I grew up in the 80s and Prince was ubiquitous on MTV. I saw PURPLE RAIN in the movie theater when it first came out, and there were not many people there so you are all lying. 1999 was one of the 10 albums I got for a penny from Columbia House Records. Then I bought one and I got three more for free. Then I quit and did it all over again like everyone else. I was a metal kid who argued consistently that Prince was as good of a guitarist as Kirk Hammett. (I know now that Prince was a far superior guitarist but come on, I was obsessed with Metallica’s …And Justice For All.) I remember anxiously awaiting what new sound Prince would be be debuting with the New Power Generation and then on the Love Symbol album.
Like anyone else who lived in Minnesota for even the briefest amount of time, I had a special relationship with the man who put Paisley Park on the list of great parks in the world, possibly right below Yosemite. For four years I went to college in Northfield, a mere 45 minutes south of First Avenue. If you've seen PURPLE RAIN, then you've seen First Avenue, which was the club in Minneapolis that Prince owned and through which all the best bands passed. But Prince was more than just an owner - he would show up randomly at shows to watch bands he thought were cool. Sometimes he would hop onstage and play with them, borrowing one of their guitars and making it worth 60 times the current value.
I was never lucky enough to see a Prince impromptu stage crash. However, every so often there would be a rumor that after a show, Prince was going to come out with his band and jam. Whispers usually started about 24 hours before the concert and you never knew if they were legitimate or not. I wouldn't be surprised if promoters started dropping those hints when ticket sales were slow. But like many other people, I would get in my car and go see whoever was there at First Avenue (usually it was somebody pretty great anyway) and just hope that when the show ended, it didn't really end. I went three times before I hit the jackpot. Prince came out after Semisonic (I'm pretty sure Semisonic played in Minneapolis like every other week at that time - it certainly seemed like it). The Purple One had his full band with him and asked if we would mind if they tried some material out for the first time. He then ripped through six or seven tracks that ended up on Emancipation, including “Jam Of The Year” and his cover of “One Of Us.” He said they had never played any of them in front of an audience and asked if we liked them. It was kind of amazing. We were in his theater; it was like he had us over for dinner. He then apologized that he couldn't play longer but he was really tired because they had recorded all night the night before. He left the stage but no one in the audience left. I’d never been through one of these experiences so I didn't know what usually happened. It's not like we were waiting for an encore. But then Prince came out and sat at the piano and played a solo version of “Little Red Corvette” which just about brought tears to my eyes.
Years later, I had the privilege of being in the audience for Prince’s legendary 2008 Coachella set in which he destroyed Radiohead's “Creep” and made it no longer a Radiohead song, just as he had done to so many other songs before. Prince died the day before Coachella in 2016, and my wife and I spent most of that weekend talking about his music and seeing other artists do their best to honor him in song.
In all, I saw Prince perform live only three times. It's interesting. Prince has been an artist I've always loved, but I don't think I truly appreciated him until he was gone. Looking back, after he passed and as I was finally coming to terms with myself and coming out of the closet, I think one of the things I subconsciously appreciated the most about the artist was the way he often took on a female voice in his songs, singing from a perspective that was rarely heard in rock and roll. His was an ambiguous, androgynous, amorphous sexuality in the same way David Bowie’s had been in the decade prior. He even had a feminine alter ego that he recorded an entire album for in 1986, using pitch shifters or recording his vocals at a slower tempo and then speeding up the tape. This voice was Camille, and the song you probably know best by her was “If I was Your Girlfriend.” I really don't know much about Prince's relationship with his own gender because it's not something he talked about extensively, but I know for me there was a certain danger and joy in singing along to a song that was so clearly written from the perspective of a woman by a man.
Time-travel dramedy SPEED OF LIFE makes its Texas Premiere with Other Worlds Orbiter on Wednesday, August 28th (7:30pm) at Galaxy Highland Theatre. Tickets available now!