We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life”
It’s been two years and I still haven’t gotten over it.
There have been very few famous deaths where I was visibly shaken upon hearing the news. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a heroin overdose, I was devastated because, outside of De Niro, he was my favorite actor and he elevated everything he was in. Everyone who worked with him or saw something he did on Broadway just raved about his character and his devotion to his craft. But, I didn’t cry. When Robin Williams killed himself, I was completely stunned because he was consistently full of so much manic joy and energy, you’d never suspect he would be so depressed and unhappy to the point where he’d decide to hang himself. But, I didn’t cry. When news of David Bowie’s death came out right after the Golden Globes ended, I couldn’t believe it. I, like everyone else, had no idea he had the kind of cancer he had because he was so secretive and out of the limelight. He was such a mythical figure that, even if you weren’t a gigantic fan of his music, he was still apart of your lives in some way, shape or form. He was one of those people I thought would live forever so it really bummed me out when he passed. But, I didn’t cry. When famous people die, especially famous musicians, the first thing people do is claim to be gigantic fans of theirs and write their own eulogy like I am basically do. It’s usually something inauthentic and baseless like saying “thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy. But, when Prince died, all of my emotions came pouring out of me. Prince was my favorite artist of all time. He was my dream concert. Not The Rolling Stones, my favorite band of all time. Not Kanye West, the person who made me completely fall in love with hip-hop music and exposed me to other genres of music through his sampling. Not Talking Heads, the band that made me feel happy to be socially awkward and like weird things. It was always Prince who I wanted to see in person and I’ll never get to experience it.
The day Prince died, I was on Twitter reading the news like I do every day. I scrolled past a tweet from TMZ or some other gossip site somebody had retweeted, saying that a body had been found at Paisley Park. My heart sank. I, like everyone else, was desperately convincing myself that it was probably some studio technician or someone in Prince’s entourage. I kept telling myself Paisley Park was a massive complex and it could’ve been anybody. I kept refreshing my Twitter feed, hoping for some clarification so I could breathe a deep sigh of relief. Nothing. Finally, after nearing a panic attack, there it was. The body found was Prince’s. He was gone forever. I immediately yelled out, “FUCK!” and then I buried my face in my hands and just started crying. That’s all I could do. I kept scrolling through Twitter, watching the celebrities I follow have the same reaction I did. We are all together in our heartbreak. After the dust sort of settled, I read MTV was doing the unthinkable. They were going to show music videos. His music videos. So, I immediately turned it to MTV. The thing about Prince is that when he was alive, you didn’t really see a lot of his music videos because he didn’t really want you to see them. He owned everything he produced and kept it in a vault. So, basically, you just had his amazing music and if you were lucky, you’d get to see a bootleg copy of, for example, the “1999” video, before it was yanked off the Internet for copyright reasons. When I sat there glued to MTV for the first time in years, it only made matters worse. My face was a puddle. They showed his Super Bowl halftime performance in its entirety. I hadn’t seen it since it happened and when they showed it, I just sat there mesmerized. It’s the greatest halftime show we’ll ever see. It’s so spectacular, you wonder why they even bothered continuing having them. It’s just Prince, two gorgeous twin dancers and his backing band. He plays his own songs, he does covers of other people songs and he closes the show with “Purple Rain” in a driving rain storm. He spontaneously explodes into killer guitar solos, melting everybody’s faces. His greatest stage trick is a gigantic bed sheet that casts a shadow of him playing his iconic symbol guitar, making it look like it’s his penis. It just makes you cry even harder. After he passed away, the NFL showed a behind the scenes look at his performance. They apparently called Prince the morning of the Super Bowl and told him it was raining and asked him whether this would be a problem. What was Prince’s response? “Could you make it rain harder?” Who the hell says something that cool? Only Prince. Watching all the music videos and live performances on MTV just made a wreck as if a family member had passed away. Then, I remembered I had to work that night. During the entire shift, I felt weightless. I couldn’t process where I was. Nothing else really mattered right now. I didn’t speak much to customers. I didn’t speak much to the staff I was in charge of. I was just simply there on auto pilot, trying my hardest not to start crying again. When I’m bored, I’ll watch all the Prince footage that’s now widely available on YouTube and I’ll just start bawling. It still doesn’t feel real that he’s gone.
