Like millions of music lovers across the globe, the death of Prince Rogers Nelson has hit me hard. In the numbers. Right in those proverbial feels.
I’ve gone from sobbing to smiling ear-to-ear and then back to sobbing all in the span of one hour-long walk around the lake where I live while listening to Prince on my headphones. (Songs like If I Was Your Girlfriend and Darling Nikki… how can you not smile, right?)
The first day I felt numb. The second day I cried about it and actually surprised myself at the depth of my sadness. The third day I thought, “I don’t want the tributes to stop.”
I still don’t want the tributes to stop.
Now my reaction might seem strange to you. I mean, how often have I written about Prince on this blog over the past nearly 10 years of writing it? Honestly? Did you know Prince and I had a thing?
I found only three mentions, including this one which features a very Purple Rain-era photo of me in 1984. And really, what can I, a middle-aged scrapbooker from the other side of the river add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said?
Hell, I’ve never even made a scrapbook page about him. [ collective gasp from the crowd ]
In 1983, Prince was the artist who bridged the chasm between the corporate rock I’d grown up on (Journey, Foreigner, etc.), and the alternative music I would eventually claim as My Music. He was this groovy, sexy, alternative entity of bad assery, and I felt hipper than anyone else at my high school because I had 1999 on heavy rotation.
I’d actually fallen in love with Prince when I was in 8th grade when I heard I wanna be your lover for the first time on my a.m. radio. My best friend Molly and I could not get enough of that song. We wore the grooves of that 45 out.
Somehow I missed Dirty Mind and Controversy, but holy shit, when 1999 came out, it was everywhere and I was all freaking in.
And then Purple Rain pretty much sealed the deal. I don’t have many laser sharp memories from my senior year of high school, but I distinctly remember going to the opening day of the movie, a matinee at the Everett Mall, all by myself because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I hadn’t cried that hard at the end of a movie since seeing E.T. It was official: I had to kick Steve Perry to the curb. Prince was my new boyfriend.
Purple Rain was the soundtrack to my Freshman year at the University of Washington. While I was starting to get way into the whole new wave and goth music scene, there was no way I wasn’t lip syncing and dancing my ass off every time Baby I’m a Star came on my dorm room boom box.
It reminds me of such dear friendships. It reminds me of a time when I was beginning to test the waters of life away from my parents. It reminds me of all that struggle and emotion and exhilaration of being 18 years old. Prince was there with me. He was part of that exhilaration.
I took him with me when I moved to Texas in 1986. Everything he put out was instantly added to my music collection. It’s strange that Prince was Texas to me, but he was. I can’t hear Sign of the Times without smelling that thick, evening Dallas air, remembering all my time spent clubbing in Deep Ellum, with Mr. Nelson providing the sound track.
And then whaddya know, I met a boy from Minnesota from the other side of the river. A boy who grew up breathing the same rarified midwestern air as the Purple One.
Of course, Dan was a fan and that was one of our shared musical loves.
Our first dance as a married couple in 1991? With You by Prince.
I saw him perform only once. It was the early 90s and there was a rumor he was going to be playing at Glam Slam, a club he owned at the time. This was before the legendary fan concert days at Paisley Park. It was a brutally cold night in February and Dan and I figured, “Why not?”
I watched him play for three hours to a standing room only crowd of about 200 people. Epic doesn’t describe it. In fact, looking back, it almost didn’t seem real. I was 10 feet away from Prince and he was literally sublime.
The last prince album I bought was 3121. After that, I fell off the pace. I don’t really know why. And today, after listening to The Current play his entire catalog over the weekend, I’m thinking it was a case of poor judgement NOT to have kept up with his body of work.
But that is the beauty of music. It is there. It will be there. What a gift, seriously, to be able to keep discovering.
So that is my woefully insufficient tribute to a man who I believe to be the greatest artist of my generation. I know, there are people who will put Michael Jackson up there, and yes, I suppose he would be deserving of such high praise, too. But as Prince himself once wrote: My name is Prince / I don’t wanna be king / ‘Cause I’ve seen the top and it’s just a dream.
I think we can all agree on this: he did not come to funk around.
Thanks to my friend, and fellow Prince lover Colleen, for the photos from First Avenue.
Thank you for this! When I first saw the news, based on a friend’s facebook status, my first reaction, naturally, was, “NOOOOOO! Not Prince!”. Next, I swear, I thought of you. As a Minnesota girl and music lover, I knew that if it were really true, you would be as devastated as the rest of us. Part of me tried to rationalize that it could not be true unless you acknowledged it. And then I saw your Intstagram posts. And it hit me; it really was true.
Prince was awesome. So many of us can bring back countless great memories by listening to his music. He was a legend, with unrivaled talent. If my high school and college years had a soundtrack, there would certainly be several Prince songs on there.
