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.
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.
Prince’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.
Last 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.