For most, it’s not when Prince came into one’s life isn’t, but how. The legend whose career spanned a whopping four decades, was far more than a singular musical artist, he was so much too many people. A nonconformist, a gender blurring rock n’ roll sex god, a spiritual and philosophical shaman wanting to heal the world through his virtuoso lyrics and a rebellious innovator always challenging stereotypes and breaking paradigms. To put it simply, Prince was the best recording artist of his time and one of the most versatile and influential. His death has left a palpable void that I don’t think any of us who’s been touched by his music and life will ever overcome. I mean, once you went Prince, you never went back. And for his legions of fans, we remember how he came into our lives and changed/ transformed it.
I don’t recall when I first discovered him, but I do remember the first time Prince challenged and changed my identity. Like most households in the 80’s and 90’s, my parents played Purple Rain to no end. My earliest memories of the Purple One – as his fans affectionately called him – were one of his performances from the 90’s. He performed “Gett Off” at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards in a canary colored lace getup that revealed his bare bottom. My mother instantly covered my eyes with her hands as MTV censors scrambled to blur out the image. I peeked through her fingers getting a glimpse of his derriere, before my mother turned off the T.V. That was the end of Prince for that night, but years later as an acne ridden teen wanting so desperately to understand my sexuality, I Googled that performance as well as others. In that performance, something awakened. As Prince gyrate onstage performing with his then group, The Revolution, his butt bare and free, I realized what it meant to stand in one’s own skin and unabashedly show the world that one can only be their true self. For a 14-year-old questioning black gay kid from Philly, Prince’s brazen acts of defiance and choice of costumes in his on and off stage appearances, was like Dorothy’s world in The Wizard of Oz going from sepia to Technicolor; he made it O.K. to be oneself.
Sartorially, I don’t know how many times I’ve stood in front of my closet and asked “what would Prince wear” and pulled out an eclectic look and then question “If Prince spent most of the 80’s either naked or in sequins, you too can do the same in the 2000’s”. Emotionally, I can’t recall how many times I’ve looked at my reflection in the mirror and wondered about how others perceive me, my actions, or my worth and thought of his artistry and how he deconstructed archetypes of what it meant to be both black and male in America. Spiritually, I don’t recall the times when his music, especially his song The Cross off his classic 1987 album Sign ‘O’ the Times that got me through much despair and devastation.
Although gone, Prince’s influence has left a lasting impression on many of us. Scrolling through social media on April 21st 2016 – the day he died – it was clear how many people I was humbled by how many people wrote when and how Prince came into their life. And from scrolling through the timeline, when he did, it became everlasting.
Because sometimes it snows in April…