Kim Jackson says
Your post perfectly embodies the tweet turned meme about how we don’t mourn the artist because we knew them but because their music helped us know us. Thanks for sharing!
Mary Jo says
I remember listening to 1999 when I was younger and thinking I am going to be so old when that year hits! I was 28 in 1999 Lol.
The first song I loved by him was When Doves Cry. Brings back great memories. He was such a talented musician.
I remember thinking the same thing! (I was 31 in 1999.) I also remember wondering if anyone would play 1999 in 1999….and yes, they did! 🙂
Terrie Shortsleeve says
Cathy, your Prince journey mirrors mine in so many ways, likely because we are the same age. I, too, fell hard in 8th grade to “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, and fell again when 1999 hit. I also saw Purple Rain by myself. My mom wouldn’t let me go to Austin to see The Police on their Synchronicity Tour in 1983, but she couldn’t stop me from heading up their to see Prince and his Purple Rain tour. Hands down the best concert of my life! His music shaped my last two years of high school and first two years of college and it will never be forgotten.
Cathy I cried like a baby reading this post… On the subway with many ppl staring lol. I am 28 years old and of course my friends don’t understand why the loss of Prince has been so profound for me and for the world. Even had it out with an acquaintance on Facebook because she didn’t understand why he was being compared to MJ. I simply said… “Ppl who don’t know about the history… Or about music period cannot understand the loss this is. MJ made awesome music.. Some of the best I’ve ever heard.. But Prince.. The best music I’ve ever felt. ” needless to say she never responded… That’s the beauty of music it’s timeless… About 5/6 years ago Prince was doing his coming 2 America tour and I had been going through a really hard time… Had just graduated college coming of age issues and he played at Madison square garden… I went to all 4 shows… 3 of them alone. He saved my life. Made me make sense of feelings I otherwise couldn’t. He was and will always be amazing and I can’t wait until my son discovers his genius. ?
Cathy Zielske says
Mmmm. Yes. You know, it’s that thing… if an artist is part of something that saves you in your life, that artist IS part of your life in a very personal and real way.
The best music you ever felt… that is so on point. 🙂
Kim Smith says
Perfectly poignant in describing the legendary Prince! Yes, this post needs to become a page in your albums. I know it will be in mine now. Thank you…. My first memory of Hearing Prince was when I was 10 after just moving back to Minnesota. It was a chilly Novemeber night and we were visiting my Dad’s best friend house and his way cool older teenager daughter and her boyfriend were sitting on the steps outside listening to Prince on her boom box. I was instantly in love and Prince has had a part of my heart ever since and always will! God Bless that remarkable man that inspired so many with his tenacity to live his Art!
Karen Lee says
Great post! His passing hits hard for those who his music soundtracked their teen/college years.
Love your thoughts here.
I am a little young to have been a true fan, but loved his music growing up all the same. Remember how I felt when I really thought about some of the lyrics! I just have so much respect for his artistry and doing things his way. My medium/craft is a little different, but I’m going to try to remember his spirit in being creative.
So awesome that you were able to see him in small venue, that is the best!
Purple Rain has been on rewind in my head ALL. WEEKEND. LONG. It just won’t stop. RIP Prince.
As I read your blog I can’t help but wonder that we aren’t sole sisters. I am 44 years old and have loved Prince since I was about 12. Like you, 1999 came out and I just instantly fell in love. Purple Rain just sealed the deal. I even had my Gma who is an artiest paint him for me. I wanted PControl played at my wedding but the DJ said no, so well, I guess my funeral it will be. Had tickets to his PR show but it was canceled and I was lucky enough to see him once in 2000. I use to dream of meeting him someday. He was just amazing. When I heard of his death, I truly didn’t want to believe it. How could this be. Been listening and dancing to his music again like I did so much as a teen. Even went last night to see the reshowing of Purple Rain at the theaters. Truly a legend. I will always love him and no other signer will ever take his place.
Oh one more thing, I also put 2 very random song quotes on FB over the weekend and only a true fan would know what they were. My 14 year son was like MOM what does that mean. I just said its Prince thing. He knows Prince because as a mom I have made sure my child is well rounded in music.
Cathy Zielske says
Good job mama.
I was looking for this post on Friday. I just knew you’d write something great about him. What I didn’t think about was how much it would make me cry. I’m at work. I work in an open concept office. Crying. Like a baby. In front of everyone. Thanks for the great tribute, it was worth the wait. In my house we have a debate about who was the better artist, Michael or Prince. It’s Prince all the way for me.
