In the car the other day, my husband said, “You really don’t like music, do you?” I laughed, “I can own that: I don’t much like any current ‘radio music’; and, I just really only like what I like.”
In truth, I cry several times every week during Dancing with the Stars. And I’m a firm believer that Grey’s Anatomy wouldn’t be as wonderful as it is without the soundtrack. Actually, a lot of music is attached physically to my tear ducts, and I wish it weren’t so.
Most, but not all, comes from my teens and 20s. And now you know where I’m going with this. Prince. My father played the drums growing up and in college professionally some—and as a serious hobby throughout his life. We still have the now-vintage Ludwig jazz set he bought. It was set up full time in what was most people’s dining rooms. It was all I knew. There, I discovered Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Little Red Riding Hood.” I also discovered the catalogue of the Eagles—and inevitably—Motown.
We bonded on music. He took me to my first real concert, Hall and Oates’ Big Bam Boom, “Live Thru ’85,” in the Charlotte Coliseum. T-Bone Wolk and G.E. Smith were still with the band. I was drawn to rhythm and blues and then hip hop and some rap music. He’d always encouraged my love of Michael Jackson, partly for his musical genius, partly for his dance moves. And then along came Prince.
Arguably, Prince was around for a bit before I found him, but when I did…whew! Purple Rain was the first rated R movie I ever snuck into (at the Tryon Mall theater, no less). I saw him three times in concert, starting in 1988. I loved almost everything from “Controversy” to “Crystal Ball.” Only then did I think it got a little strange. 🙂
Prince’s sound can move a person involuntarily. But it wasn’t just the sound—for me, it was the lyrics, the style, the whole package. I’d worked in clothing retail at Eastland Mall for a few years—when colorblocking was first in fashion. I had several pairs of “Prince boots,” in different jewel-tone colors, to work with whatever oversized-sweater- or blazer-and mini-skirt- or stirrup-pants-ensemble I could conjure up.
Prince was more than a musician; he was a legend, a movement all his own. That man epitomized masculinity, despite his comfort in falsetto, even in polka-dot high-heeled boots or head-to-toe lace, and even when he wore more makeup than I (and in the ‘80s, at that!). As Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid recently joked, “He was a guy you didn’t want to take your girl around; he could be wearing high heels and steal your girl at the same time!” The more androgynous, or even feminine, his style, the more masculinity he exuded.
And that writing. He wrote what he wanted, and he owned it. He made a name for himself—no pun intended—by pushing the envelope with the more risqué themes and lyrics—but to be clear, his style pulled that off. Everyone else’s songs were already full of sexual metaphor and innuendo, but Prince was unencumbered. And then, as if he simply came to the end of a vinyl Side A, the songs he wrote changed, too. His faith came to soften some of those unforgettable, parent-fearing lyrics, even in current day. In his later concerts, he turned those fan favorites into a medley of edited, self-censored hits. He did everything in his own time. And he was deep.
Since his passing, I’ve caught myself singing aloud many different Prince songs. I don’t even particularly love “Starfish and Coffee,” but I’ve been singing it a lot. Then I realized exactly what I was singing: “If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand…”
That’s it. That sums up the way I see the world and how I feel in it. Much of the time, I feel like the most misunderstood person on the planet. Prince’s music, then and now, can center me, can peel away all the daily stuff that covers up the real me.
I appreciate how he turned his thoughts and views into beautiful songs—even if you didn’t agree with him. I think it’s because he didn’t say “and you must think this way or you’re wrong.” I loved that about him. He was very much take it or leave it. And he was fine if you wanted to leave it. If you think for a minute, Well, he did want to make money…you might want to remember why he turned himself into a symbol for seven years. “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” made a fortune, no doubt, but he didn’t sell out.
He taught me that it’s one thing to have something to say—but you have to be able to reach people with it…or be okay with yourself if you don’t, not tear someone else down about it.
I can’t believe he’s gone. While we will not all become legends—even in our own rights—it sure does cause pause to consider our own purposes, our own legacies. Are you doing what you love, what you want to become your gift to others? And if not, do you still remember how to peel away those false layers or right your path in time?
“If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand…”