The first thing I did was call my mother.
Because when someone like Prince Rogers Nelson is even rumored to have died, the first person I think of is the woman that introduced me to his talent when I was still a fetus.
I have no recollection of the 1978 Rick James concert my pregnant mother attended where an unknown Prince opened for the legendary funk star. I recall the stories my mother shared: how his breathtaking and exotic guitar riffs outshone the cocky James. How she watched as fellow concertgoers screamed for Prince to return to the mic as the star of the show took the stage.
They had no idea how the opening act would transform music over the next four decades. I had no idea how he would transform my life – all from the comfort of my childhood living room.
I was fortunate enough to be born during the late Seventies, the initial phase of Prince’s career. I remember watching Purple Rain on VHS, sitting on our cream leather couch in our small apartment on Chicago’s South Side. My mother fast-forwarded through the lone sex scene that would be considered tepid by the raunchy standards of today. I watched it last night and was still moved by the timeless passion, the wanton desire between The Kid and Apollonia. It was and remains the definition of a musical cult classic for my generation.
Watching Under The Cherry Moon a few years later (I was about seven or eight) wasn’t as earth-shattering. Where was Morris Day (my favorite from Purple Rain, then and now)? Why is the film in black and white? My little mind was confused by how lowkey the movie seemed to its predecessor. But the Parade album, the soundtrack of the movie? I couldn’t get enough of that record! It was his final release with his band, The Revolution, and it was an appropriate set of swan songs. On no other release can you hear the musical contributions of his bandmates Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman more vividly. Whether they were in his band, in his bed, or both, Prince allowed women to shine in his recordings and in his life. This didn’t go unnoticed by third-grade me.
As the Nineties came into swing, Prince was coming off of the excitement of the Batman movie soundtrack and released probably his most underappreciated movie, Graffiti Bridge. My best friend in seventh grade was in LOVE with the up-and-coming teen crooner Tevin Campbell, who had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance in the movie. But alas! Secular music was not allowed in her house (poor girl!) so watching a movie starring the sexiest man in music was out of the question. She came to my apartment to spend the night, where we watched it with eagerness. While she was waiting for Tevin’s five-second appearance, I was thrilled not only to see Morris Day back in action (YAY!) but by the music. The music! The scene featuring the top ten dance hit Thieves In The Temple remains one of my favorite cinematic moments ever.
Save for a few short films in the mid-Nineties, Prince’s film career came to a close after Graffiti Bridge. The music matured and his band (and name) changed. He was a legend until the day he died. A day that came way too soon for me and his millions of fans.
Before the Divas of popular music molded my love for singing, Prince molded my creative spirit. He’s in everything I write and he’s in every song I love. My favorite musical performers of all time – Lenny Kravitz, Lady Gaga, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Kanye West – all owe this man a great deal of debt.
I owe him.
He was an innovator, a feminist, a creative god. And, holy shit, he will be missed because I always imagined him being a little old man, creeping up onstage thirty years from now to accept some sort of lifetime achievement award he wouldn’t even want. I imagined myself sitting with a young grandchild, pointing at the screen and saying, “That’s Prince, Grandma’s favorite! Did you know he could play twenty-seven instruments?”. I imagined one of my children as an adult, sighing because their old mother was about to start in on how great Prince was, just as she often did when they were kids.
But that’s not the future that was intended. For whatever reason, the legend’s flame blew out. Yeah, we have the music and the movies, I suppose. I have my memories of a happy childhood punctuated by his musical magic.
I just wish we still had the man. Love’s too weak to define…