I faked it. Going to concerts was the thing to do. And when you are a teenager you do whatever that thing to do is; so I went to various concerts with my friends: The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, L.L Cool J, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, The Police, Def Leppard and Pat Benatar. My friends would scream, some even cried: they would become so frenzied when their favorite group would come out on stage, hit a high note, do a hip thrust or throw a t-shirt into the crowd. I enjoyed the concerts; but I didn’t feel what they felt. I wasn’t even close to being a crazy fan; but I faked it.
That was true and consistent until I was introduced to Prince. The summer after my father died, I went to visit his family. My aunt had an impressive English Tudor style house in a golf course community in Columbia, South Carolina. Shortly after I walked in and was smothered with kisses and hugs from my family, I ran upstairs to hang out with my favorite cousin, Eddie. Eddie was 5 years older, yet 20 years cooler in my eyes. As soon as I walked in his room I eyed a huge poster of this man who looked very much like my cousin: same complexion, mustache and hair. This straight hair with a slight natural curl had been the root of years of teasing and fights for my cousin, and now there was someone — a star — who had hair just like him. I liked this Prince guy already — simply because he let my favorite cousin know that his hair was beautiful — as I always thought that it was.
But, then my cousin played this pretty man’s music for me, a shy girl whose mom had shipped her away for the summer to be with family so she could come to terms with being a 34-year-old widow, and I finally understood why people cried when they listened to a song. The song spoke to a feeling that you were unable to articulate. His music freed me from muteness. His voice spoke of real pain — a pain that I wasn’t yet even able to approach.
I spent that summer just listening to his voice — not dancing as I normally would. I just listened, felt– and perhaps started to heal.
When I got back home, I painted the walls of my new room, in my new house that my mother bought while I was gone, lavender (I wanted purple walls, but my mother wasn’t having it). I was living a vanilla life: private Catholic school with the required uniform, living in a suburb where everybody pretended to be perfect, with an extended family (my mom’s), who never raised their voices, never cursed and always used placemats at every meal, I needed purple. I needed someone to let me know that life was bigger, colorful and different.
He was so incredibly different: wearing eyeliner, high heels, and lace. He was pretty and manly simultaneously; angelic and devilish; self assured and insecure. There was such a rawness and realness that came through in his velvet, staged, choreographed magic. And it made me feel safe — because I knew that I was different too.
He gave me permission to be different.
A couple of years later, I had my first boyfriend — my first true love, Marcus. We’d talk and make-out over the Prince mix-tapes he would make for me. And then after several years of dating, in our friend’s bedroom on his twin bed, we gave our virginity to each other with Purple Rain playing in the background. It was an amateurish, fumbling beautiful mess. * ***That was over 25 years ago ago and he was one of the first to call me about Prince’s passing.
He gave me permission to be sexy and sexual.
Many, many years later, a couple of months after I had my 1st son, Prince announced a concert in Washington, D.C. My husband knew that our happiness depended on him scoring tickets. And he did, spending money that we probably didn’t have. My husband has never shared my love of music, something that has always bugged me, but that night, at his first Prince concert, he stood up the entire time and felt the true elation that comes from watching the best do something extraordinary. As Prince played an extra 1.5 hours that night, by breast-feeding boobs became hard has rocks, heavy with milk, making it painful for me to even move. But I wasn’t going anywhere and danced, clapped and jumped up and down the entire show. After the concert, me and my husband raced home to wake up our newborn — urging him to eat and gleefully laughing at the same time. That night Prince gave me permission to be a mom and to still be a fan.
He gave me permission to still be me.
So, I sit here on a plane to New York, just hearing the news that Prince has died, feeling embarrassed of my tears. “Get yourself together”, I tell myself. “This isn’t you. You don’t cry over stars.” But Prince was more than that for me. He was so much a part of many of the biggest moments of my life that I guess I considered him a friend. He comforted me, freed me, made me happy and gave me permission to be different, sexual, selfish and a bit wild. I don’t know —it sounds impractical — but I expected him to live to be at least 125. He seemed bigger than death. And I guess when I think about it — he still does.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more