Last year I started writing a post about Prince. I had been thinking of publishing it on his birthday, but somehow it rambled and morphed and triggered memories that stretched far and beyond what seemed appropriate for the occasion. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was writing it, where it was going or how it belonged in my blog. Sadly, today it seems to make more sense. I think it’s time to finish it and send it out into the world.
As I write this, I’m still in disbelief that he’s gone. I feel like I’ve lost a good friend. And I have. Prince was my friend. I grew up with him. He spoke to me, and of course, to many. He was a constant in my life through good times and bad, there for me throughout my formative years, and helped shape the person I’d become. His music has been the soundtrack of my life.
Prince released an album nearly every year from 1978-2015. NEARLY EVERY YEAR FOR OVER 30 YEARS. I just had to say that again. My personal relationship with him began around 1982 and those albums, each of them released from that point on, pinpoints a specific time in my life. I can instantly drop right into every one of those years based on the record that came out at the time.“Oh, that was my sophomore year of High School” “That was right after college in the East Village, New York City…” It’s so specific. Prince brought me up.
The love affair started when I was about 11 and the credit goes to my sister. Nine years my elder, she comes home from college for the summer that year smiling widely, clutching a weird looking purple album to her chest. I haven’t seen her in a while. She looks happy. She thrusts the record out at me.
“Rach, you gotta listen to this! “ she exclaims proudly. I think I was just about to finish sixth grade. The record was 1999. I do listen to it. And I am amazed. Thrilled. Freaked out. Titillated.
I invite my friend Nina over. “Nina, you gotta listen to this!”
We sit and listen, our ears glued to the speakers. We replay “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” over and over, with our jaws to the floor.
“I wanna f*ck you so badly it hurts…it hurts, it hurts…oooh, I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna f*ck you…Look here Marsha, I’m not saying this just to be nasty, I sincerely want to f*ck the taste out of your mouth! Can you relate?”
YES. I could. Well, not with the actual f*cking part, as I’d never done that…but my hormones were starting to wake up and I wanted to know MORE! I was so attracted to how dark and naughty it all was. I had discovered sexy. I was hooked.
A few weeks later, school’s out and I’m at my cousins’, where I’ll spend every day that summer. They have a pool. There are also lots of kids around and that feels good to me. I like to pretend I am a part of their family.
A family, with sisters and a mother and father, a family that does family-things together.
My family wasn’t like that. I think they had been once. But those days were long gone and I had missed them. Being the youngest by a decade, by the time I was a pre-teen, my siblings were pretty much out of the house. So it was like I was an only child, but without any of the attention that an only child receives. I yearned for that Brady Bunch experience. One year another aunt and uncle took me to Washington, DC with them and my cousin David. I spent the entire time in my head, pretending that I belonged to them and that David was my little brother.
But I digress. That summer that I’m 11, I spend almost every day at my cousins’ house with the pool, swimming and disappearing into the pages of Young Miss Magazine (It didn’t become YM until much later). I curl myself up in one of their cozy chairs and just drink it in, totally absorbed, reading it literally cover to cover. Seriously, you can’t drag me away. I am finding out all sorts of things I don’t know that summer. Things about dating and high school and lipstick. Tips and tricks, advice and hot fashion. And of course I’m loving the ever-entertaining column, “Boy Was My Face Red…” It was my absolute favorite. I am relieved to know that I am not the only one who does goofy and embarrassing things.
So, Andrew is my hot older cousin. (Hold on. Is that weird? I want to pause here and state that I realize that might sound weird, however, as a purely objective observer, what can I say? He was hot!). Andrew did lawn work for my aunt and uncle. I didn’t see him much, normally, because he lived a few towns away, but that summer I saw him a lot.
One day I’m in the living room and I see Andrew’s Walkman. He’s left it on the coffee table. I open it to see what he’s listening to all day as he mows the lawn and cuts the shrubs with no shirt on. I find a cassette inside. It’s a double cassette, two records in one. (Seems strange, but I guess they did that then; my memory of this is vivid). One side is “Controversy” and the other is “Dirty Mind”.
It’s Prince again!
Though there’s no internet at the time to verify, I quickly deduce that these are other records of his.
I immediately slip the headphones over my ears and that cassette proceeds to change my life forever. My mouth drops wide open as I hear what I hear. Do Me Baby plays like a movie in my mind. So graphic. Sooo educational. Controversy. This guy is rebellious and sexy and hard to figure out. He says a full prayer in one song and talks about how he hates tourists in another. Jack u off. Is he really saying that?! And what exactly does that mean?? And that scream in Sexuality! Talking about sexuality is all he’ll ever need. Sexuality he’s going to let his body be free…! Oh. My. God. I want that too. I think I want that, too! (Later I will take a magic marker and write those lyrics all over the wall in my bedroom. My mother never did say anything about that.)
