”Sometimes it snows in April. Sometimes I feel so bad. Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending but all good things they say never last. And love isn’t love until it’s passed.”
Sometimes a good shock to the system is the best way to meet someone, a chance encounter that twirls your wig so thoroughly that you see everything from fresh angles afterwards. The day I met Prince is etched in memory’s scrapbook alongside an image that will never fade – my fantastically out and proud high school mate Nigel stepping from his bedroom dressed in a perfect recreation of Prince’s ensemble from the Dirty Mind album cover. Not many and certainly not many high school freshmen could rock that look with confidence or flair but Nigel was certainly not everyone.
An ever-vibrant splash of color, Nigel was British and only recently dragged to California by his tech worker parents, and rather than shrink from the world as a stranger, marked instantly by his accent and apparent-to-everyone gayness (one was reminded of post-Gleemonex Scott Thompson in Brain Candy), he owned who he was. He was the first true super-freak in a long line of dearly cherished running partners that wore capes and went on adventures when everyone else put on a suit and punched the clock. And Nigel took Prince as his inspiration.
That afternoon when my pal wanted to show me his Halloween costume marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair with Prince and his music. As we smoked the joints I’d pilfered from my stoner uncle, Nigel played me Prince’s entire catalog to date. A year later, thanks to heavy rotation on MTV, the world would know Prince because of irresistible singles like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” but on this sunny day, dancing lasciviously with my ghost pale, thigh-high wearing chum to Controversy’s “Jack U Off” and Dirty Mind’s “Head,” this young man raised hardcore Roman Catholic being tossed about by puberty found himself a kindred spirit and guiding light.
”Everybody keeps tryin’ 2 break my heart/ Everybody except 4 me/ I just want a chance 2 play the part/ The part of someone truly free.”
Prince’s boldness and utter acceptance of variety and contradiction combined with his staggering talents and off-the-charts charisma opened my eyes to vistas I simply hadn’t imagined. That’s how the music meant for us, the music that finds us, especially in moments we really need to be found, seen and shown that how we feel, how we think isn’t nearly so alien or solitary as we imagine. Through his platform heel strutting apostle Nigel, Prince delivered just the motherfuckin’ word I needed. And I feel comfortable in conjecturing that this scene with myriad variations has played out over thousands and thousands of lives in the years since Prince first told us he feels for us and might even love us, his music and presence, his stride upon this earth and the quivers it issued, made many of my generation and beyond feel less alone, less afraid, sparking us to engage with what we felt and thought without filter, an example and a soundtrack for embracing ourselves and one another, hatred and ignorance the only real shadows in a widescreen, multihued conception of the universe and our place in it.
Prince’s sexual liberation theology was equal measures carnal and spiritual, God wholly present between warm, spread thighs, the Holy Ghost gliding in our breathy sighs as a lover traced their way to our core. If one truly imbibes Prince then even a single kiss can be permeated with depth and meaning. And sometimes it isn’t and straight ballin’ is the order of the day. The fiercely different poles of Prince’s thinking are both his struggle and the broader wrestling match of seeking higher calling and answering worldly appetites, flesh and spirit converging and clashing, neither ever truly dominant. Prince allowed us to eavesdrop on his internal conversation in ways that illuminated our own personal mind-body-soul chatter. A prophet is “a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God,” and Prince neatly fits this definition if one allows that God put the desire for both sex and spiritual fulfillment in us. At a base level, both are about connection and erasing borders, and Prince helped show one this commonality during the rise of New American Puritanism in the Reagan 80s – all the braver and bolder when glimpsed through history’s lens.
”I don’t want 2 take my clothes off/ But I do/ I don’t want 2 turn nobody on/ Less it’s u/ I don’t want 2 dance/ But this is a groove.”
All this is heady shit and one can easily deep dive down the religion rabbit hole with Prince, but the way he shared his thoughts with us was so consistently groovy, so easy to like, that it makes little difference if one traveled hand in hand with his vision. As the man himself would say, “Just shut up and dance!” Wise words and if Prince’s music doesn’t move you then I wonder about your potential for fun ‘n’ joy. For sure, I’d never fuck you because I know you’d be sorry in the sack. Bypass all thinking and just let his sounds work ya and you will feel better, energy permeating your limbs and a new, nifty glow shining behind your eyes. The way music flowed through him was a total pleasure to behold, no pause between a thought and it’s deft, saucy execution, everything happening in stunning real time, the man a centering, captivating conduit for one great musical idea after another. Watch clips of him with other pros and even seasoned vets were often taken aback at his grace and prowess in virtually any setting.
Much of these thoughts are from an aerial view in the days since Prince’s died on April 21st. Stepping close to his death is more painful than I’d have imagined it could be. There’s an intimacy we allow certain artists we’d never permit with almost anyone else, access to us at our most vulnerable and exposed, their songs and presence sitting with us as tears stream down and twirling us in moments of triumph and delight. It’s a relationship where we need hide nothing, and in revealing ourselves so thoroughly we establish something beyond what the artists themselves could intend or develop on their own. I think this is why the death of someone like Prince sends out the grief ripples it has. We’ve lost a valued confidant and wise companion who had given us words and melodies that have sustained and enlivened our days.
”Sometimes I wanna die and come back as one of your tears.”
Prince was closer to my heart than most of my blood relations, and if that strikes you as harsh or disproportionate then it’s safe to say that music and the blessed people who make it hold a different place in your life than mine. He was there for me when most of my family and many friends were not, and that counts for a lot just in practical terms of hours spent together and the way those minutes remain in my memory. Fan seems too small a word but I would never be presumptuous or delusional enough to say Prince was my friend. There’s more than mere admiration or enjoyment to the connection. This can be art’s power in our lives, the way a novel, film or album can reach across time and space and snap us to attention, the moment so present we can taste it, the contact lingering, an influence that seeps into our choices and POV in ways too complex to parse. Only a handful of artists will ever permeate my life the way Prince has and it’s going to take some serious time before a world without Prince makes sense to me. I know I’m not alone in these feelings, and it is Prince himself that helped show me my tribe, my community was so much larger and so much more delicious and exciting than 15-year-old Dennis could have conceived. Thank you for it all, your Purple Mounted Majesty. To say you will be missed is the grossest of understatements.