Friday, April 22, 2016

My Purple Life, Part 1

I was at work about 1:15 yesterday, standing in the middle of a field making sure no fights broke out during fifth grade recess when my phone buzzed. Before I could get it out of my pocket to check it, it buzzed again. I had received two text messages, one from my wife, the other from my sister. Both bore terrible news. Prince had passed. I wasn't watching the kids anymore. Suddenly, I myself was a kid. I was nine years old on the floor of my living room perplexed by the shirtless, long haired, hairy chested young man on the cover of the album I was holding. I am even more perplexed when I flip it over and see the same man, naked, with the naughty bits covered by the wings of the horse he is riding. I have to know what this is all about. I remove the album from it's cover, put it on the record player, making sure that the penny that gives the needle the proper weight to prevent skipping is firmly scotch-taped to the arm before setting it on the spinning vinyl and hearing the crackle fill the room as if the speakers were clearing their collective throat. The first song, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," came on. It is so good that when it ends, I immediately moves the needle back to the beginning and play it again, and two or three more times after that. Eventually I make it through the entire album. I don't get much of it at all, but I like it.

A rush of wind nearly knocks me over as the real kids zoom by me. The furious action of the football game they are playing puts me right in their path. The first one has the ball. His proximity makes me realize where I am, but I can't move. His pursuers and blockers, another dozen or so, pass me on both sides. A few of them close enough that I brace for impact. Once out of danger, I am a twelve year old watching a Saturday morning music video countdown show. Prince has two songs on the list, 1999 and Little Red Corvette. I sing along, more aware of what I was listening to than I had been a few years before, but still not fully comprehending what I am saying. A few short months later, I hear that not only was Prince making a new album, but it will be the soundtrack to the movie he is starring in. It will be called Purple Rain. My thirteenth birthday passes, the movie is out and I'm standing in a long line with my mother and younger brother waiting to buy tickets. We finally get them just before the show is to start. The theater is so full, we have no choice, but to sit in the second row. I watch the entire thing leaned back as far as my seat would go with my head cocked sideways. By the time we leave the theater my neck hurts, but I can't be happier. Shortly after, I have the much coveted album. I'm back in the same living room, but sitting on a chair I pulled as close to the speaker as possible. The album cover is open like a book on my lap where all of the lyrics are printed in purple script. I studiey it word for word as the songs play. The title track plays last. When it ends I start over, still studying. Within a few days I have every word committed to memory.



Cheers and jeers erupt from the throng of boys and girls using this unmarked field as their gridiron, awakening me once more. I notice that the music teacher had wandered out to speak to another of our colleagues. Rudely, I summons her away from her conversation and inform her of Prince's passing. She lets out the kind of prolonged 'no' I imagine many people did. Her eyes water, but she doesn't cry. She pulls out her own phone and says "I hope this is a hoax." She goes online and has my story confirmed. We chat a moment about how great he was. It felt strange referring to him in past tense as it always does when someone has just left us. She walks back into the building, obviously shaken. I look up at the kids playing football. The action is moving in the other direction. I stand still, but travel farther than they could imagine. 

I am sixteen and have the house all to myself. My girlfriend is over. I had already learned that a good slow jam tape is essential to one's love life. Sticking with the classics was advice I took to heart. I combed through my mother's record collection, plus my own, and made a musical landscape inhabited by Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers, Freddie Jackson, and others. I knew I had to have the right song as my opener if I wanted to set the proper mood. I had Prince's other masterpiece album, Sign O' the Times, in heavy rotation and knew that there was only one song that deserved to be my opener, that album's final track "Adore." The reason? I was already a budding writer, less than a decade shy of becoming a published poet, but knew I would never write anything as romantic as that songs chorus:

Until the end of time, I'll be there for you
You own my heart and mine, I truly adore you
If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I'd still see
Love is too weak to define just what you mean to me

