Thursday as I closed my lecture at the end of class, my inbox was in the background and the top email’s subject line read “Prince Dead at 57” and my first thought was “which Prince died?”
Opening the email, I blurted out “Oh shit, Prince is dead.”
The students all gave me a look and Dylan who happened to be in class with me after a college tour of Bentley instantly hugged me and asked if I was ok. I didn’t even know how to respond.
The first thought I had in my head was “I can’t believe it died. I can’t believe it happened in April.”
Prince has always been the artist who has had the biggest effect on my life. His music has been used to celebrate, grieve and motivate.
Very few days of my life did not involve one of his songs out of a speaker or in my head. It is just the way it has always been.
I’ve been writing this post in my head ever since I heard the news. I’ve been listening to almost nothing but his music. Watching videos, laughing, crying, showing my kids Purple Rain for the first time.
If you did not know how big of a fan I was, you were not that close of a friend.
My phone didn’t stop vibrating on Thursday as a slew of notes came in from Friends checking in to see how I was doing. While not as earth shattering as a family member passing, this death is one that won’t be out of my mind for a very long time and my friends knew this and checked in on me. I can’t begin to express how much that was needed and appreciated. I love you all for it.
You’ve got to understand that Prince has been my favorite musician since I understood what it was to be a fan of music.
Music was always playing in my house. The radio was rarely off. I grew up on a steady diet of all kinds of music and yet as a child of the Eighties, Prince grabbed me in a way that few could understand.
The first memory I have of Prince was the moment I saw the video for 1999 on MTV.
Getting cable was a big deal and I’d spend hours watching music videos. This new art form and being exposed to such a diverse variety of music was heaven for me.
I still laugh about opening up a 1999 cassette on Christmas morning and my parents informing me that they listened to it to make sure that it was ok for me. I remember this being a bit confusing because while I hadn’t heard the whole album yet, I was nine years old and knew there were some questionable things on it.
Looking back I’ve always wondered if they actually listened to it and we're cool with me being exposed to the unknown, or if it was a fib told by parents. It was still wrapped, so I like to believe it was a combination of the two.
Two years later, my girlfriend would give me a cassette of Purple Rain for my birthday and my parents would give me a copy as well. Both copies would get plenty of play.
Shortly thereafter, my grandparents would be babysitting me and I’d plead with them to let me watch Purple Rain on HBO. I had no idea how awkward this would become, but I’m convinced this movie is what gave me my never ending love of black thigh high stockings and brunettes.
Being online ahead of most of the world, there was a special day when I learned about the world of trading Prince bootlegs. I wish I could recall how I discovered this, but these were the days of Usenet, Telnet and email being an extreme rarity.
Soon little brown packages would begin arriving from around the globe and day after day I’d send out two high quality Maxell tapes per bootleg I wanted. There was no money exchanged. It was all for the love of the music and hearing things I had never heard of before.
Again, my parents barely batted an eye. They asked me about them and I showed them.
One time I remember my dad jokingly walking into my room as I was listening to the latest arrival and him shaking his head with “where did I go wrong with this one?” in reaction to my love of Prince.
Dad, gave me lots of great music. Billy Joel, Van Halen, The Eagles, James Taylor and Harry Chapin all come from him spinning records as we fell asleep at night. But, he could never understand where my love of Prince came from.
If you are not aware, Prince played an aftershow almost every night after a concert. Hours after he completed a concert, he would play a show at a small club.
These were famous for long jam sessions, rare tracks and him at his finest. I still remember the first time I heard Small Club, 2nd Show That Night from The Netherlands and my world never being the same again.
There are so many memories of the man, his music and the way it injected itself as a core part of my life.
When Batman came out, everyone I knew was excited about it. I love movies too so that was part of my excitement, but I was more jazzed about the soundtrack. Prince was doing a movie soundtrack!! Are you kidding me? That is gold.
Or the time in college when I had to take the shuttle into Boston because I needed to buy the Symbol album the moment it came out. Without a car this was my only choice and there was no way I wasn’t buying it the second it came out. My roommates were confused and baffled. Thankfully I had headphones so I didn’t need to listen to them.
There were always waves of popularity with Prince. He’d have a song hit the charts and suddenly everyone liked him. I loved these moments because I loved people loving him even if it was only for a song that hit the charts.
I got shit my whole life for being a Prince fan. It didn’t matter. I knew what I loved and since when have I ever rarely cared what other people thought of me?.
The bootleg days were far behind me since I was listening to CDs and the blossoming new MP3 format that was starting to come out.
Over a conversation with someone from one of my classes at Bentley the topic of Prince came up and this kid was shocked to learn I was a fan.
This happened a lot. True Prince fans loved finding others like them. There was no secret handshake, but there was an instant connection.
Chris, opened my mind again to a whole new world of bootlegs. These were not just aftershow recordings, but unreleased tracks. Studio quality stuff that had been leaked from the vault. Whole albums that were never put up for sale, but were traded around by die hard fans.
I had found gold. Lots and lots of gold!!!
If you listened to my radio show in college, visited my room or came over for a party you were exposed to Prince. Few things made a party more interesting than throwing on P Control late in the night after many drinks. I can’t help but grin thinking about some of the things that went on when that was playing.
Thankfully I saw Prince live three times in my life.
First was at DOR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. A smallish venue and he tore the place up. Next, was front row at The Boston Garden. His guitar solo during a cover of Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love is still one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen.
The final time I saw prince was two years ago at Mohegan Sun.
I was SICK to the point of almost not going to the show. Laura had surprised me with tickets for my birthday and this is Prince, so unless I was on a stretcher I was going.
The lights went down and Janelle Monae came on stage. I had no idea she was the opening act and Laura didn’t know who she was. I was going nuts. Especially since Prince came out on stage for the opening song.
I had met Janelle the year before and instantly became a fan of her music. How could I not when it was obviously forged in the purple fire?
To give you an idea of how sick I was, as the lights came up at the end of the show I prayed to any gods listening that I would not be given a ticket to the aftershow because I didn’t know if I could survive that and if I was given one I certainly wouldn’t be able to pass it up.
Prince was an artist beyond art.
He was a man full of talent and whole lived life on his own terms.
How many men could pull off heels, fishnets and still make anyone bow down in amazement as he shredded the guitar or rocked the base.
I’ve had fun watching people share videos on social media that I’ve seen a million times. Part of it makes me sad that so many people did not realize how talented he was, but I’m glad that they are discovering it now at least.
How he died does not matter to me, but the fact that he is gone kills me.
The last celebrity death that had any real effect on me was when I heard on the radio that Kurt Cobain was gone. Strange that it happened as I was heading back to Bentley from work.
That hit me hard, but nothing like this.
With every death that happens I’ve often said in my head how I can’t imagine the day Prince dies because I know it is going to be horrible for me. I honestly thought I had many more years before that would happen, but none of have control over that.
The world lost one of its most creative last week.
There will be an endless list of tributes, posts and thoughts. I had to write mine because I had to get the words out of my head. I had to write something to remember a man who had such a big role in the man I am today.
You’ll never be able to appreciate how much he meant to me. How important his music is, was and ever shall be. I may not cloak myself in purple, but I sure am hurting inside right now.
I’ll always have his music. The world will hear more of it as the doors of his vault finally crack open at some future date.
It is impossible to explain how a stranger’s death can have such a devastating effect on me. Perhaps it is because he wasn’t a stranger to me even though I did not know him.
Rest in Peace Prince.
Thank you for all that you created.
Photo Credit: My talented friend Valerie Jardin who graciously gave me permission to use it for this post.