I was smiling the whole time and then BAM a lump in my throat when I read the last line. I think because I feel like maybe he could have been saved. How can a guy like that disappear in an instant? He had more to do and was a legendary philanthropist that is only coming out after his death. My husband and I were talking about Prince and I said “he was the soundtrack of my adolescence. I remember dirty dancing to his music like only a teen dancer can do.” My friends and I would dance until we were drenched in sweat. I didn’t like Journey and Bon Jovi as much as my friends but LOVED Prince, INXS, Sex Pistols, Violent Fems…I was a “wannabe” punk girl in a small conservative town. My thrift store outfits served as my rebellion. I wanted to be Molly Ringwald so bad! Cheers to the Purple one, may he rock heaven always!
I’m just happy to see others who feel the same way I’ve been feeling. Went to see Purple Rain with my fellow recent high school grads in 1984. It was the last time we were ever all together, just sobbing and hanging on after the movie. And then college. My own kids are the age I was then, and it’s just bringing up so much emotion for me over and over at random moments. Maybe it’s my nostalgia, maybe it’s my almost-50 hormones, maybe it’s that I’m helping to pack up my childhood home next week, but last week when I heard about Prince it just broke me. I’m still not fixed. But I can’t dance to Gett Off without feeling joy. And my teenager came in while I was listening to Erotic City the other day and I wasn’t even a little embarrassed. I was even a little proud.
Barbie Schwartz says
Thank you for sharing this. I’m just a few months younger than you, so Prince was a soundtrack to many of the same life events for me. And I think it’s amazing how many Minnesotans are so touched by his death, even if they weren’t really fans of his music. People of all ages. It’s like, he was ours, and therefore we grieve.
Kim Smith says
Thank you for sharing your heart, my heart, all our hearts. Prince was it for me from the very first song………I am still a bit in shock over his death.
I got nothing done at work on Thursday from the moment his death was confirmed. Like you, I went completely numb. Then I shocked the hell out of myself by starting to cry. WTH?! I didn’t cry when MJ died, and his music was just as much a part of my teen years and early adulthood as Prince’s was. I think there were 2 differences for me: 1. Prince, unlike Michael, had not become a cartoon version of his former self. Prince was Prince from the very beginning and there was nothing false abt him. You dug his vibe or you didn’t and either was cool with him. 2. He was a fellow Minnesotan. He didn’t cut his ties and live in LA or NYC. He loved this state and he loved the people here who gave him (relatively speaking) the space to live privately and be creative where he felt most comfortable. And he gave back to his local fans with his surprise late night jams at venues like the Dakota Jazz club and others all around the cities. He was “ours.” That afternoon of his death, I heard about the Current’s tribute and the subsequent all night dance party at First Ave…my first thought was damn if only it wasn’t Thursday and I didn’t have a job and youngish kids, blah blah blah. But as the day wore on I realized how lucky I am to live so close…why in the world SHOULDN’T I go? There are people all over the country if not the world who wish they were a 30 minute drive away, so I need to get my middle-aged ass down there and SING and DANCE to celebrate this man’s genius. And I did. I dragged my sisters-in-law and my 14 yr old niece (gotta learn that girl the classics, yo) down there with me. It was friggin amazing!!! The energy and the atmosphere of celebration all for this one man who touched every last one of us in some way. I really can’t describe it adequately. I’m so glad I dismissed my “sensible” reasoning for not going. It was totally worth the exhaustion the next morning. One of my regrets is that I never got to see him play live. I guess I thought there was time, but at least I did this one thing to thank him for being a major part of the soundtrack of my life.
Cathy Zielske says
Oh Kristy, how rad that you went down. A few of my friends went, too.
John P. says
i miss u
…the everett mall…
Cathy Zielske says
Sigh. Me too, Johnny. Me too.
A beautiful piece of writing. Thanks for sharing. My first experience with Prince was when I saw Purple Rain. I was instantly in love. I was always drawn to bad boys! Prince was epic.
From one Minnesotan to another of the same age: you nailed all the feels.
I have cried every day at some point since the news broke. Part of me still can’t believe it. The theater by my house is playing “Purple Rain”; I need to go, for my soul.
leslie rae says
and I dare you to NOT dance to “baby I’m a star”.
Thank you Cathy!!! I am so anxious to go back and find all the songs I missed along the way. What an amazing entertainer and human being!
Laura Turcotte says
wow—what a beautiful post! thank you. Your feelings are equivalent to mine. Shock, tears, numbness…say it isn’t so?? How can he be gone?? Someone mentioned to me that we had not heard about him in 10 years, and doesn’t understand why everyone is so upset. Say what? Are you serious?? The man was a legend. He didn’t have to come our with music every.single.year to prove his status. He was an icon..still is..There is not much good I remember from my teens. But what I do includes Prince. wow.
Thank you for a wonder post!
I am one of those people that will watch Purple Rain over and over again. I have always loved Prince and was crushed to hear the news of his death. Your post was such a nice tribute. Sometimes I think we were separated at birth (and we were born on the same day, same year), your comment about crying so hard at the end of a movie since E.T., yep, that was me! Still cry every time I see either!
Loved reading this.
Cathy Zielske says