Because of this song, it will forever feel inadequate to me when I tell someone I love them, particularly my wife. That's a feeling that took years to develop as the lyrics nestled in both my head and heart and made me realize that when I declare my strongest feelings I mean something much more than my words could encompass. But I am only sixteen and not quite that deep, yet. It is merely part of my ploy to get into a girl's pants. It works masterfully. It works lots of times with this same girl over the course of the next year and change. With my eighteenth birthday on the horizon, I take her to see the movie that I talked up for months, leaving her no choice but to crave being in a theater on its opening weekend, like I did. It is none other than Tim Burton's Batman. A handful of celebrities show up to the same show as us. It's fun picking out people we had only previously seen on TV. A bigger highlight than that is what happens during the opening credits. The names of the director and the film's stars pass silently. Applause and cheer erupts when these three words appear on the screen: Music by Prince.

The whistle blows to end recess. I am forty-four, now. Walking back into the building, I share the news with a couple more co-workers. Both express the same shock and disbelief that I and the music teacher did a few minutes earlier. Both of these young ladies were many years my junior, growing up well after what would be called Prince's heyday, yet, they have the same reverence for him that I have. One of them quickly texts her aunt to relay the news. I sneak peeks at my own phone, needing to reconfirm it myself, while the kids are busy working. I get through the rest of the work day, doing my job, but somewhat numb to the proceedings. My body is there, perfunctory in its actions. The journey in my head carries on. I revisit many more moments in my life, big and small, where Prince was somehow involved. There were two week stays in the hospital in 1984 where I had my mother bring me any magazine she could get her hands on with Prince on the cover. And he was on a lot of covers that year. There was the SuperBowl party at my father's house in 1985. The game ended and a mini-party broke out as Let's Go Crazy snatched us all from our seats. There was another lyric studying session the day I rushed home with my copy of Around the World in a Day, and was totally blown away by the song America. There other similar moments when I got my hands on Sign O' the Times, Diamonds and Pearls, etc. I could go on. I will go on, but not here. I'll just type these last few words, add some pictures and hit "Publish" while his music swims into my head through the headphones I have turned up way too loud. Then I'll shut off the computer and drift off to sleep as those songs do laps around my soul.




9 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute. I'm still shocked about this. My older sister was the big Prince fan in our family, like you mentioned about your co workers, I missed his hey day too. But I still appreciated all the music of his I do know, even if I didn't get to experience it in real time. It's awful to lose him and Bowie in the same year, they were unique artists.

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    1. Thanks. Both of those guys were one of a kind.

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  2. Interesting to read how Prince is linked to big and small memories during your life, that's what music can do. Purple Rain is important to me because it's associated with owning my first car. I regret not seeing him perform live when I had the chance. The only positive to come out of this I guess is the possibility "the vault" material will be officially released. If so, I hope it's done in a tasteful manner.

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    1. Cool memory about Purple Rain being linked to your car. Any chance it was little red Corvette? Yes, I hope the vault is handled with care.

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    2. I particularly enjoy "The Beautiful Ones" and "Take Me With U" on car journeys, and yes, love his 1982 album and Little Red Corvette is perfect for the road.

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    3. It's funny, but Take Me With U is the one song on Purple Rain that I'm only lukewarm towards. It's not a bad song by any stretch, just too cute for my tastes.

      Lol, guess I wasn't clear in my attempt at cleverness. I meant was the car itself a little red Corvette.

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  3. This is beautiful as I'm on the verge of tears as I know exactly what you're going through. I'm still in shock. I just posted my review of Purple Rain and there's a link below I wrote about him in my music blog as I just summed my own feelings about him and what he meant to me. I just spent nearly all day yesterday and today watching his videos and CNN. I just wanna hug you now and have you cry on my shoulder and I'll cry on your shoulder knowing that 2 great men, 2 great artists that made us OK to be ourselves and not worry about fitting in are now gone. Yet, I'm sure at this moment. Prince & Bowie are either making music or talking/listening to some jazz records.

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    1. Thanks. I agree, it's been a rough couple of days. Tried not to watch too much of his stuff on TV. And yes, he and Bowie have much to discuss.

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