I am magically transfixed. Totally freaked out in a delightful way. I listen to it over and over again. Mesmerized. Excited. Amazed. He is so speaking a language I want to learn. A language that is taboo and passionate and until now, unknown to me. He’s talking about Uptown, it’s where he wants to be – ME TOO. I want to be uptown with you! I replay it without rest, until I learn all the lyrics to every song, all the hidden mysteries, the nuances etching themselves into the fiber of my being. As an Italian Catholic, this is as close to a sex-education I’ll ever get. I am never the same again.
I spend the rest of that summer listening to that cassette on repeat while getting dating and dieting advice from a magazine that was too old for me, beckoning me into my teens well before I was one, and secretly listening to things I had never heard about before. A song about Head…what did that mean? And Sister, wait…he’s talking about having sex with his SISTER?! I yearned to Party-Up and dive into that freaky, anything goes world. Black, White, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin’! I discover I must have always had a penchant for the funky. That summer, Prince started to bring it out.
When Purple Rain comes out a year later and takes the mainstream by storm, I am, of course, already an expert. We’ve been in an intimate relationship for well over a year! But I love love, love, love it, none-the-less. In years to come, it becomes a tradition to rent Purple Rain (the movie) every year on my birthday. Every year. For the next ten years.
By the time I enter High School, I AM Apollonia. Or at least I think I am. I dress like her, I have her hair, the lacy gloves, the whole 9. Tight long black skirts and fuzzy V Neck oversized sweaters with huge hot pink pumps and fishnets. I went to school like that? It’s hard to imagine my little Italian/Irish Catholic mother letting me out of the house. But then they were pretty good at ignoring things, especially things they didn’t like (See Exhibit A: those walls I wrote on?). That Fall my science teacher nick-names me “Hot Lips”. He’s kidding and I’m kinda freaked out by it but what the hell, I’ll go with it. I fall for a Puerto Rican boy named Lenny (who’s from the City!) and he’s the real life personification of Prince. Right there in my school. He is ridiculously sexy and he thinks I’m hot and all my friends hate him. I fool around with him in the woods behind McDonalds and get poison oak all over my body and have to take my finals in complete agony. He breaks my heart. I knew he would, but I had to go for it. He was my Prince, after all.
The real Prince never leaves. He takes me through all the ups and downs of High School and college and then after-college life too. We have all night dance parties on Avenue A (causing everyone in the building to hate us and the landlady to not renew our lease), I have wild acid trip sex to The Gold Experience and pretty much see God (um, probably could have edited that out, but seriously, for real. I see God!), and I listen to Prince before every single performance. I honestly can’t go on stage without listening to him. He’s my anchor and my happiness-transportation system.
I go to see Prince perform live many times throughout the years, including once in Sweden. My awesome Swedish Houseboy, as we used to call him, got us tickets while I was visiting; I had no idea where we were going until we got there…and it was a Prince show – HOLY CRAP! File under: #BestSurpriseEver!
One of the most impactful experiences seeing him was at Jones Beach during the height of my partying days. We waited for him to come out for hours (good old Prince; he always did make you wait and want it more!). Eventually, he came to stage by boat (how freaking cool is that?), and of course rocked the shit outta the place for hours! We were completely stone sober, the first time I’d seen a show that way in probably about ten years, at least. I remember being shocked that I could go to a musical event sober and have a good time. Have a good time? Are you kidding? We raised the roof on that mutha! My best friend had just been through the ringer with a personal matter and I was, well, always in or out of the ringer, in the height of my confused and on the edge 20’s. I’ll never forget towards the end of the show, everyone was going ape-shit (that’s really the only way to describe it) and Prince said: “You know this feeling you have? Right now? I want you to have this feeling every day!” I held that statement close to my heart. It was possible. It was possible to feel that way. He made it possible. His music did. He healed us that night. Because that‘s what he did. He healed with his music and created so much joy in the world. I am grateful for every single moment of it.
Even when I moved to LA, His Royal Purpleness remained relevant in my life. My mind was blown when I got to see him at a secret show at the Roxy (thank you, Megan Jacobs!), something I’ll never forget. I stood about 15 feet away from him and I swear we made eye contact! (We did! We made eye contact!). And moments before I walked down the aisle and into my marriage, it was Prince we listened and danced to. The last time I saw him was a few years ago. He did something like 19 days in a row at the Forum and offered the tickets for $22. Because he could. Because he wanted to. He wanted to give all his friends the chance to see him. It was an incredible night and I left with the very same feeling I always had when I saw him live. Like life was worth living. Like there was beauty and joy in the world .
There is so much more to say. There always will be, because that feeling that he conjures is only ever a step away. It’s on my stereo, in my earbuds, in my car, and in my heart. Just like he did for the 11 year old back then, he still lights me up.
Thank you, Prince, for setting the world on fire with your incredible talent and heart. And for your unwavering friendship, which you offered to so many through your music.
I’d say Rest in Peace, but I know you’re up there showing the angels how to do it right.