The first song I ever heard of his was "Controversy". It was a hit! Everyone was talking about the guy. Always the lover of words, I got him immediately! "Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy." "Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? Some people wanna die so they can be free." "Life is just a game, we're all just the same. Don't you wanna play? YEAH!"
When I visited my local "wrecka stow" and saw him on the album cover I remember I told myself, "This guy is cool!" But then when I checked out his previous offering I recall saying, "Uh oh!" A fairly effeminate looking man in, what was then considered, very unmanly underpants. Hmmm...still, this was the 80s and well the 80s were different. I decided I loved the guy and that was that.
I was in the minority, right off the bat. ALL of my friends were on some, "you like that homo? You must be a homo!" I never told them about my love of Elton John, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Tom Jones, even Judy Garland and Queen etc... Not because these were all performers popular with men of a certain nature, but because they just weren't popular among most black people (except maybe Queen after "Another one bites the dust"), and I feared ostracization as an Oreo, even then. But prince was black so I boasted my adoration for him...and took the hits...until they eventually beat me into submission, and I took my love of Prince Roger Nelson underground. Two high school years, while masculine-as-fuck HipHop dominating the scene, I kept my love of this androgynous young man under lock and key. Until Little Red Corvette exploded on the scene!
After that, I DIDN'T GIVE TWO FUCKS what anybody thought! The man was a fucking genius, regardless of his sexual orientation, and I would stand in the middle of The Universal rally of Gods and Earths in Fort Green Park in the middle of the summer amid the testosterone of a thousand of my fellow Five Percenters and say as much (if the occasion ever presented itself. It never did hehe.) My friends cut me some slack then, though, because this song was clearly about good old-fashioned heterosexual bootknockin'! And we were all big fans of that band! "Believe it or not, I started to worry, wondering if I had enough class, but it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it alright, she said 'baby have you got enough gas?' OH YEAH!" So then I came out the closet...just in time for, yeah, you guessed it, Purple Rain!!
That's when WE ALL came out the closet and stopped giving a fuck about his androgynous stand! And Appolonia's fine ass didn't hurt any, either. Not to mention "The Time" Morris Day and Jerome and Jimmy Jam Terry Lewis and them... Slammin'!
I was in the army, in Basic Training, first time I heard "When Doves Cry". I had my platoon immediately work it into a cadence and we used it when we marched, blowing everyone on Fort Jackson's minds. "How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world that's so cold?" we sang in time as we marched about. We were glorious! But, to be honest, I was still merely a cursory fan then. I loved the hits. The LRCs, and 1999s, the Dirty Minds and Controversys...I didn't dig into his B-sides and know his whole discography, like I did for Stevie Wonder or or the Jackson 5, or the Ojays, Spinners, Isleys, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Ohio Players, etc... These were staples in the black community. Couldn't go anywhere without hearing them.
But, Prince was something different. There was no comparison. It wasn't until the albums "Around the world in a day" and "Parade" dropped that I realized his full genius. You see, while everyone was sitting around waiting for more Purple Rain type songs, Prince went and changed his whole shit! Pretty much took an "artistic /do what I love" left while everyone was looking for him to take the "commercial / pop" right. He knew if he had gone right he would have been successful no doubt, financially anyway, but as an artist, as a creative force, he would have been taking the road MORE traveled, the path of MANY an unhappy artist that came before him, trapping themselves in the fame game. He lost a lot of people. He endeared me forever.
It was the little talked about songs, "Tamborine" and "The Ladder" on "Around the world..." that totally flipped me, though. Oh my God here U are Prettiest thing in life I've ever seen Close my eyes what's it like, What's it like inside your tamborine? And those drums! (Sheila E no doubt) Have a listen if you've never heard it. Of course the commercial hits on the album were hot as well. "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret" had nothing on the other two. Nothing. Then there was "Parade" and again he had some commercial hits in, "Girls and Boys" and "Kiss" "Anotherloverholeinyohead" but until you've listened to, until you've immersed yourself in the beauty of "Sometime it snows in April" or "Do you lie?" or "Life can be so nice" Prince is just this artist racing by. That's when I caught up! And backtracked to the very beginning, and started following the man in earnest. His growth as an artist, as a musician, as a businessperson, as a producer, as a human being with a vision and a dream. I've been on him ever since. Like most admirers, I've been to see him about a dozen times or so, and was planning to see him again, no matter the cost, if he made his way to japan with his most recent tour.
In fact, it was while camping outside Madison Square Garden for tickets that I found out the depths to which I didn't know the man. Thinking myself a diehard, I found myself outside all night with some people who would be the equivalent of Trekkies that talk about Star trek episodes by the episode numbers, and SERIOUSLY and INTELLIGENTLY discuss Star Trek technology and the implications of the many alien races in the Next generation Universe. Anyway, these guys and gals were camped out as well and were playing Prince Songs I'd simply NEVER heard before. And they all seemed to know these songs, some were even kinda bored with the selection as if these songs could easily be found on any Tower shelf in carnation. And they were mostly white folk! I sat there all night with them, learning the depths of my ignorance about the man's B-sides, Studio sessions and outtakes and what not, feeling a mixture of ecstasy and deprivation. I bought copies of these tapes (one of them even had the Black Album wayyyyyyyy before it was to be released, and another had a tape with songs that would eventually wind up on "Crystal Ball" and a bunch of other albums) This overnight engagement was better for me than the concert! And the concert was great! I never went full-on diehard though. There's a fetishist / savant feel to some of those people that requires a great deal more of an investment of time and energy than I was willing to make. I had my own vision and goals to pursue.
However I am a full-on appreciator of all he's made, and very knowledgeable about him, beyond that of your average admirer. Anyway, I could go into favorite songs and memories associated with songs, and songs I still sing regularly and songs that are directly attached to my emotional core, and songs that tell my life story in 3 minutes, and songs I listen to when I need to feel connected to that energy known as God, and songs that get me all hot and bothered, or make me feel all powerful and god-like myself, or make me feel so nostalgic I cry, or feel so encouraged about life and the future I scream... it just goes on and on and on, this list. But suffice it to say, Prince will always be here as long people who love him and love his music are here.
And so while I'm still in shock at the suddenness of his exodus to what I'm sure is a wonderful place, my mourning is done!
Love you, Prince Roger Nelson...forever.