtub, in the original video for “When Doves Cry,” I didn’t know whether to watch or cover my eyes. The songs that weren’t sexy (were there any?) were in fact prayerful in their depth. He sang of pain, loss, love and life in honest layers of genius. Those are the songs that hit deep. There were so many that were simply playful and memorable as funk (always funk), pop, rock, diamonds.
I’m not a music critic; I’m a music lover. I can’t explain in technical terms all the reasons that Prince was an icon, a musical genius, an enigma. Prince changed the way I looked at the world. At a time when I was coming out of my protected, preppy shell, he and icons like him showed me — through their music and their personal styles — that the world could be vibrantly purple and not just navy blue. He was different from anyone I knew, and I loved it. But even more, I was drawn to a quiet vulnerability that showed through his raw sexuality and brilliance as a musician.
As much as he scared me (having come from a much more sedate background), he also challenged me to accept others who were different and to explore other sides of myself.
The world lost another musical genius this week. He will be remembered forever through that music and the legacy he has left. When I hear a Prince song, I will always be transported to a dark theater and to Cambridge, MA, where my world expanded and I grew up.
Rest in peace, dear Prince. “Every song was a prayer, or foreplay,” and your artistry will be truly missed.
Are you a Prince fan? What is your favorite song or memory? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Tell me what you think: I’m listening.