My parents exposed me to Purple Rain, the album, at an early age. From top to bottom, the album is an absolute monster. It’s one of the rare albums where every single song on it is a hit. From the church organ that opens “Let’s Go Crazy” to the heart melting ballad title track, every song is perfectly composed. Prince had a knack for that. Just listen to the albums he dropped in the eighties. Dirty Mind. Controversy. 1999. Purple Rain. Around The World In A Day. Parade. Sign O’ The Times. Lovesexy. The Batman soundtrack. Even his unreleased material is better than a lot of people’s best. He was probably the greatest musician we’ll ever see in pop music. He could play virtually any instrument. When he absolutely had to record and The Revolution, his backing band, was either unavailable or couldn’t play what Prince had envisioned, he would just do it himself at Paisley Park. As a guitar player, he was better than everyone. He was better than Hendrix, one of his primary influences. He was better than Clapton. He was better than Jimmy Page. He was better than Eddie Van Halen. He was better than Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons. He was better than Stevie Ray Vaughn. And everyone knew it. It was just accepted by his peers. No matter how good his peers could play, there was always Prince. As a songwriter, he was better than everybody. He was better than Michael Jackson. He was better than Lennon and McCartney. He was better than Jagger and Richards. Name a songwriter and Prince was better than him. Nobody could write songs like him. He pushed the boundaries of what pop music could be, what you could get away with. His songs were beautiful, incredibly melodic and catchy while being funky and absolutely filthy. I can’t overstate how filthy he was. Only Prince could say something like “I’m not saying this just 2 be nasty, I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth” and make you just shake your head in disbelief that someone actually wrote that lyric.
The first time I actually saw Prince in action on stage was when I first saw Purple Rain. The film is a perfectly cheesy eighties time capsule, ranging from completely ridiculous melodrama to electric concert performances. At times, it is completely problematic, especially in the way characters they treat women. Women are slapped and treated as sexual objects. Watching it now makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable. Looking back, the funniest thing about Purple Rain is that the main conflict of the film is the fact that Prince’s music is seen as too weird for the audience at First Audience, the actual club Prince frequently played at and got his start at. His music isn’t accessible despite the fact it was the most cutting edge music to be released in the eighties. The audience goes crazy for his rival, Morris Day, and his backing band The Time. Ironically, in real life, Prince wrote most of, if not all of their music. I mean, Morris Day and the Time are a killer band but what kind of person sees Prince perform and goes, “You know what? I’m not feeling this. I’m uncomfortable.” It’s hilarious. Watching Prince perform in Purple Rain makes your jaw drop to the floor. As someone who is completely socially awkward and riddled with insecurities, you just sort of sit there in awe of how free Prince was as a performer. He simply didn’t give a shit about what anybody thought of him. His walk was a strut. He was effortless charming. He would troll everyone. He knew how gifted he was and didn’t let anybody tell him any different. You tell yourself that you should adopt that kind of philosophy and then you realize you’ll never be as cool as Prince so you just pump the breaks and sit there and admire him. There’s one scene in Purple Rain where he performs “The Beautiful Ones” in front of Apollonia, the girl he is infatuated with who is on a date with Morris Day. The song is Prince’s way of professing his love for Apollonia while making it clear that he’s the person she should be with, not Morris Day. It starts off rather delicate, even playful, before exploding with Prince screaming, “Do you want him or do you want me? Because I want you!” He points at her in the crowd. She is crying. She doesn’t storm off, unable to process why someone would be that forward. She just sits there, touched that someone feels so strongly about her. Morris Day just sits there and takes a big, fat L. He knows he doesn’t have that in him. When you watch that, you admire someone being so completely comfortable in their own skin and their own feelings, they could care less about how rejection makes them look. They just kept going. You think that you should do something like that for a girl and then you realize you still get nervous and awkward about expressing your feelings to someone face to face. So, you just watch and listen Prince do it and wish you were capable of doing it.
That’s how Prince was. You wanted to be him but then you realized you could never be him. He was constantly pursuing what he wanted, through music, through life, through everything. There was only one Prince. It was his world. We were just living in it.