The Day the Music Survived


Yesterday, when the news was announced that the legendary entertainer, guitar god, sex symbol, and one-of-a-kind musician we all knew as Prince died, I cried quietly at my desk at work. I was overwhelmed…saddened…then numb. The number 57 (his age) circled around and around in my head, and every time, I thought, Too young. Much too young. My good friends, who are well aware of my Prince fanaticism, reached out to me and offered long-distance hugs, condolences, and memories.

I’m well aware that I didn’t actually know Prince and thus, the emotional roller coaster I’m describing could be laughable or seem melodramatic to some. Trust me, it’s weird for me to say that I had such an emotional reaction over the death of someone I never actually met. But here’s the thing: I ritualistically bathed in his music, and his tunes often served as the soundtrack for important and joyful moments of my life. Cases in point…

When I bought my first house in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 22, I stripped down to my skivvies, blasted the Purple Rain soundtrack, and danced my booty off in every single room of the house, because that was the most joyful way I could think of to christen my new home and celebrate my own sense of personal achievement.

When my friend, Nikki, and I found out Prince was playing 21 nights in Los Angeles a few years ago, tickets were only $15, and I was going to be visiting her in San Diego one of the weekends he was playing, we promptly scheduled a road trip. We drove to The Forum blasting Prince records, bought knockoff T-shirts outside the venue, and snuck in our phones to document the experience. I’d never seen a true entertainer live until that night. The guitar licks. The costumes. The dancing. The sex appeal. And special guest Sheila E! Nikki and I were both electric the rest of the weekend.

Prince live

Of course, when I made it public that I went to a Prince show, my good friend and badass saxophonist, Dr. Dan Puccio, was thoroughly offended I’d gone without him. So, we planned our own road trip a few weeks later. Again, Prince did not disappoint. The show a completely different set than what I’d seen a few weeks prior and hummed with the same indescribable energy. The diehard fans, Dan and me included, refused to leave The Forum, even when the lights came up, and there may have been a few epic rounds of The Wave. Our persistence paid off. We were privy to five encores, each more incredible than the last, and for one, Prince rode out on a bicycle and said, “Oh, you’re still here. Mind if I sing a few more?” Surreal and magical, my friends.

ControversyPrince’s “Controversy” was the song I performed my very first feather fan dance to when I moonlighted as a burlesque performer, something that saved my life. As Prince sang about all the silly things we find risqué and controversial, I performed a striptease for the very first time. In that moment, I wasn’t just taking off clothes—I was shedding a history of body dysmorphia and the choking memories of a teenage tango with anorexia. I was proving to both the audience and myself that I was fabulous and confident and beautiful, without apology. If there was ever a performer who encouraged you to embrace your weird and wild little self, it was Prince, so “Controversy” was the perfect soundtrack for that moment of personal transcendence and self-discovery.

A few years ago, I saw Prince at the Marquee in Tempe, an abandoned movie theater turned standing room only rock venue, and I was 40 feet away from the master. To this day, it’s most electric concert experience I’ve ever had. I danced, I cried, I swooned to guitar riffs from the gods, I drank the purple Kool-Aid and begged for more. I shared this crazy, once-in-a-lifetime, musical lovefest with everyone there. I’ve never felt a more palpable, concrete level of community at a show before. There was something lovely in the air that night, something that bound us together, something like compassion and love and understanding.

There have been Prince viewing parties (Purple Rain is by far the best film he made, but Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge are pretty fantastic in their own way, too), late night (and maybe a little tipsy) jam sessions during which I belted out “Little Red Corvette,” countless dance performances, priceless vinyl acquired, midnight trysts to Prince playlists, and karaoke sing-a-longs in falsetto.

The common denominator of all of these experiences is joy. Pure, fundamental, ultimate joy. That’s what his persona, his confidence, and his music provided me—and so many others.

And that’s why yesterday was so hard. One of the purveyors of joy in my life moved on, transcended, transformed, became something else, something intangible. And in his wake, there was a loss. A big, gaping blackhole of sadness. How do you crawl out of something like that?

Luckily, about halfway through the day, my mourning changed. Instead of dwelling on death, conspiracy theories, and loss, I began to reminisce. I thought about that first night in my new house, the concerts and memories I’ve shared with friends, the music that never fails to move me. And there it was. The joy. Bubbling up under my sternum, turning my lips up into a smile.

Prince recordsLast night, I celebrated Prince’s legacy in the only way I knew how—I watched Purple Rain, stripped down to my skivvies, and danced as hard as I could to every single musical performance. And I was reminded that though his bodily form is gone, Prince can play live in my living room any night I want. He will continue his Purple Reign by gracing silver screens and turntables, belting through earbuds and sound systems, continuing to fill us all with longing, funk, and happiness.

