Image courtesy of Awesomely Luvvie..
This is prefaced by saying there are many Prince tribute pieces in the universe which are much more nuanced all over the internet. Hell, acquaintances, some of who will be mentioned throughout this piece, and who ingratiated themselves with Prince at a consistent and feverish pace, have written lengthy, informative, and entertaining pieces about the purple one. Pieces such as one published on his dreams and having the ambition to see his dreams manifest into reality while the world seemingly played catchup (1) are spot-on. Articles about Prince’s seemingly effortless ability to maneuver through time (2), on his unapologetic manner of bringing depth to a preconceived definition of blackness, gender and sensuality (3) or how Prince was a hero to strippers (4), or his ability to push boundaries and showcase his independence (5) are proof of such.
This is more of getting to the party late, or starting the race after countless others took off. It's similar to being a part of a team, but not getting any playing time. It's one thing to observe the action on the court, but it’s another to actually be a part of the action on the court. It’s one thing to watch the game; it’s another thing to feel the game. For years, watching the game from the bench was sufficient, but as time passed, it became a necessity to go from a mere spectator to a full-fledged participant. The goal wasn’t to win the MVP; it was simply to blend in the crowd and the action after being so far behind. Embracing a new sound, one that had been previously listened to in a more casual manner and allowing that sound to become an extension of your evolution as a person, is what Prince did for the last several years.
The music of Prince was present in the house growing up. Shoot, having an older sibling who played Prince all the time pretty much keeps a person exposed to the music and doesn’t leave one much of a choice especially when the older sibling can put their paws on you if there was an inkling of disrespect toward the sound coming out of the speakers. If MTV wasn’t on in the house, then there was Prince playing throughout the house from one end of the hallway to the other. That’s how it was growing up with a sister who was crazy about Prince, and it was probably like that for others who grew up with older brothers and sisters.
Growing up in the early-to-mid-80s, that’s how things went. There was no streaming radio, no iPods, and no cell phones to retreat for a playlist. There was the radio and there were music videos. While there was a lot of music, there weren’t a lot of outlets to listen, so we ended up listening to the same stuff, and while she was completely engrossed in his music, the younger version of me remained disenchanted. It wasn’t until 1989, with the release of a movie centered on the villain who continues to set the bar for movie villains, that Prince became somewhat embraced.
To this day, the 1989 version of Batman holds a special place in the annals of favorite movies with favorite characters of all-time. Michael Keaton played Batman and Jack Nicholson was The Joker. Warner Brothers could have filled out the rest of the cast with horseshit and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The movie was that great, and Prince’s sound permeated the atmosphere, making it even more memorable. The knowledge base of Prince was pretty thin at the time, but there were lasting moments, including the visual of The Joker moving through the art gallery with "Party Man" as the backdrop and him throwing money in the air to the people of Gotham City with “Trust” blaring in the background.
Time moved on and more music played, but the feelings that came from hearing Prince in 1989 didn’t return until years later. What triggered them exactly isn’t for sure, but the source and setting was the setting for many things that take place these days between people in this vastly connected world we live in today: social media. A person can only sit back for so long and watch people, a vast group of people from all different backgrounds, drawn together by the various sounds, works, and wonders of one man. It got to a point where being a spectator at the race wasn’t fun anymore, when leaning against the wall at the club while everyone danced and sang along to the jams wasn’t the way to go. In February of 2011, it was time to join the race. It was time to join everyone on the dance floor, but in order to do that, an admission would have to be made and what came along with that admission would have to be accepted in order to be fully accepted, ridicule be damned.
The tweet of admission was innocent enough: “Which Prince album should I listen to first?” Bomani and Crazy Joe immediately chimed in with successive tweets stating the two albums to start the Prince journey with: Controversy and 1999. Soon after, the virtual trip to Amazon was made, the albums got to the crib in two days, and the stage was set to listen to the music while driving in the car.
It was strange embracing music at 28 years old that had been accessible for decades. Sharing the excitement about the new discoveries was mostly met with enthusiasm with a little bit of “Man, where the hell you been?” sprinkled around. The sentiment went from enjoying the music to wanting to hear more to wanting to see Prince perform in concert. Paying money to see a performer is the ultimate sign of respect. Anyone can say someone is good, or even great, but the absolute proof comes when it is time to make a decision to go to a concert. The issue then became making the time to go…and that is when good fortune began to sour.
Time after time, Prince would be performing, likely at a location a 2 or 3-hour drive away and, time after time, something would happen to result in not being able to attend. More than anything, it was a case of realizing that while he was on a short list of performers on the bucket list, the time would come where everything would stop in order to get to a Prince concert. The most recent opportunity was April 14th, in Atlanta, while on a work trip. Since all obligations were met during the day, an opportunity came to see Prince that night. Granted, a ticket still had to be purchased, but in the words of The Legendary Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, “everybody has a price.” If the price was right, getting a ticket to see Prince at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta would be easy. However, the case remained as it did the previous times when it came to seeing Prince: putting off the opportunity and vowing to go the next time the stars aligned. As of April 21, 2016, the stars stopped aligning and Prince was gone.
As a fan who was steadily coming around to Prince’s music, his loss absolutely stinks. From the standpoint of being a Black man in America, this is the third entertainment giant on Mount Rushmore that has been lost. James Brown and Michael Jackson are gone. Prince is gone. Only Stevie Wonder is left, and while there are other artists who have left their mark on the music game, the Mount Rushmore of music took a major hit with Prince’s sudden death, which makes the loss even more upsetting. For fans who listened to him for decades, their feelings are much more layered, more detailed, and they can likely express themselves in a much more eloquent, informative and passionate manner. They can still revel in decades of music, remembering where they were the first time they heard this Prince song, or the second time they heard that Prince song, or what they had on when this Prince album came out.
Their experiences are much more in depth. They are able to reminisce and feel like kids on the playground just having a good time, in spite of the circumstances. They are able to get on the dance floor and dance and sing along to countless tunes which helped compose the soundtracks of their lives. It just sucks that this fan joined in on the fun when it was too late, realizing that while there is some joy in the delayed immersion of Prince, there are still too many experiences in which the circumstances dictate being relegated to the sideline. It’s impossible to have anywhere near the experience of people who have been in on the action, people who can recall the good times and the bad times, seminal and forgettable episodes, the people who can tie a lyric to a single, solitary moment in time.