He arrived in my universe when I was in the eighth grade. At the time, I could not have imagined how much of an impact his music would have on my life. The Prince love has been so intense the past ten days that I began to reexamine my feelings about him. It's something I didn't think about much lately and sadly took for granted for far too long.
At first, he was just that brother with a perm. The more I heard "I Wanna Be Your Lover", the more I thought that this guy is not so bad. Fast forward to 1980. I'm in my neighborhood record store browsing as I usually did and I come across this Prince guy again. He has a new album out called Dirty Mind and he's in bikini underwear on the cover.
As any 15 year-old, not yet evolved boy would do, I looked around to make sure no one was watching me look at this album. I knew that Frankie Crocker played the song “Uptown” on his show, but back then, buying an album was an investment. You thought long and hard before buying an album. Eventually, I said “fuck it,” and I dove in. I ran home, put the album on, and became a believer.
I officially joined the church of Prince on February 21, 1981. His appearance on Saturday Night Live that evening was one of those “wow” moments that stay with you forever. He, along with The Revolution, ripped through "Partyup", threw down the mic, and just stormed off the stage when they were finished. That was rock ‘n’ roll personified with a little funk sprinkled on for seasoning.
His music and attitude spoke to me. As a teenaged black kid who liked rock 'n' roll, he filled in the musical gaps that were missing in my life. He took my Hendrix and Zeppelin love and mixed it with Parliament/Funkadelic. The prevailing narrative this past week or so has been that he allowed black kids to be weird. Bullshit! He allowed us to express ourselves and lay claim to the art form that we invented. It wasn't about allowing black kids to be weird, but it was about us expressing ourselves outside of the confines of the stereotypes placed upon us. Stereotypes that black people, as well as white people, assigned to other black people.
Prince took what Arthur Lee and Love gave us and built a world we had the pleasure to visit. He expanded it beyond our wildest imaginations. Prince was my Pied Piper. In the mid ‘80s, I proudly wore my calf high suede boots with the fringe on top. I dressed the way I wanted to and could not care less what people thought. It didn't make me less black to be different than what was expected of me. Prince opened that door and I'm eternally grateful.
For me, it was more than the music. It was the attitude. Let's not forget, in the 1980s, he was considered to be the weird one, not Michael Jackson. I knew better and so did a lot of other people. Prince was himself, not what record execs or anyone else wanted him to be. He was authentic. When he sang about sex, it was raw, it was real, and we were all digging it. When he sang about God and religion, it didn’t make me, a former Catholic and now devout Atheist, uncomfortable. It didn’t come off as preachy. He was just telling us how he felt.
He took a principled stance against the music business when his peers did not have the guts to do so. He felt musicians should be properly compensated. For Prince, it was always about the music. My only hope is that he knew how much his perspectives meant to so many people.
Musically, he was peerless. When he walked into a room full of his fellow musicians, I’m pretty sure everyone knew that he was the most talented artist in the room and could play their instrument just as well, if not better than them. It can be argued that amongst his contemporaries, he was the only one that stood his ground against a record label at the peak of his career. It wasn’t the phony, showy, PR-driven Taylor Swift “revolution” against Spotify. It was real.
He will always mean a lot to me because he was my guy through my difficult teen years. We grew and matured together. He seemed like a real person who cared about the world around him. The stories about his philanthropy that have been filtering out after his death substantiate this perception.
I suppose all that I can say at this point is good night and thank you, sweet Prince. You will forever be on my playlist.