Good night, sweet Prince. Thank you for leaving your indelible mark on my life and proving to everyone you can crush it while being anything and anyone you want to be.


What Have I Been Smoking?

Photo by flickr user "**RCB**

Photo by flickr user “**RCB**

Do I have a doppelganger here on Earth or a twin in some alternate universe hitting some cough syrup or hallucinogens on the daily? Because I have been having some incredibly trippy and entertaining dreams. Really vivid ones, the kind you only experience in deep REM—or if there was something in the water.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. In fact, I want these dreams to continue to flicker through my brain at night, because who wouldn’t want a semi-private concert with Prince while they sleep?

Here’s a roundup of my nighttime cranial romps. I hope you’re half as entertained by these as I am. And if anyone out there examines the meanings of dreams, please enlighten me as to what they are trying to tell me!

The Count and the Castle—In this dream, Count Dracula was alive and well in modern day Romania and his castle had become a full-fledged tourist attraction. There were 13 floors to explore, and people would flock from everywhere around the world to check it out. Of course, I was Dracula’s human girlfriend and since I was so badass, it made perfect sense for me to walk around topless—perhaps because we were in Europe?

Chris Pratt and Fringe—In this dream, Chris Pratt decided to become a pop star and his first single was a cover of a Queen song, although I can’t tell you which one, because I’d never heard it before. Anyway, Chris did an open call for backup dancers and naturally, I jumped at the chance. I showed up in a gold dress made entirely of fringe and shook it on set for hours. I was in about five seconds of the final music video, but it was totally worth it.

Anne Rice Likes Earl Grey—A few days before I went to the Anne Rice and Christopher Rice book signing at Changing Hands in Tempe, I dreamed that only 12 people showed up for the signing. (Crazy, I know, because they are both such phenomenal writers with huge fan bases!) Anne and Chris proceeded to hand out a bunch of free books to us and at some point, Anne said she wanted something to drink. So, what did I do? I made her a spot of Earl Grey tea and we talked like old friends.

Private Purple Party—In this dream, I was attending a generic music awards show and my musical boyfriend, Prince, was scheduled to perform. Prince asked about 20-30 of us onstage, hugged each of us individually, closed the heavy, red velvet curtains, and proceeded to treat us all to a private concert. He just sat behind a piano and sang to us. He even took off his mic, so everyone in the auditorium couldn’t hear him. The impatient audience on the other side of the curtain got restless and everyone left. But Prince wasn’t done partying. The curtain opened again, we went back to our seats, and we were treated to a full Prince concert with tons of dancers and theatrics.

High Heels and Hawks—In my latest dream, I was not only a newbie vampire but a hardworking and fabulous drag queen. And I’m talking a big, bold, and beautiful lady of the stage. The middle of the dream got a little fuzzy, but I do know there was drama surrounding my two boyfriends (that’s right, not one boyfriend, but two!). A little later, I’d found some human companions who wanted to help me control my vampiric powers so I could learn to use them for good. I woke up just after we’d taken in an injured hawk named Amy, who was destined to be my sidekick. How’s that for a superhero origin story?

So, what do you all think? What the hell have I been smoking?


Photo licensing**RCB**

Ain’t No Party Like a Purple Party!

Photo by flickr user "jdco."

Photo by flickr user “jdco.”

I was 40 feet away from him. Yeah, let me say that again. I was 40 feet away from mother…fucking…Prince last night! (Because really, you can’t say his name any other way – at least not after what I witnessed at the Marquee a brief 20 hours ago.)

Now, I’ve seen Prince before. Twice actually. When he did his 21 Night Stand at the Forum in Inglewood a couple years back, I saw him once with my friend Nikki while visiting her, and then again a couple weeks later with my friend Dan, who was thoroughly offended that I saw Prince without him.

For those of you who haven’t been to the Forum, it’s a stadium theater, an old stadium theater, chock full of character and history. It seats approximately 18,000 people when used for concerts. I was thrilled to be one of 18,000 to see Prince in all his glory for two nights on that tour.

Naturally, Prince’s 21 nights in LA were stadium-centric shows, complete with glitzy costumes that were changed frequently, a love symbol-shaped stage, grandiose lighting, and purple confetti that fell from the rafters during the epic anthem that is “Purple Rain.” To say it was spectacular is an understatement.

But last night was different. Last night…was Prince stripped. (Ladies, contain yourselves!)

Don’t get me wrong, there were still stage theatrics. After all, it is Prince. The normally-bare Marquee stage was draped with a red velvet curtain. An LED screen behind the performers provided quite the light show. Prince’s keyboard had LED lights that ascended and descended, looking like sound waves in a music studio or skyscrapers being rocked by the cosmos.

But we were still in the middle of the Marquee, a converted movie theater, standing room only, a cement brick of a building, jammed like sardines, sweating and stinking. It’s a rather industrial, dirty, gritty kind of place, which is what makes it one of my favorite music venues in town.

