I think I must have been 15,16 years of age when Prince’s music entered my life. His music came on a cassette tape a friend gave to me. “Hey man, listen to this!!” So I did. And so did the music enter my mind and opened up doors that would never close again.
The doors I subsequently entered would alter my state of being. The music I experienced set me on a journey of exploration. An exploration of music and of the soul. I would become aware of my surroundings in a totally different manner.
Thus far I had had a keen interest in music. Somehow. My family has somewhat of a musical tradition, that somehow skipped a generation with my parents. I blame the war they experienced as kids for that. Nonetheless with Prince soul music entered my world.
Had I previously mostly been interested in Pop and Rock, with Prince I started to explore Funk, R&B, Classic Soul, Blues, Jazz - even Hip-Hop. Reggae would come to me as well; later on in a similar fashion - also via cassette tape - and would push me even further along the soul train. I’ve always considered Reggae to be in a league of its own within the general meme of ‘soul music’.
The first album I bought was Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell”, followed by Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan” and Queen’s “Live Killers”. I became a huge Queen fan.
Prince's “1999” changed all that and my life would never be the same.
I grew up in white middle-class suburbia. Color was never an issue because all the color I knew was white - with a few exceptions that were too far and few to make a mental dent on my mind.
So when I had received my friend’s cassette tape I could not picture Prince. There was no internet to quickly browse for. I had never heard of him before and he sounded like nothing I had heard before. I had to find out more. I bought the album. A double album, lavishly decorated with strange symbolism and captivating sleeve imagery.
I started to backtrack and subsequently bought “Controversy” and “Dirty Mind”. There wasn’t much more out back then as I somehow glossed over “For You”.
“Am I black or white? Straight or gay?”
This dude was singing to a totally different key than what I had previously experienced. Was I black or white? Well, that question I could pretty easy answer for myself. Was he black or white? Well, he wasn't white, but he wasn't black either. He seemed to have a bit of everything.
Straight or gay? Hmmm, come again? Straight, or gay? Straight or gay, as in sexual orientation? I had never given that any thought. I grew up in an environment mostly surrounded by women. It all had come quite natural to me. So I guess I was straight - but what would it constitute to be ‘gay’?
Could I be interested in - even attracted to - my male companions in other terms than friendship, or feelings of mutuality? Nah, I didn’t think so. The thought of anything else than that abhorred me. It never occurred to me that Prince could be gay either.
“Sexuality is all I ever need” Really? The sexuality Prince expressed was heterosexual as far as I was and am concerned. With a female touch.
Have you ever been so lonely
That you felt like you were the
Only one in this world?
Have you ever wanted to play
With someone so much
you'd take anyone, boy or girl?
In his genius, Prince might have been lonely. I don't think however he crossed that line. I think he had crossed an entirely different line.
“Do not believe in God / Do not believe in me”
WTF! He is singing not to believe in God and at the same time not to believe him. WTF!
At this time I had only a rudimentary belief in God. Prince was challenging me. He put questions in my mind without explicitly answering them - while at the same time being very explicit about sex and women.
Annie Christian was a whore. Darling Nikki masturbated in a hotel lobby. His sister had a funny way of stopping the juice. Corny. Yet, on the other hand, there was a girl in Paris whom he not much later would sent a letter to - hoping she would answer back. A condition of the heart? or the mind? Had Anna Stesia come to him, talked to him, ravished him, and liberated his mind?
Much of his music intrigued me, tempted me, and stirred my mind, but it was “Purple Rain” that really captivated me - and continues to do so up to this day. I must have listened 10,000+ times to this track, mostly from live recordings I gathered over the years. I have a huge vault of Prince bootlegs from the early beginnings in 1976 up to 2016. And of course all the official releases.
I remember that I would always bring my 'Purple Rain' 12-inch vinyl to parties, as all the boys and girls would continuously chant along with the chorus. Even the “God” instrumental B-side did well. Although this side had some odd mechanical defect. No matter on what turntable this side was played back, the pitch control would go wild at one point in the track.
“Purple Reign” remains to be a magical track in my mind as to so many of my peers at the time. Even those who were disgusted by Prince would still appreciate “When Doves Cry”.
Some of the Prince mystique would even rub off on me as I noticed that my Prince aficionado-ship was appealing to girls. Prince was able to resonate with both sexes in almost equal measure.
