Prince: My Bowie

On April 29, 2016, in Music, song, Vinyl, by mugen

IMG_9422When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I was staying with my grandparents and watching MTV when I first encountered a song that stuck with me and confused me. It was probably 1982, and the song was still charting. “1999” confounded me because I’d never seen a band as diverse; I’d never seen a band have 3 singers; and I’d never encountered such an eclectic image within a single unit.

I probably became a Prince fan that day, but it was a seed that took awhile to germinate. By the time Purple Rain dominated the airwaves, though, I was one of the faithful. I got the vinyl soundtrack album for either Christmas or my birthday. I got the vinyl of 1999 shortly thereafter. I bought the purple vinyl single of “Purple Rain” and encountered the first song I hid from my parents – the B-side to “Let’s Go Crazy,” the thoroughly decadent and scandalous “Erotic City.” I think I bought that record on a Sunday after church, so it was especially corrupt… though I had already encountered “Lady Cab Driver” and “Little Red Corvette.”

IMG_9421The library brought me Prince’s other albums, and though punk rock, metal, industrial, and the like distracted me during the late 80s and early 90s, I knew Prince was the epitome of what it meant to be a rock star. I knew he could shred. I knew he was a poet. I knew he was a musical genius who played all the instruments and instinctively found the groove and never looked back.

When David Bowie passed away earlier this year, I couldn’t truly relate to all the people who registered a sense of loss. I didn’t feel that way about Bowie – my own interest in his music wavering between absolute love for “Under Pressure” (mostly because of my appreciation for Queen from the time I could walk) to annoyance at some of the poppier moments of his 80’s ouvre, to a perplexed interest in the potential behind Tin Machine. I understood, though, that he meant something to many of my friends, and I sympathized with their mourning.

Last week, I understood what they felt.

Prince was Bowie to me. Prince was transgression made flesh. He was exactly NOT Catholic in 1983. His masculinity wasn’t aggro, wasn’t wholesome, wasn’t white, but was transgressive. Prince was funk when all I had had was Motown and AM radio. Prince was rock when all I had had was Doo-Wop and pop. Prince was sex when all I understood was that it was bad to do certain things, or even to talk about them. Prince redefined spirituality and faith, because he could be bad and sexy and transgressive and still sing about “the afterworld – a world of never-ending happiness” and write a song called “God.”


When I learned, later, that Prince wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “The Glamorous Life” and “When You Were Mine,” I started to really understand the scope of his songwriting genius. When I finally got to see him on the 2004ever tour, it was one of the most gratifying moments of my life, even in the nosebleed seats.

Prince’s untimely passing struck me in the gut. It took days of seeing posts and sharing links and videos on Facebook and watching tributes for it to start to sink in. Finally, two or three days later, I was able to cry. I was crying for me, really – Prince doesn’t need my tears.

“I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here”

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