I’m thinking tonight not about the first time that I heard Prince, but about the first time I began to understand Prince. Because I remember hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the radio before I understood what those words meant. I’m thinking tonight about a friend who, when I was 13 years old and thought that I knew everything there was to know about music, explained to me why Prince wasn’t just a guy I should listen to because he made massive hit albums, but rather was a musical genius whose songs would be honored for years to come. I’m thinking tonight about how, whenever I heard a new Prince album after that, I knew to listen not just for the hits, but also for the tracks that weren’t sure-fire commercial hits, because that’s where Prince really worked his magic. I’m thinking tonight about that night in Brooklyn when I sat at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and watched some of the most talented musicians in the R&B and hip-hop world perform 1999 in December of that year; an end-of-the-millennium tribute to an album that had, 17 years after its release, already proven itself to be a timeless classic.
I’m thinking tonight about having taken my then-fiancée to the Meadowlands Arena to see Prince perform in a show that was an energized, exhausting, multi-hour extravaganza, hit after hit, interspersed with deeper cuts from Prince’s legendary catalog. I’m thinking how several years later, we – like I’m sure so many others were – introduced to our wedding guests for the first time as husband and wife while the opening lyrics of “Let’s Go Crazy” ushered us in. I’m thinking tonight about the man who transformed the often-mundane Super Bowl halftime show in 2007 into a soaked celebration while the skies opened on him during his performance of Purple Rain. I’m thinking tonight about the stories Charlie Murphy told about the Prince that few of us ever got the opportunity to see. (“Game. Blouses.”)
I’m thinking that, as I write about all of these moments during which Prince impacted my life, directly and indirectly, that not only have I barely scratched the surface of the ways in which Prince has impacted my life, but that I also have not even had the opportunity to consider the ways in which Prince, who passed away at 57, impacted the music industry and the world in which we live. I’m thinking also about the fact that if someone else wrote this same article about Prince, that person would have an entirely different list of moments that she would consider life-changing.
I’m thinking about Prince, the musician, who released 39 studio albums; who won numerous Grammy Awards and an Academy Award; who played all 27 instruments on the album For You; and I realize that I’m just scratching the surface when one attempts to take on the nearly-impossible task of describing the scope of his talents. I'm thinking about the artists who were fortunate to have covered songs written by Prince; songs that often turned into the most popular songs of their careers. I’m thinking about Eric Clapton, who was once asked what it was like to be the greatest guitar player alive, and he responded, "I don't know. Ask Prince."
I’m thinking about things Prince did like fighting record companies and their oppressive contracts long before it was the chic thing to do. I’m thinking about his ability to write a song like “Batdance” for a film soundtrack and making the song work when it had absolutely no right to. I’m thinking about Prince’s love of and for women. I'm thinking about how, from his earliest days as a performer, while he always seemed to have a coterie of beauties at his side, it’s difficult to think of a performer who ever included more female musicians in his various groups and who ever championed female performers more than he did. I’m thinking about a man who sang about love and lust and passion and who, at the same time was religious and conservative, but who did not let his personal beliefs get in the way of his music.
I’m thinking about a man who was the definition of the word enigma. I'm thinking about a man who was so intensely concerned about controlling his image and music that he wouldn’t allow people to use cell phones in his Paisley Park recording studios, and yet, the same man threw concerts at his house for fans where he’d play for hours in front of tiny crowds who would have been ecstatic seeing him perform 200 feet away and who instead got to stand two feet from his stage.
I’m thinking about how bitterly ironic it is that an artist for whom time was barely a construct, who would begin concerts at 2:00 am and play until dawn, left us after only 57 years, with seemingly years of creating music yet to come. (I’m also thinking about and chuckling at how ironic it is that it took Prince’s death for MTV to return to its original mission of playing music; even for a few brief hours.)
I’m thinking of the future songs lost – though I hope that the legends that tell tales about overflowing archives of Prince’s unreleased songs are true. I’m thinking about the fact that I will no longer get the opportunity to see him work his magic in person. I’m thinking about the instant, unspeakable, and overwhelming sadness that the passing of Prince has caused, bringing together people who will never meet under a shared blanket of crushing melancholy.
I’m thinking that the darkened sky has a slightly purpler tint tonight than it did last night. I’m thinking that it’s going to be a long time before I and so many others can begin to accept Prince’s passing. And I’m thinking that for many of us, acceptance will never come.