He was unisex whereas his contemporary Michael Jackson had mostly sexless appeal. If you were into Prince you weren't into Michael - although that has changed over time. I remember the girl next door would play "Thriller" ad nauseam. I had to blow her away with a bit of "Computer Blue".
“A Love Bizarre”
Prince and women. I would argue that Prince had a profound deeper understanding of women and love for women (and for people in general) on a spiritual level, but that he was unable to remain connected to them in the physical world, real life. Music being his first muse; always at odds with a woman’s need for attention, communication, and security. Nothing was secure with or about Prince at that time.
Prince communicated to us through his music. While we were still lingering on his latest work, he was already heading for a new project or concept; a new fantasy or fling(?) Dressed to the latest fashion in clothes that were custom-designed for him, living in a self-established Paisley Park world.
“Do you relate?”
Yes, I could back then and still do up to this day. To a certain extent that is. I do relate to him and feel connected to Prince at some level. Albeit in a strange relationship as other people may have felt as well.
Both captivating and elusive, confrontational, yet distant, at times I could not help but feel like a rat that was being played by the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I guess that being friends with Prince in real life - let alone being in a relationship with this outer world personality - would have formed quite a challenge for most mortals.
“If I was your girlfriend, would you tell me everything you forgot to tell me when I was your man?”
Women of the world, this man knew you! “Could you be the most beautiful girl in the world?” “Ladies, make 'em act like they know. You are, was, and always will be Pussy Control”.
Prince was beyond pussy. Far ahead. A Kwisatz Haderach. He opened up and entered doors that many of us are afraid to enter or simply lack the awareness to experience.
“Are U Experienced?”
Prince lead me to Jimi Hendrix. Another enigma. If Jimi’s career was an all-out musical firestorm, re-shaping the musical landscape forever, Prince’s career was more like widespread peat moor fire. It had longevity and whenever we might be starting to think the fire was out, Prince would start a new one from another direction. Prince not so much re-shaped the landscape as he affected vast areas of the musical scene indeed.
Prince formed a hybrid of his own and a bridge to other artists. Some of them we might have otherwise forgotten - remember George Duke, Rick James and Sly And The Family Stone? - and the 'usual suspects' like James Brown and Little Richard. He took what he liked or was inspired by from them and amalgamated all the elements into something that was completely new and fresh to a generation that he himself belonged to.
"Still would stand all time"
Prince has often been called the Peter Pan of music. No one ever really caught on to him. To me this especially holds true in the ’80s and ’90s. He was evasive and confrontational at the same time. Being some kind of a friend to us as well as being a sexy MF at times.
Prince changed over time as he became more accessible. Prince changed as we all do.
At the turn of the millennium, the Minneapolis genie was boxed in by Jehovah's Witness’s religious beliefs. At the time I felt that the Prince we 'knew' had been taken away from us - as he also had changed his name to a symbol. Larry Graham was deemed to be the thief in the temple to many Prince aficionados. I formed no exception.
But let’s face it, next to and behind ‘Prince the artist’ there was a private person. Larry Graham was one of Prince’s musical heroes and probably a 'hero’ on a personal level as well. As Prince affected us so was he affected by other people. He was human after all of which his opioid addiction may give further proof.
If Prince felt that by becoming a JW he would somehow serve God better, then who are we to judge a man that simply cannot be categorized? His days of wild were not over, they merely changed. Prince dropped some tracks off his repertoire and changed “The Cross” into “The Christ”. From a reclusive untouchable he clearly became a more sociable and socially engaged person.
I feel that Prince was about to enter a phase in his life where he would not only raise questions and cause controversy but was (preparing) to deliver some statements and answers as well. Maybe his third eye had opened up to the fact that in order to be fully human we must not only relate but interact as well.
Crimson and Clover
Musically Prince was still improving and becoming better with time. He focussed more on guitar playing - although I will always favor his piano/keyboard playing, as will others will remain to have a prevalence for his bass slapping or his very percussive style of drumming.
Feeling good, feeling better, feeling wonderful. That is how Prince appeared to be in the last years. At least to me. More relaxed, less awkward. Still creating, producing music, and performing at the highest level.
Prince died in an elevator on April 21, 2016, overcome by an opioid that took away his physical pain and eventually his life. Was it the elevator that did him in? The one he sang about in “Let’s Go Crazy”? We may never know. What we do know is:
There’ll never B another like him