Prince’s performance matched the venue. He didn’t have a single costume change. In fact, he was in all black from head to toe – stylish as ever and there was a rather large, rather fabulous necklace – but no purple, no sequins, nothing overly showy. And he was rocking natural hair, afro-style. Not greased or teased, just relaxed and casual, like he’d just rolled out of bed to come jam with us.

And this was a rock concert. Yes, there was funk and pop mixed in, but most of Prince’s sets were guitar-soaked and hearkened back to a time when playing an instrument was everything. He kept asking us, “Arizona, do you like your rock and roll? Do you like your rock and roll funky?” Yes, Prince. Yes, we do.

He opened the show with “Let’s Go Crazy,” but it was slower, simmering in guitar licks, swimming in a sick bass line. No synth – just electric guitar, bass, and drums. It was sexy and powerful and set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Speaking of sexy and powerful, Prince’s band, 3rd Eye Girl? Shit. An all girl band, each one of them smokin’ hot and sickeningly talented. Donna, the electric guitarist, shreds. She’s merciless in leather with a shaved head on one side and a guitar face that rivals most. Hannah, the drummer – take the cutest girl you’d find on the beach in California (blond hair, huge smile, sweet as a button) and hand her some drumsticks. She smashed us – completely elated and grinning the whole time. Ida, the bassist, sported braided pigtails and looked like a flower child, but don’t let that fool you. She knows how to slap. And hard.

By the way, none of these girl look like they’re older than, oh, 20. Maybe it’s great genetics. Maybe rock keeps you looking young. Maybe they’re closer to my age. Regardless, they are young and vibrant and talented and deserve to be on stage with him.

Did I mention we were a mere 40 feet from the stage? I could watch Prince’s facial features change from his telltale smirk to his grin of musicianship joy to his guitar face, which has got to be the best guitar face in the business. And why shouldn’t it be? The way Prince handles a guitar – they have a relationship. It’s one I’m a little jealous of, which of course is why Prince wrote the lyrics, “I love you, baby / But not like I love my guitar.”

Prince’s first set was maybe 45 minutes. We knew he sure as hell wasn’t done.

Nope, definitely not. We got three encores last night.

During the first encore, Prince and 3rd Eye Girl did a mashup of “Crimson and Clover” and “Wild Thing.” I know, it doesn’t seem like they would work together, but theydid. And it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.

During the same encore, we were treated to a surprise special guest. Fucking Larry Graham. Yeah, of Sly and the Family Stone. Wearing the pimpest hat I have ever seen in my life (oh, it had a feather!) and a rhinestone-studded bass strap. The man is 67 years old and a damn rock star. When he was onstage, my eyes were diverted from Prince. He played with so much passion. And the grooves? Dear Lord.

During his jam with Larry Graham, Prince scatted – but not in traditional jazz singer style, no way; he bass line scatted. He literally produced the sounds Larry’s bass was making, but vocally and in complete synchronization. It was wild.

When the lights went out on that encore, there was no way in hell we were leaving. We waited. We chanted. We smiled at each other. And when the first notes of “Purple Rain” soared through the Marquee, I didn’t scream; I cried. I was utterly overwhelmed. I spent the next 10 minutes holding one hand over my heart and singing along, tears in my eyes.

We all thought that might be it. I mean, “Purple Rain” is the anthem. But as Prince has said at many a concert, “Do you have a curfew? How many hits do you think I have?”

Many. And the house lights didn’t come up. So we nervously twitched and waited and danced to unheard music.

“When Doves Cry” hit us next. And we all, accordingly, lost our shit. When the curtains reopened, only Prince was onstage at his pulsing keyboard/piano…which turned out to be a full-on DJ set-up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we had just entered Club Prince – and his majesty was our resident DJ – who sang live to all his tracks. That medley included “Sign O the Times,” “Alphabet Street,” and other classics.

Throughout the Club Prince set, our MC of the evening kept us chanting, “Ain’t no party like a purple party, ‘cuz a purple party don’t stop!” None of us wanted it to. I’m pretty sure the majority of that crowd would have stayed there all night.

But of course, it had to end. Everyone took their final bow, the house lights came on, and we all trudged out of the Marquee knowing that now, we had to return to our normal lives. I was exhausted and my hearing was shot. Up until I fell asleep, I heard sounds in my ears like water rushing over stone.

Today, I’m tired…but also strangely full of energy. The concert hasn’t left me yet. It’s still in my system. I’m running on adrenaline, the lingering memories of bass lines and choruses and Prince swagger making my day all the sweeter.

Ladies and gentlemen, I drank the purple Kool-Aid. And it was good. It was damn good.

There ain’t no party like a purple party.

Photo licensing – jdco