I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m having a rough time processing Prince’s death. I didn’t know him (although I did have a very vivid sex dream about him in college that involved me, Prince, and the song ‘Diamonds and Pearls’).
This past week, I listened to every radio station that promised a 24/7 Prince tribute. I was surprised that I still knew the lyrics to every song. While this made very happy, my daughter stopped speaking to me for several hours after I sang along with “D.M.S.R.” (Apparently, it’s “embarrassing” if your mom loudly sings “Everybody, screw the masses! Wear lingerie in a restaurant!” while her friends are in the car.)
Since I spend the majority of my life in my car driving my children to various activities, I had a lot of time to listen to his amazing catalog of music. And as I did, the memories of my youth overwhelmed me.
Each Prince song that came on the radio evoked a different memory for me:
1. Listening to “Darling Nikki” reminded me of 6th grade sleep-away camp. The song was dirty, shocking to adults, and forbidden for us to listen to. So, of course it was the #1 song of the summer. I remember sitting on top of a picnic bench at Camp Seagull with a bunch of the older, cooler girls gathered around a “jam box.” Someone had smuggled the cassette tape of “Purple Rain” into camp, and we all secretly sat and listened to the song until we had it completely memorized. At 12 years old, I had no idea what “masterbating with a magazine” meant, but I knew it made me feel grown up to have memorized them.
2. Listening to “Little Red Corvette” reminded me of my much-acclaimed middle school talent show performance. My best friend and I did what I can only describe as a sign-language version of the song. We felt it best to act out each word of the song to convey its meaning to the audience. We acted out the word “little” by ducking down low. We jogged in place to illustrate the word “fast.” We wore red shirts that we pointed to whenever Prince sang the word “red.” And horrifyingly, we did exactly what you are thinking when it came to any automobile reference: we pretended to drive a car. It was only recently that I realized that the song had nothing to do with driving a little red car much too fast. (And for that matter, “Lady Cab Driver” was not really about a woman who drove a cab.)
2. Listening to “Controversy” reminded me of my first outgoing personalized answering machine message. The machine was a gift from my parents to go along with the new kid’s telephone line that was installed in our house. (Kids: if any of these ‘80s terms are too confusing for you, please ask a nearby adult.) The message, sung by yours truly, was to the tune to “Controversy” and went a little something like this: “I just can’t believe all the things people say.. on answering machines. If you want us to, then we will call you back. On our answering machine.”
3. Listening to the song “1999,” reminded me of my high school graduating class of 1989. It was a party anthem for us, since we could easily change 99 to 89. (As in,…”so tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1989.”) I remember dancing to that song at prom the thinking that the year 1999 was very, very far away in the future and that I’d probably be very old and wrinkly by then.
4. Listening to the song “Purple Rain” reminded me of seeing the movie “Purple Rain” in the theatre with my friends over and over again. Our parents took turns driving and dropping us off at the movies. We insisted that we be dropped off around the corner from the movie theatre, so that no one would know that we didn’t drive there ourselves. This, despite the fact that we were all 13 years old. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at the “I Would Die For You” hand movements.
5. During my rebellious bat mitzvah pre-teen years, I listened to “When Doves Cry” over and over again because I felt that Prince totally “got me” when he complained about his mother never being satisfied. I got excited every time he sang about “Dynasty” in “Kiss.” It was like we both loved the same exact t.v. shows.
I wanted to be Appalonia, or Vanity or Shiela E. I wanted to be Prince’s girlfriend, walking around in a white lace corset and a white lace garter belt. I imagined him signing “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” to me only. I loved the “1999” record album cover, and I hung it on my wall like a poster.
I danced to the “Batman” soundtrack in a college sorority “greek sing” competition. I gave up my obsessive love for pink and gave purple a try. I was distraught when he changed his name to a symbol. I searched desperately for a raspberry beret.
What I have realized is that music, unlike any other medium, is intrinsically tied into all of our experiences growing up. Each of us has a soundtrack that goes along with our memories.
For me, the soundtrack of my adolescence was filled with a variety of artists. The music of Michael Jackson and Madonna were both featured prominently, along with a lot of music from one-hit wonder singers with crazy hair. But Prince is the only artist in which I can recall so many vivid memories that correlate with so many specific songs.
Prince was there with me as I turned from an adolescent to a teenager. He stayed with me as I became an adult. He was as present as my friends were.
His loss feels just as real as if one of my childhood friends were to pass away. The memories that spring to life for me once one of his song starts to play are as clear as if I would have bumped into an old friend.
Unlike any other artist of the 1980s, Prince was ours. He belonged to our generation. I wonder if my kids will be lucky enough to have an idol of their own. I’m not sure any of the artists of today will have the longevity and continued relevance that Prince did.
Princes’ songs made more and more sense to me as I got older. I now realize that the songs “Head,” “Do Me Baby,” “Cream,” and “Jack You Off” had completely different meanings than I once thought that they did. I now realize that “I wanna be the only one you come for” does not mean that he wants you to be the only one to come over to his house. “Soft and wet” is not about a dog’s nose. I totally know what he meant when he said “there are 23 positions in a one night stand.” (Actually, no I don’t.)
He was also eerily prolific about his death. Listening to “Let’s Go Crazy” over and over again, I was struck by his words: “I’m not gonna let the elevator bring us down.” He alludes to the fact that even if he were to die in an elevator, it would never break his spirit. In Sign O’ The Times he sang: “A man ain’t truly happy until a man truly dies.” I really hope that both of these things are true.
Goodbye sweet Prince.