We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
— Prince “Let’s Go Crazy” —
The afterworld is about to have one hell of a concert because a musical genius has unexpectedly joined them at the age of 57. And he’s walking through the pearly gates with his weapon of choice, a purple guitar in the shape of the symbol that he used in rebellion to Warner Bros. He’ll play every single song off of his 39 studio albums to an audience that includes Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Phife, Kurt Cobain, B.B. King, Maurice White and, of course, his ping pong rival, Michael Jackson. Every last one of them will applaud and God, himself, will say “That’s one bad motherf*cker that I created, right?”
At least that’s how I think it will go. And I’m jealous to think that the next concert that Prince will play won’t be on this planet because he’s been called to this afterworld that he spoke of on “Let’s Go Crazy.”
At least I got a chance to see him in person and it was absolutely enchanting.
It was November of 2006 and I was heading to Club 3121, the brief residency that Prince had in Las Vegas was in support of his 31st studio album of the same name. J*DaVey was scheduled to perform that night. The club was so damn Prince. I remember a lady walking around spraying a scent into the air because, apparently, Prince wanted it to smell a certain way. Then The Purple One glided to the stage and introduced the duo of Ms. Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau. What was interesting to me was that nobody knew who the hell J*DaVey were but Prince didn’t care. He dug their music and wanted them to open up. But although I was a fan of J*DaVey, I was transfixed on Prince’s presence. He didn’t walk, he glided to whatever location he desired. But, just for a moment, I turned my attention back to the stage and when I turned back to try to locate Prince, he was gone. All of a sudden I heard a voice say “They’re good, aren’t they?” behind me. I slowly turned, leading with my eyes and followed with my head, as if this was a horror film.
There he was.
Prince was standing in the crowd smiling and bobbing his head.
It was Prince. And unless he teleported there was simply no way he should have made it from the side of the stage to where I was standing in the crowd. Mind you, there were only 500 people there on this night so it wasn’t like Prince had to navigate through many people. But there he was, by my right shoulder enjoying the show. I can’t remember if I said anything or just froze. I had never been star struck in my life but Prince was beyond a star. He was an enigma and the last of a dying breed of artists who valued their privacy just as much as their artistry. He was an inspiration to me because he was an artist’s artist. He didn’t care about anything else but making great music. And dammit, he made some phenomenal music.
I grew up on Prince evenhandedly with Michael Jackson. My grandmother bought me one black and one red Michael Jackson “Thriller” jacket but she demanded that I perform as Prince whenever she had friends over. My earliest memories of Prince were of him in that damn bathtub for the “When Doves Cry” video. I was hypnotized by the instrumentation but equally as curious about why he sounded nothing like any other artist I had heard. I was but a child but I knew that this was something unique. Over the years I absorbed Prince’s music. I watched “Purple Rain” numerous times and laughed my ass off at Jerome on “Under the Cherry Moon.” As I got older I began to understand the complexity of his lyrics and the musical genius of Prince.
Let’s stop right there for a second.
Genius is a word that we toss around frivolously. Like the word “classic,” everybody is labeled as a musical genius. But Prince was a true genius in every sense of the word. He was ahead of the curve his entire career. From his sound to his use of the Internet as early as 1997 when he let his fans buy his Crystal Ball album directly from him. He masterminded Morris Day & The Time and founded the great Sheila E. He told us before ownership became a thing that, “If you don’t own your masters, then your masters own you.” He wrote “SLAVE” on his cheek and rebelled against the record label’s rigid production schedules in the early 90s. He outsmarted the big wigs, all the while mastering every damn instrument that wasn’t a horn that he could get his hands on.
But do you know what was the greatest thing about Prince? He didn’t care about fame and accolades. He was the complete opposite of the era we live in where everyone does everything for attention. Prince donates to humanitarian causes but never asks for a microcosm of notoriety. He cares. But he doesn’t care if you know about it. Because of this, I idolized Prince. As much as I loved Michael Jackson, Prince was on another stratosphere as an artist. But he managed to keep his private life private. I don’t even know how you pull that off in this day and age.
Also, Prince was sex. And not the gonzo sex that today’s R&B artists lament about. He was sexual freedom and did just enough to make you blush. He blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity with ease. He was so at ease with his masculinity that he dared you to call him a homophobic slur while he stole your girl. Some of the best music he wrote was for women and that’s just how comfortable he was in his own skin. He dared to be different and rarely conformed to industry standards. He was sex before sex in music was cool. He made a song a hit without a bass line (“When Doves Cry”). He wore pants with his butt cheeks peeking out of them for a performance on MTV. C’mon man. Who else could pull this off?
Name an artist who wasn’t influence by Prince. Those retro drums you hear on all of these songs today were a Prince staple. Before today’s producers had their own signature sound, Prince had his. He wrote, played and sang. That’s a true artist.
But for all that he accomplished, on this November night at Club 3121, Prince was simply enjoying the music. And I think that’s what I was in awe of more than anything else. How does a man who has contributed so much to music sit back and just enjoy himself? He still loved music and clearly wasn’t driven by money. The thoughts that ran through my mind during this brief exchange with The Purple One (I’m still not sure if there was an exchange or me just staring at him). Eventually, I realized that I needed to blink and do something to not make it weird. I remember he stopped bobbing his head and looked directly at me. All that I could think of during this brief moment was Jamie Foxx’s standup when he said you shouldn’t look at Prince directly in his eyes. So I turned my attention back to the stage and said something like “Yeah, they’re great.” But when I turned back to Prince, he was gone.
There might have been a cloud of smoke in his wake or I concocted that particular element. But he was gone. I looked around and couldn’t spot him. The next thing I know, he’s on stage jamming out on his guitar. No real reason in particular, he just got caught up in the moment and decided to perform. He did some cover songs and I just stared in awe. I tried to gather my thoughts but they were lost in time. Was Prince really talking to me? Why did he decide to stand next to me? WTF???
But just like that, he was gone. The next time I was in close proximity to Prince was at the 2015 Grammy Awards when I was hired by the Academy to live blog the show. I was in the pit and taking pictures with my iPhone when Prince took to the stage to introduce the nominees for Album of the Year. As he delivered his “Albums still matter” speech, I was reminded that this was a man who cared about the purity of music. I snapped one photo of him, with his orange outfit and perfectly shaped afro. In the audience, you can see everyone staring in awe at him. If there was a musical God, he was on stage that night and telling people “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.”
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor
If you don’t like the world you’re living in
Take a look around you
At least you got friends
He’s gone. It’s so hard for me to accept this simple fact. At the age of 57, Prince Rogers Nelson is on a higher floor and performing for another crowd. I don’t know what it is, but I lost something when the news came across that Prince had passed away. I questioned my own mortality because I just f*cking knew that Prince would live forever. Why wouldn’t he? It just doesn’t make sense. But, like his music, he’s liberated from a world with restrictions. What he’s left behind is a legion of musicians and people who will forever be inspired by his legacy.
And in the afterworld, Prince may tell Michael Jackson over a game of ping pong why he refused to collaborate with him on “Bad.”
I never knew what it sounded like when doves cry, but I think I do now.