What is it about the things you love the most that make them absolutely impossible to write about?
I feel like every college campus from here on out is just going to have to have a mandatory in-depth course on the artist we’ll always know as Prince.
I guess I always thought that if I had kids, they would just be aware of who Prince is, you know? It’s not that I didn’t think he was mortal (okay, sure, I had my doubts) but I just didn’t realize how hard he would be to explain to someone else once he was gone.
Sure, there are some words to describe him. You can (and should) throw around the usual suspects like icon and legend and virtuoso, but there’s just something else that hangs over all of that, and it’s this feeling of upmost respect and warmth and infectious joy that I have for him. How can you sum up accurately that he was the utmost cool being while also being so insanely musically talented while also consistently reinventing his style and look while simultaneously being the most entertaining performer while also making me want to dance like crazy and sing along with reckless abandon to anything he produced?
This is why they’re not asking me to write Prince’s biography. (I mean, YET. Prince’s people: if you have stumbled across this blog, first of all, I’m flattered, and second of all, I’m always open to this.) They would never ask me because I’d just sum it up to say: Prince was himself. He was never a bucket of cheap gimmicks created by a record company, he was never a one-hit wonder, and he was never a bore. Prince wasn’t trying to fit in – he was unapologetically making music as himself, and I think there’s something so magical in that. I think we need more of it. Prince and Freddie Mercury and David Bowie (and so many others that I find myself calling my musical heroes even at 25) weren’t trying to appeal to everyone and they weren’t trying to fake it. I’m not totally jaded and against modern music, but they had a distinctness to everything they did that is much harder to find these days, and weren’t weird or different just for the sake of a title or for the sake of gaining a TMZ headline— they just existed in this gorgeous, outlandish, fantastically fun state of constant self-expression. While today everyone tries to crack the formula for musical success with marketing strategies and stunts, Prince had magnificent meticulously-practiced talent and such a long catalog that at some point it just seems so obvious that he was making art just because it was true to who he was as a person.
Prince owned his look, sound, style, and image with such finesse that it just simply was Prince, and although that sounds somewhat dumb to me and I know it won’t be a ~major revelation~, it makes me feel comforted.
Because really, that’s what it’s all about: feeling.
So, today, like nearly everyone else on the internet and who owned a radio from 1978 until now, I feel sad. I’m not saying I would win in a Prince Trivia Contest (although I already thought of my team name: Paisley Snark) or that I deserve to have the title of #1 diehard devotee because I think that’s something that we trip over when an artist dies, and instead forget the feeling and the reason that we’re so drawn to their art that speaks to us so deeply. Sure, I’m a regular musical snob know-it-all and find a strange satisfaction in recalling facts about my favorite bands and collecting everything they release on vinyl, cd, and in merch form, but, collections and fan club memberships aside— the feeling has always been more important to me. Feeling like I had inside musical knowledge when my Mom introduced me to “Raspberry Beret” at age 8 and I loved it (even though I originally thought the lyrics were “Raspberry Parade”– which is still an event I would very much like to attend). Feeling absolutely ridiculous yet so entertained at how my high school boyfriend and his friends spent many a Friday night playing “Batdance” on repeat in the car on our way to the movies with accompanying dance moves, substituted “John McCain” to the tune of “Purple Rain” like their own personal SNL skit (2007 was a weird time, okay), all while adding a constant commentary about how no other guitarist in history may ever have as strong a style. Feeling tickled pink (or purple, rather) when my 90 year-old grandmother asked me what was playing when “Kiss” was on the radio and I could see her bobbing her head approvingly in the passenger seat. Feeling an absolute rush of energy when I heard,“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today…” from the speakers at one of my favorite dive bars in Austin while the smoke machines kicked in simultaneously and suddenly the dance floor immediately became packed even before the chorus of “Let’s Go Crazy” had started. Feeling bittersweet because no matter if I got the position or not, I would always play “Baby I’m A Star” in my car as a pump-up song before walking into any job interview like a ritual, because “I ain’t got no money, but honey, I’m rich on personality!” is a lyrical statement I personally find extremely hirable and applicable.
My junior year of college, a friend and I got tickets to a concert with a lineup that I cared a lot about at the time, but to be honest, looking back now, I can only tell you 1 of the 4 bands that played that day. What I do remember is that I fought my way through the sea of other millennials to the front and finally secured a spot against the railing, so I could actually see. Upon making it there, my 5’3 frame was overshadowed by a huge, 6-foot-something enormous security guard standing directly in front of me, his back to the stage, chiseled-bicep arms crossed, thick sunglasses on, looking out into the sea of restless, rowdy kids, waiting for the show to start. He was an older gentleman, but his expression was tough and domineering, with a fierce scowl, and he was constantly scanning the crowd like a hungry hawk. There was a speaker next to him and the venue had been spinning pop-punk and alternative 90s music, but then the DJ apparently had a change of heart, and the beginning of “When Doves Cry” started playing. I turned around to my friend (who graciously let me pull the short card and stand in front of him once we wrangled that close) and let out an approvingly girly omg-this-is-my-song! squeal and started to sing along. I was midway through “maybe you’re just like my mother,” when I heard an alarmingly deep voice in front of me. I turned to see this formerly-intimidating security guard belting out Prince unashamedly. We locked eyes, singing in unison, and his stone-faced expression cracked into a huge smile. For the rest of the song, we continued our singalong, and while everyone else around me was yelling, spilling beers, and smoking cigarettes with annoyed expressions, my new Prince pal and I were in sync and grooving. (He even threw in a few shoulder bops!) The song ended, he laughed, and then went back to his serious grimace, and the artists I’d come to see took the stage very shortly after. Again, while I can’t really recall what songs the band played that night, I can tell you that the security guard brought me and my friend water bottles during the set, and after the encore, he reached onstage and grabbed the band’s setlist and a fallen guitar pick and handed them to me, flashing that huge smile again for just a second and then composing himself quickly again, back to keeping an intimidating eye on the audience.
On paper, this security guard and I had nothing in common, and although, if this was a rom-com he would have had a dashingly handsome, single son for me to fall in love with and marry into the Security Guard dynasty and he could become a doting musical father-figure to me, I don’t actually know his name or anything else about him.
And while I also don’t know if he reveres that singalong as I do, I do know that it’s more than okay to talk endlessly about and really connect with someone over something as shallow or seemingly unimportant in the long run as a favorite song or a favorite artist and how they make you both feel, because those feelings stick with you long after the song ends and come back up in the strangest and most wonderful ways.
(I also know that you don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude, which like, thank God, because they have yet to add it to Netflix.)