Prince died Thursday. I thought it was a silly rumor at first, but when the Associated Press confirmed it well, you have to believe it then, right? Aside from the standard tears, shock, and disbelief, I felt like I had swallowed a millstone. I slept most of the day. Something was off. I just couldn’t deal.
The next morning, I threw up that millstone along with decades of memories, expectations, disappointment and shame. Prince was more than a role model; he was the touchstone for my creative life.
I first encountered Prince in 1984, with the release of Purple Rain. My brother and I went to see it at the shiny new mall in Aurora, Colorado. I’d heard his music before, but Purple Rain was…everything.
You see, I was an *unusual child* as they say. Different. I was highly creative, my clothes never looked right, I understood things I shouldn’t have, talked to plants and animals, and I wrote strange stories that worried the adults on more than a few occasions. These were aspects of my personality – not a phase or anything. It was just who I was.
I first felt the weight of conformity in 1984 as I began my journey into womanhood at the age of 12. It was now time to grow up and act right. I had been indulged long enough. I didn’t understand it back then, but in hindsight, being a Black girl in America was challenging enough; adding oddness to the mix seemed dangerous.
But in that darkened theater in Colorado, when I saw Prince rolled up to First Avenue on that motorcycle, I saw possibilities that gave conformity the middle finger.
Let’s examine that more carefully: a Black man wearing makeup, high-heeled boots, a fabulous press & curl, a silk suit and ruffled shirt pulls up to a nightclub on a purple motorcycle in 1984.
What?!? He’s not supposed to do that. That isn’t what boys do. I was learning the grown-up rules, and THIS went against damn near all of them!
As the movie progressed, I saw people wearing underwear in public. They had on masks, furs, and psychedelic makeup but more importantly, they were all making incredible music.
Then there was the puppet. Nestled in its velvet purple cone, popping up when Prince needed a confidant. What, he talked to non-people too?!? I can’t tell you how badly I wanted that puppet!! Magic did exist in the world, and that purple cone was the fount from which it poured.
If he didn’t have to follow the *supposed-to-be,* grown-up rules, then why did I? It gave me hope that there was a place in this world for someone like me after all. Prince MADE his own rules and transformed the world in the process. He didn’t grind down his uniqueness to make others comfortable. He provided them with an opportunity to examine their discomfort and grow from it.
But let’s imagine for a moment that Prince followed the rules. Let’s say he listened to the adults in his life in his early years, gave up his music, purple brocade jacket with stylish silver buttons, and makeup. Put on a pair of Dockers and a Polo shirt and worked in an office until it sucked the soul from his marrow. Where would we be now? Thirty-seven years of music, cultural influence and humanitarianism traded for a regular paycheck and benefits.
Yesterday, I realized that I hadn’t followed the blueprint. But I am trading my millstone for a touchstone. Prince.
His legacy will shape artists and our culture for years to come.