I grew up watching MTV in the 1980s; I grew up watching Prince.
Those heels. That hair. Those hips. That voice.
In the 1980s, Prince came to define everything that seemed to not want to be defined anymore by a tired old system run by tired old men. Namely: love and sex, gender, art, and most certainly, music. He was hero and anti-hero at the same time. He made “new” music yet always managed to sound like the legends who’d come decades before him, but never in a rip-off kind of way. He had his own sound, his own lens turned to the world that we all tried to glimpse through.
I never truly understood him. And that’s why I loved him so much.
Rock stars are often outsiders looking in, lost in their art, yet able to translate something digestible and resonant; it’s no wonder music holds such a place in our hearts. Prince resonated with everyone: metalheads and New Wavers, punk, and R&B fans found common ground in his music.
We see rain a million times in our life and know that it’s not quite translucent, not quite ocean blue—we never think to see it as purple, until one day it’s the only way we can ever see it again.
The more time that passes, the blurrier those early years of my life have become. Some memories, though, they stick out like bright sign posts pointing to the rest of my life. Watching “Little Red Corvette” for the millionth time in a week, reading and blushing at the lyrics to “Darling Nikki,” watching the movie “Purple Rain” over and over again at a sleepover feeling both too young to love a man I’d never even met and too human not to. Those were moments I haven’t forgotten, moments I often relive, looking for another layer of discovery. Prince surely had no idea that an awkward, clumsy, perpetually confused and anxious white Jewish pre-teen would find his music so prescient, so necessary. So right.
But I did. I held onto every poignant note, every lingering second of “Purple Rain” as it faded into the end of the cassette tape. And then I did it again.
Aside from, David Bowie, the other great music icon we lost earlier this year, who else could transcend so many boundaries? Who else seemed like an alien and the most normal person ever all at once? Prince’s most notable talent may just have been that he didn’t flinch; he was calm, even when he was wailing on that guitar or grinding away on stage. He was, like his name, regal. He wasn’t us. He wasn’t like any of us, even though he made us all much more of who we’d eventually become.
Prince wasn’t just a rock star of the times; he was a totem. He was a friend and a role model, a wild, raw, soulful rock ‘n’ roll animal all rolled into high-heeled boots and custom-made suits. He looked through us all with his endless, enduring eyes and that straight face. He told us he would die for us. And we believed him. We needed someone to say that, to put a value on our un-purple boring middle class lives. He obliged. Like a purple Peter Pan, he flew in looking for his own shadow, and wound up taking us to places we didn’t even know existed, didn’t even know mattered. But they most certainly did.
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